"What will happen to me?" - The individual question around Brexit

As the date for the invocation of Article 50 remains unset, how can global mobility professionals reassure and retain their European populations?
"What will happen to me?" - The individual question around Brexit

The indication from the new government in the UK has shifted from a stance on Article 50 being triggered at the start of the year to a vague statement of "sometime in 2017". While this gives the UK government time to consider their approach to the exit including the negotiations around changing treaties, legislative reform and immigration amendments, this leaves the individual in a position of stasis. How can businesses leverage the best out of their talent when they still have no answers for their future?

Business as usual has been the mantra since the historic vote; and while this made sense in the immediacy of the aftermath, it is increasingly becoming a statement which is not good enough to the two million European nationals working across the United Kingdom. "Playing my career by ear, I can live with that, but not knowing when I will have to disrupt my children's education, that's concerning," says one European director who works in the consumer goods field. While she did not want to disclose her information, she confirmed she is here as a European and has been in the UK for two years adding: "I have already uprooted my family to move here and not being able to answer the question of 'can we remain' is becoming frustrating for me, my husband and our children."

As the shock (or euphoria) of the vote has subsided, attention is turning toward the mystery of what will happen. As the UK becomes the first nation to exit the European Union we have no precedent for what will happen. There are no guarantees to what leaving will look like and speculation dominates. Even among leading experts in economics, law and compliance there is disagreement on what we can expect when the UK finally invokes Article 50. The prolonged period between the vote to the triggering, to the negotiation period and the eventual implementation could be up to five years or it could be as little as two and a half (if the UK does indeed invoke the clause at the start of 2017). This is a time span that is worrying to European nationals, many of whom relocated to the UK for better opportunities and to advance their careers.

Many non-essential staff, such as those in junior or middle management, are nervous about whether they will stay and what their companies will do to assist them. The question they don't know the answer to is whether, if they qualify, their organisation will support their applications for Indefinite Leave to Remain or if they will have to take on the legal and financial costs. To put in perspective, the postal application for an ILR rose to £1500 in April 2015. This was an increase of 40% on the previous fee. For those who wish to take advantage of premium processing, the cost has moved to £1900. Citizenship cost, for those who will be eligible, is set at £1121 per adult and £936 per child; not to mention the time required for studying and taking the required test. "The cost is prohibitive when I plan on returning to my home nation," shrugs off another young professional in the banking sector. "If I have to pay to stay, I'm going to request to go home."

There is a chance we will see a reduced fee and streamlined process for keeping European talent in the UK, but this may be based on shortage lists, which many staff may not fall into. For already taxed Global Mobility programmes this is going to create a very difficult problem in maintaining a bottom line that has often been squeezed in the past few years. Consider this: predominantly, the Europeans in the UK are local hires and considered local staff. After Article 50 and the exit of Britain, what will this do to the number of people who will now default into global mobility in a way they did not before? What position will organisations be taking on the support and management? Already we are seeing some individuals request to be moved out of London and to other capitals: Berlin, Brussels, Geneva and Amsterdam are all predicted to have a heavier uptick in industry development and migration. These new permanent transfers, where requested, are now part of the global mobility remit and where individuals had been on the ground in the UK and required little in terms of support, both financial and in assignment, as European staff put their hands up and ask to be moved: what will it do to budgets?

The problem already beginning to emerge is how many individuals who fall into potential or top talent are unwilling to compromise long-term career planning for the uncertainty here and looking outside their organisation for positions back in the EU or further abroad (such as the USA, Canada, Australia and China). Retention then must become a focus. While global mobility professionals and business lines find it difficult to give an accurate picture of what will happen (a simple "you will be fine" isn't always good enough), it's also frustrating to see talent become unsettled with no recourse for improvement.

So what can global mobility professionals do now, today, to support their European populations inside the UK?

The focus, until today, has been on making sure global mobility is aware of their European populations, but awareness is not enough. Not when it comes to retaining the most sought after talent. Retention issues have plagued global mobility and talent management for the past decade. The common statement of the war for talent is over, talent won is applicable here. While some industries and junior roles are saturated, the overall market, particularly for skilled workers in the UK reflects a growing need for the right talent. This is mirrored worldwide. Brain-drain isn't a problem just being seen in smaller or emerging nations: it is evolving to include heavyweight economies. For example, the United States remains a preferred location for software engineers (one of the most consistently required positions in the world) given their culture of innovation in Silicon Valley (Palo Alto, CA), comparably high salaries and chances for career development. The US is importing some of the best talent in software engineering from Russia, China, the UK, India and the EU while movement of American software engineers remains minimal in comparison.

For the talent an organisation has earmarked as a future leader or as a current leader, their sense of 'unsettlement' is dangerous.If talent has won the war, finding a new position, in a place where they feel secure is not difficult and the ramifications this will have for talent agendas in the UK is something that must be considered.

The reality is until more is known, there is little that can be done officially to support your European personnel in the UK; however, beyond compiling a list of potential employees who will be upset by this, it would behoove programmes to offer training and motivation to keep people in place. Complacency and business as usual will not suffice as individuals consider their options and opportunities now that the dust has begun to settle. Global mobility professionals, in contrast, should be opening the conversation with their business now on the support they will be offering - this will change and scope as more emerges, but having a rough idea of where your Europeans will sit and what level of support you are prepared to offer and to whom will put your programme at a better place when Article 50 is triggered and we are given clear timelines and guidance for what the exit will look like from a practical, organisational stance.

Please do share your thoughts with us and any preparation or insight you have on what your business is doing in the comments!

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