Is Brexit already affecting workforce planning?

By Anthony Wolny | 1st February 2019 | 10 min read

With a decision still yet to be reached as to the UK’s fate upon leaving the European Union (EU), many companies are still undoubtedly concerned about the potential impact a poor, or even no-deal scenario could have on the UK’s business economy.

If MPs vote to support any updated version of Theresa May’s Brexit deal before the 29th March, they will ensure that the UK stays on course to leave the EU with a pre-decided, negotiated deal. However, if they cannot agree on a unilateral withdrawal agreement, the country will remain in a state of limbo.

With a decision still yet to be reached, some businesses are already suffering from the ‘Brexit hit,’ especially when it comes to workforce planning. Recruitment, in terms of sourcing and attracting international talent to UK firms has become extremely difficult for many companies. Last year, HR Grapevine reported that a huge 96% of recruiters and hiring managers they had surveyed stated they would need to rethink their hiring strategies in relation to the Brexit outcome.

A Recruitment Sentiment survey conducted by Linkedin also showed that hiring professionals are already seeing a negative international impact: 37% decrease in Italian candidates, 35% reduction in French and German candidates, and a 33% reduction from a total of 27 other European countries.

The uncertainty around Brexit also has a significant technological impact, with some businesses looking towards the increased automation of roles to counteract any potential skills shortages. A survey conducted by Adecco Group found that one-third of UK employers are already planning on hiring robots in order to combat skills shortages.

The same research found that 34% of UK managers are also open to automating part of their current business structure to prevent a reliance on human skills, whilst 70% stated that they are concerned leaving the EU will make certain skill sets much harder to recruit for.

So, with the workplace outlook looking so pessimistic, what exactly can you do in order to safeguard your recruitment, retention and staff planning strategies for the future?

We’ve included our top tips for preparing your workforce for Brexit disruption below:

Build rather than buy

There a few ways in which you could choose to build on your existing resources, rather than buying in products and manpower. For example, you might choose to improve existing career pathways through job rotation, sabbatical schemes, secondments, and incentivised management training schemes. You could also strengthen your recruitment pipeline by hiring and building a strong in-house recruitment team, rather than relying on costly external agencies, and implementing attractive apprenticeship and graduate schemes.

Improve retention

Improving retention is particularly important if you already have a high level of employee turnover, or if you are likely to be particularly affected by Brexit. Understanding your current turnover level is therefore key – headline analysis can provide you with a rough overview, but it is also vital to understand attrition by site, job role, company sector, recruitment source etc. This, however, is only part of the story, as understanding why employees leave is also of vital importance – adequate analysis will be invaluable for pinpointing exactly where improvements can be made.

Improve company attraction

Whilst it is more desirable to upskill and promote current employees, hiring new recruits can still be a valid option if all other routes have been exhausted. In order to attract the best talent that you can, it is vitally important that your employer brand and recruitment processes are up to scratch – for example, do you have a good social media presence? Are you engaging and interacting with potential new employees in the right way to sell your business?

Recruitment can be stressful for even the most seasoned recruiter so removing as much of the stress as possible is important. Small businesses can lighten the load of recruiting with recruitment software for IRIS HR Pro. Large companies will love our ATS software add-on for IRIS Cascade HRi.

Collaborate with business peers

Utilising contacts and suppliers within your specific industry can be extremely beneficial during periods of economic uncertainty. For example, could you work together with partner companies to harness one efficient recruitment resource, band together to increase the supply of scant resources, or make use of external expertise that is not available in-house, such as certified employee training? Thinking of new ways to utilise business networks is key.


An obvious way to deal with workplace upheaval post-Brexit is to look towards automation to reduce a dependence on employees, particularly in business-critical areas. Obviously, this is a more appropriate option for some sectors or job roles than others in the short term, but it is possible that many routine and repetitive roles have the potential to be replaced by technological innovations over time. Essentially, if you find that your labour source becomes more expensive, stagnant or less readily available, then automation could well also factor in a cost-saving element.

Factoring these tips in, our ultimate takeaway message for HR professionals in the current business climate is to consider the changing nature of the workforce within your business, and make plans for reasonable adjustments in terms of workforce planning post- Brexit.

Would you like to see how a flexible, intuitive HR software could help you in analysing, planning for, and retaining your workforce during uncertain times? IRIS HR Pro is our small business HR software whereas larger businesses will be interested to learn more about IRIS Cascade HRi.