Brexit, workforce planning & employee benefits

The CIPD published a rather useful guide in March, Preparing for Brexit through workforce planning. The document looks in detail at the various workforce implications for British employers following the nation’s imminent departure from the European Union (EU). 

The following paragraph is particularly insightful;

“The UK’s decision to leave the EU will have major implications for many employers, especially in those sectors employing a high share of EU nationals such as hospitality, healthcare, food production, retail and construction”

The above listing does of course encompass a huge number of British businesses, but others will be quietly sanguine given that they are not part of the specific sectors highlighted. Yet that ignores the reality that many more organisations will include a supply-chain or customer-base that also features employers from the listed areas. The reality is that the workforce implications of Brexit may be felt across a much wider swathe of UK employers than is generally supposed at present.

But is this a real issue? After all the UK Government has signalled that they will still seek to attract “the brightest and the best” EU nationals to the country, which will presumably remove the problem? Yet the CIPD report highlights that the chief reason for a UK employer to hire EU nationals is a difficultly in attracting UK-born applicants to fill unskilled or semi-skilled jobs. The brightest and the best approach is therefore frankly a poor match with such a requirement.

So can British employers instead turn to the native workforce to solve this challenge? In the short term this would be unlikely given the really high level of Employment within the country at present.  And attracting those leaving formal education to less skilled roles may also be difficult given that apprenticeships and graduate opportunities will tend to favour more skilled roles rather than the more mundane – but still very important – tasks of the sectors most likely to be impacted.

Of course the problem might well be resolved anyway as a result of any new trade deals signed by the United Kingdom post-Brexit. It has been the case in many historical trade arrangements that an agreement to the movement of workers between the two countries/ regions is included as part of the deal. If this happens then it might well be that EU nationals are eventually replaced for less skilled roles by workers from other nations instead. Such a solution would however be controversial from a political standpoint, and in any case would be unlikely to resolve any immediate workforce crisis as such a largescale migration of workers will take some time to establish.

So the reality may be that a turning-off of the tap of less skilled EU workers has the potential to cause some genuine short-term pain for many UK employers and the wider economy. It follows that planning to mitigate this situation is strongly suggested for those organisations most likely to be impacted by the workforce shortage.  

So what to do?

With so few candidates currently available employers may find it increasingly difficult to attract new employees at an acceptable cost. So it follows that retaining existing staff will be ever more important.

Many employers will therefore look to revisit their appeal as an employer, together with the engagement levels of their workers. Part of this process should clearly include a review of the Employee Benefits offering, seeking to make this as attractive and relevant to the entire workforce as is possible.

The potential bonuses of such an approach are many. Aside from the obvious appeal to employees in both retention and recruitment terms, a good Employee Benefits offering can deliver a Return on Investment (ROI) to employers in the form of a healthier workforce with fewer absence issues. Likewise the provision of tools such as Employee Assistance Plans and Workplace Financial Education can be beneficial in supporting employees and their families both within and outside of the working day. And of course many Employee Benefits are extremely tax efficient and administratively simple to deliver as well.

So a careful review of the existing Employee Benefits package can deliver both relevance to the employees and an effective ROI for the employer. This, coupled with effective and regular communications to employees regarding this offering, should present employers with a more robust and attractive offering to benefit employer and employee alike.

For more information or advice on the above issues, please speak to our experts today.

Steve Herbert is Head of Benefits Strategy at Jelf Employee Benefits