February 11, 2016 | Kelly

Will you share your business view on the Referendum with your employees?

Most UK employers have not expressed a view, saying either that it is ‘political’ or that it will not make a difference either way. In contrast, many foreign owned companies with UK subsidiaries have said what they think.

If I was an employee of any UK business, I would expect some indication as to what the top management business judgement was. That may affect my future and surely the Board view on which option is best for the company is something I should know. After all, my job impacts my earnings, security, self esteem, identity and my opportunity to develop. Being at work is no ordinary transaction on the lines of ‘my labour for your money’. It’s much deeper than that.

 That is why, when it comes to the Referendum on Europe, an employer should do a commercial analysis and should tell employees what the Board thinks. Frankly, it is a bit odd not to state your view. If an employee asks you what the board thinks is in the best interests of the company are you really going to say you don’t know or you don’t want to say?  It is not credible to say that no analysis has been done.

I do not buy the argument that some customers may be upset. Major global firms have expressed a view; do they seriously feel they are going to lose customers for doing so?

It may be of course that the Board itself has not made a corporate decision because they themselves are divided.

After all, how do you ring fence the personal political views of sceptics or Euro enthusiast colleagues on your exec from the strictly business stance you need to take as a group? That is a tough one for private businesses led by powerful figures eg Anthony Bamford or James Dyson who are strong supporters of the UK leaving. Interesting isn’t it how much sceptic support comes from successful entrepreneurs. Perhaps they feel powerful enough to take their own line rather than one that emerges from rigorous analysis among broader group of colleagues? I wonder what their employees feel but cannot perhaps say?

How does your view influence your Employer Brand among existing employees and potential recruits? How will they feel about their prospects in a firm which wants to stay in versus one which wants to be a plucky merchant adventurer and enter into the unknown post Brexit world? What message does either convey to the kind of talent you want?  Given that so much internal communication aims to be 100% risk free, I would respect any prospective employer who showed they had done the analysis and stated a view. Hiding away behind the ‘it’s political and we don’t comment’ line does not score points for top talent seeking a clear point of view.

What about the public sector in the UK (32% of all employees?) does it matter to them either way? of course it does if you think that public sector budgets will be influenced by the future prosperity of the UK. But will their management feel able to say anything? Probably not, though perhaps some public service leaders in Scotland will not feel so restrained.

Two final points:

  1. If you have not got a Board view yet, how best do you establish it and do you anyway assess this issue as a potential risk to the company in your annual review?

Can you perhaps form an internal group say the heads of finance, marketing, operations, corporate development and HR to undertake an assessment of the risks and opportunities? Set up a session with an external facilitator for the overall exec to review? Involve customers? Involve employees?

  1. Expressing a view to employees.

Some employers may want to add some emotional and wider factors but the communication may be best limited to an analysis of what is most likely to happen to the company’s fortunes taking into account the impact of either result on people, operations, finance, marketing and corporate development. This is then followed by a conclusion on which option is likely to be best for the firm and its stakeholders. It should of course be a balanced view and, while unlikely, may offer a conclusion that it does not matter.

Last thought —

As the Referendum date gets nearer, I suspect a corporate line of ‘no view’ will become untenable. Employees will ask questions, competitors may increasingly go public and if you have done the work and agreed your stance, why not reveal it earlier than later (and rather lamely) when so many bolder employers will be ahead of you?

Simon Barrow