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Never let them go - How to bolster your retention rates in times of Brexit

The modicum of progress the UK government has made recently in their Brexit talks with the EU should not be an excuse for companies to lean back: While both sides have, in early December 2017, stated their intention that the free movement of EU citizens in the UK and vice versa shall remain in place, nothing is agreed before everything is agreed. Companies based in the UK will need to keep working hard to attract and retain the best talent.

In a previous article, we discussed what companies can do to improve their recruiting and maximise their chance to be attract the best talent.

But as the saying goes - “It’s more difficult to stay on top than to get there”. Because they have so many options, retaining the best people is like having to persuade them to join all over again, day after day.

So in this post, we want to look at the tools and tactics the best employers recommend and use to hold on to their best people.

Here are some of the retention advice highlights from our recent book, Attracting and Retaining Top Talent in Times of Brexit, containing 28 contributions from thought leaders in media, technology, professional services, and academia.


#1 - Being their best selves at work - a recipe for retention

Professor Dan Cable, London Business School

Among the most powerful predictors of retention is the degree to which employees have the feeling of being their best selves at work.

A study with a call centre provider in India showed that when the organisation focused its initial welcome on new employees’ personal identities, the newcomers were much less likely to quit their jobs – 32% less than the control group – and there was statistically greater customer satisfaction.

A focus on employees’ personal identities means quite simply that they were asked, during one of their induction sessions, to reflect on and discuss who they are when they are at their best.

Asking “who are you when you’re at your best?” takes one hour, and it’s free. Why does it work so effectively? When people alter their unique values to fit into an organisational culture, they can suffer from identity conflict. Employees who are stressed and unwell are less likely to perform effectively and are more likely to quit. In contrast, when people are empowered to express their authentic best selves, they are less anxious and less likely to suffer from exhaustion.

When people activate their best selves, they bring more energy into the workplace and invest more in the company they work for.


#2 - Gather data, Analyse and Plan, Communicate

Punam Birly, Partner at KPMG, a global audit, tax and advisory services company.

Step 1: Gather data

  • Capture feedback on how your people are feeling;
  • Understand precisely how many EU nationals are on your payroll.

Step 2: Analyse and plan

  • Do some scenario planning: What would be the impact if half of the EU nationals you employ decided to leave - How would you replace them? Should you be recruiting more locally and are you geared up to do that? Could new technology help fill some of the skill gaps in your business?
  • What does your succession planning for key talent look like in the event that immigration policy becomes more restrictive?
  • Have you reviewed your reward strategy – do you need to make it more attractive to keep valued staff and attract new skills?
  • Define your policy with regards to supporting residency applications, see if you have the right data on your people and decide how much you are able to invest in the process.

Step 3: Communicate

  • Communicate as fully as possible about immigration requirements and what the changes on residency are likely to be;
  • Pin down the residency application deadlines and advise your staff what needs to be done and when;
  • Run information sessions on any immigration application process.


#3 - Implement a temporary Brexit mobility policy

Kay Hall, Vice President EMEA for AIRINC, provider of international mobility data:

Tip 1:

If possible for your company, transfer headcounts to one of your EU-based offices. If you don’t have one, research alternative work locations, which may necessitate establishing a new entity in an EU-27 member state.

However, if one of your staff is merely working remotely, make sure you don’t set up a permanent establishment (PE) accidentally. Once the local tax authorities declare a PE, you’ll have to register your company in that country and comply with all local tax and accounting regulations. The threshold for triggering a PE is low and not limited to company directors, so do monitor your cross-border commuters to ensure corporate compliance.

Tip 2:

Consider putting in place a temporary Brexit mobility policy for UK-based employees and nationals. This may include:

  • Permanent residency: providing your staff with information and supporting the nationalisation process for UK residents. This also applies to Brits on permanent contracts in other EU countries.
  • Voluntary split pay arrangements: The uncertainty surrounding Brexit makes the future value of Sterling difficult to predict. Voluntary split pay arrangements (for those who qualify) can help ensure retained access to long-term benefits such as pension and healthcare. It also helps protect savings in the home currency (EUR), which would otherwise be subject to exchange rate risk. When saving for retirement or a permanent home, most people prefer not to gamble in the foreign currency market.
  • An intra-company transfer policy to any office in a EU-27 member state for those employees who decide not to stay in the UK. This may be slightly more generous than a traditional voluntary relocation package.


