RES Forum: global mobility's response to Brexit and VUCA

The findings of a new study into current key themes in global mobility highlight a range of major challenges, particularly around Brexit and its impact on skills and talent retention, and pay equity.

RES Forum annual report launch 2017
Introducing the 2017 RES Forum annual report at its launch on 14 June, co-author Professor Michael Dickmann, of Cranfield University’s School of Management, explained that among the issues he had wanted to explore was the impact of Brexit over the past 12 months and how it was redefining the rules of global mobility.Continuing some of the themes from the 2016 annual report in this year's study, the the independent network for HR and global mobility looked at a range of micro and macro factors in relation to the UK’s referendum result. In a survey in January, it asked members whether they agreed or disagreed with a range of statements relating to Brexit.

Brexit and the macro-economic outlook

Among the headlines for issues such as cost of living allowances (COLA) and investment, around half (46 per cent) of the members agreed that they could see COLAs rising if the UK left the EU. A similar number also believed that assignees’ pay in the UK would decline and that inflation was likely to increase.Respondents were unconvinced about the outlook for inward investment. A large minority (39 per cent) agreed with the statement that investment in UK would decline after the UK’s departure from the European Union.However, they were more upbeat that UK investment overseas would increase long-term demand for assignees outside the UK. More than half (54 per cent) felt that outbound investment would increase assignment numbers. “We are seeing this with banks relocating jobs, and perhaps other industries,” commented Professor Dickmann.After Brexit, a significant number of respondents (43 per cent) also believe that the benefits of working of the UK will have diminished in the eyes of potential assignees. Among the issues for self-initiating expatriates in particular are the uncertanties around rights to work in the future.

Micro-economic impacts of Brexit

Company-level responses to the impact of Brexit were less equivocal. Close to six in ten said Brexit would make it more difficult for people to obtain work permits and that doing so would be more difficult administratively (58 per cent). Overall, there was a strong belief, too, that compliance would be more complex (69 per cent).Again, linking with the figure for the macro-economic impact on the UK as a desirable place to work internationally, 69 per cent said that self-managed commuters – that is, those who were in the UK by personal choice, not by arrangement with their organisation – would be less likely to work in the UK after Brexit.“Global mobility work and moves into the UK will become more difficult or administration heavy,” summed up Professor Dickmann.

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Experiences in practice

Presenting the research's findings, Professor Dickmann encouraged delegates and speakers at the event to discuss them. We heard how, for some companies, this time of uncertainty was seeing an increasing number of people applying for jobs from EU countries in the UK “into roles seen as quite secure because of globalisation.”However, this was not the case across the board. There was definite sense of a divide in how employment and roles were being affected by uncertainty, especially for people working in the UK in lower-paid roles, skilled technical posts and the medical sector.NHS recruitment has just dropped off a cliff because of the exchange-rate perspective,” commented one member. “It’s not particularly attractive now to come to the UK at all. I suspect one of the things we will see is people will still come to the UK for higher-paid jobs, but they won’t come to the UK for the jobs the UK actually needs.”

VUCA’s impact on global mobility

This sense of a two-speed labour market continued throughout the sessions, particularly in relation to how to respond to exchange-rate volatility. It tied in to the next set of findings around perceptions of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA) and the impact on global mobility, which the RES Forum also explored in 2016’s study.Defining VUCA as the new normal, Michael Dickmann recounted the responses of RES Forum members in January's study and their belief the world would become more:
  • Uncertain – 62 per cent
  • Divided – 58 per cent
  • Violent – 58 per cent
  • Insecure – 58 per cent
  • Nationalist – 54 per cent
Nevertheless, on balance, more respondents agreed to some degree with the statement that they had the resources to respond to the challenges of the VUCA environment. However, respondents overall had less confidence in their ability to detect and respond to change, with just 27 per cent saying that they were confident in this respect. Similarly, just 31 per cent said that they they were able to respond to VUCA with enough skilled labour.“Other challenges also increase the intensity, urgency and threat level. Prepared organisations and global mobility working for sensitive, flexible and rapid reaction are therefore paramount,” concluded Professor Dickmann.The RES Forum is an independent community of more than 1,350 in-house HR professionals in over 40 countries around the world. To join for free and to view the full RES Forum Annual Report from which this article is taken, go to the RES Forum’s website and click on ‘Join’.

Follow the link for more global mobility news and features. Read more from the RES Forum in the Summer 2017 issue of Relocate magazine (out June). Reserve your copy here.

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