Brexit, Trump, and the Future of Work

Written by Alex Cooper, on behalf of HR Tech World.

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There’s no doubt the world is going through a huge shift in paradigms when it comes to conceptualizing work. While technology rapidly advances, companies are trying their best to adapt. Tech is changing how we understand what we do, how we work, and even how we see the world around us. The disruption that technology is having in the world of work, however, is not the only disruption entering our lives. With the Brexit referendum passing in the United Kingdom and the election of Donald Trump in the United States, disruption seems to have gone ballistic.

As Josh Bersin notes, understanding the future of work is more than just simply comprehending technological innovation. The political events occurring in some of the world’s leading economic powers are drastically changing our approaches to society, the workplace, and how we view each other. Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, the fact remains that these two events have drastically changed HR and work, not only in the respective countries, but globally.

Brexit, which has dominated the news channels in the U.K. and the E.U, has already had a huge impact on people and work. At the core is the unresolved question as to what this means for those living in the U.K. who are able to work and live there due to the E.U.’s free movement of labor policy. As soon as the results were in, businesses and their HR departments had to immediately confront the problems of how to deal with future recruitment plans and how to manage the implications for staffing and profitability if the U.K. were to leave the European single-market.

The U.K. government, led by Prime Minister Theresa May, currently appears to have set the controls for a hard break with the E.U., and as of yet there is no released plan for the road ahead; in spite of this, somehow companies must reevaluate their talent acquisition plans and employer branding. Although PM May insisted this week that E.U. citizens would maintain their right to live in the U.K. Without a concrete legal guarantee, there is little to stem the tide of fear and uncertainty this creates for people and organisations. The Financial Times recently reported that 58 percent of senior executives in major U.K. companies believe the Brexit referendum has negatively affected business:

“In terms of their priorities for the forthcoming negotiations, the business leaders said movement of labour and access to skilled labour came the highest, followed by securing free trade or retaining the single market with the EU and passporting rights. The interviewees said that to be successful in a post-Brexit UK, they wanted the level and complexity of regulation to be reduced and for it to still be easy to recruit EU staff.”

The other obvious shockwave is the rise of Donald Trump in the United States. President Trump relied heavily on his business experience during the campaign and used it to his advantage with the electorate. Yet, in his two weeks in office, Trump has received a backlash from within the business community due to a recent executive order on immigration.

Business leaders came out strongly against the ban because it directly conflicts with their operations. Bloomberg reported that Google CEO Sunar Pichai sent a note to employees after the order was issued condemning the ban and informing the company that the executive order affected 100 Google employees. Google also recalled staff from abroad because of the roll out of the ban, which temporarily barred even employees with work visas and permanent resident status in the U.S. from re-entering the country.

The order barring individuals from seven Muslim-majority countries—Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen—has since been temporarily stopped by federal court.

At the end of the day, Article 50 still hasn’t been triggered and Trump is only 2 weeks into his presidency with the ban being frozen. However, these situations have caused alarm and posed questions about employees positions within the organizations in which they work, whether they are non-U.K. EU citizens in the U.K. or workers in the U.S. from one of the countries included in Trump’s immigration ban. There are at time of writing no clear paths as to what is next; negotiations between the UK and the E.U. have yet to begin, and in the US states and rights groups are pushing back against the immigration ban through the legal system.

As we move through the first few months of 2017 Brexit and the Trump Presidency leave companies and their HR departments no hiding place; they must begin planning for a wide variety of disruptive scenarios. Businesses are already developing ways to counteract any negative effect and those that are the most agile are often better able to cope with disruption. On the subject of Brexit, for example a Financial Times report states, “A large majority [of business leaders] — 96 per cent — was confident their business could adapt to the consequences of leaving the EU, and more than two-thirds had already taken action in response to the referendum result. A tenth were moving business outside the UK.”

In an interview with HRN about Brexit for the upcoming HR Tech World London show, economist Daniel Thorniley told Peter Russell, Director of Research and Development at HRN, “companies and HR departments will need to show a lot of consideration for staff in how the want to retain staff and motivate them over the next 2-3 years… This time of elevated uncertainty will show which companies can produce Best Practice in HR.”

With socio-economic and political disruption coming in on top of all the media noise on artificial intelligence and robotics it’s no small wonder there is fear and confusion about where the future of work is headed. Precarity does not seem to be dissolving anytime soon; a calm breath, alongside a compassionate and proactive stance should be pushed to the fore. Being preemptive in this regard could save businesses from impaired employee performance, future talent and recruitment headaches, and do much to inject a massive boost of trust and confidence into both worried employees, and those hard-earned employer brands.

About the Author:

Alex Cooper is the Content Specialist of HRN, organizer of HR Tech World shows, and curates the HRN Blog. You can follow him on Twitter @wgacooper.


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2 thoughts on “Brexit, Trump, and the Future of Work

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