#4 - Review the employee pensions you offer

Stuart Lisle, Tax partner at BDO, a global accountancy and advisory company:

Currently, pension schemes are largely the responsibility of the individual EU member state, but the EU has a regulatory framework which covers pensions. We expect much of the existing EU-derived legislation to remain in place, mainly because it was designed to protect members. Existing regulations will continue to apply until changed specifically by the UK Government.

However, cross-border workers will be concerned about how the amalgamation of state pensions from the UK and from other EU countries will work. Employer pension plans may also see changes to the cross-border application process.

Therefore you should be prepared for any future changes, review the pensions you offer and identify any scheme members who work in a different EU member state. You should also consider whether you have employees moving between the UK and other EU countries who will be affected by any shift from the current EU pension directive.


#5 - An outstanding welcome bolsters retention

Matthew Chic, Chief Commercial Officer at Benivo, a technology company providing relocation support for early career employees.

Curating the environment in which employees are equipped to succeed from the minute they accept an offer, and communicating the company’s approach to candidates - this is the welcome strategy pedestal that sets the stage for outstanding retention metrics.

Welcoming a new employee is something few companies have mastered - despite known research (some of it mentioned in this book) that shows how disproportionately the first few days impact an employee’s experience and, consequently, their retention.

What is a Great Company Welcome? It’s a combination of activities, designed to make a new joiner feel appreciated, at ease and in control.

Some of these activities, however, are more important than others. There’s the non-negotiables and the nice-to-haves. We find it practical to think of a Company Welcome along the lines of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, adapted to welcoming new employees.

We call it the “Hierarchy of Welcome Needs”


The further down on the hierarchy a failure point is located, the higher the losses (reneging / no-shows / early attrition) will be, even if the opportunity to address higher-order needs exists. Put differently, if someone cannot sort out their work permit or living arrangements, it doesn’t matter how much meaning you give them in their work. They will quit.

Since a great Company Welcome is estimated to reduce attrition by 50%, investing in it is paramount if you want to boost retention. And no matter if Brexit turns out to be hard, soft, or anywhere in between, reducing unnecessary attrition should be high on everyone’s agenda.


#6 - Recruit the talent you already have

PJ Stevens, Organisational Change Expert

In this time of uncertainty over Brexit, there remains a huge goldmine of experience that sits untapped in each business: Employees’ collective awareness of existing problems.

According to some estimates, managers know 4% of the problems in the business, whilst front line staff are aware of 100% between them. From our experience with clients, we know that the very same people often have great ideas and solutions, but are rarely, if ever, asked for their insights into challenges and ideas for innovative solutions.

Here are four tips to tap into the existing talent resource:

  1.     Engage in conversations

Ask people’s opinion in a way that allows them to be honest. Collect all the information. You may find useful patterns and clusters of data which give you a powerful story, particularly around risk identification and mitigation.

  1.     Be clear on your purpose

If you haven’t done so, or done it properly, spend time unearthing your purpose and values that will sandwich your strategic imperatives and mission.

  1.     Seek out and enable excellence

Find people who are outstanding and who are outperforming others. What are they doing (and not doing) and why? Identify the key differences that enable these people to be excellent. Then share with others.

  1.     Create a coaching culture

Create and develop a coaching culture where people are skilled and empowered to have better quality conversations about things that matter. This will go a long way towards reducing waste, missed opportunities and misunderstandings.

Don’t just think about recruiting new talent for the business.

Recruit the talent you already have.


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Now that you’ve mastered retention, take a look at what our book contributors have to say on the topic of employee attraction in times of Brexit.


The above are highlights from selected contributions in our Thought Leadership Book “Attracting and Retaining Top Talent in Times of Brexit”, published in December 2017.

You can download the complete eBook here.

Nitzan Yudan


Nitzan Yudan

Created on 6-2-2018