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More than a third of managers admit they are ill prepared for Brexit - CMI

Ann Francke, CEO | Chartered Management Institute

4 min read Partner content

Pessimism, concern and uncertainty are prevalent among UK managers as the March 29th Brexit deadline looms ever closer, according to a survey of over 900 UK based members of the Chartered Management Institute (CMI).

A survey of nearly 950 managers based in the UK showed that more than a third of managers (35%) feel that they are either ill-prepared for Brexit, or not prepared at all and 71% of respondents have said their businesses have faced a concern caused by Brexit. The survey also revealed that more than a third (36%) think Brexit will have a negative impact on their ability to carry out their job effectively, whilst most (57%) managers have had no involvement at all in Brexit planning.

They also have concerns about the post-Brexit business environment, with nearly half (47%) saying they are pessimistic or very pessimistic about the UK economy for 2019. However half of managers think Brexit is going to have a positive or no impact on how they do their job –this may be because 58% of this group had no involvement for contingency planning for Brexit in their organisation.

Many of the managers surveyed admitted they really had no idea what would happen post-Brexit. George McCrindle, a senior manager from the East of England, working in a mid-sized organisation (50-249 employees) said: “At this point, which way Brexit will go is a complete unknown to most organisations. No business will make decisions based on such uncertainty.” Catharine Sharman, a manager from North West of England, working in a company with 500+ employees added: "We are preparing as well as possible for Brexit, but there are still so many unknowns, and, working in a multi-faceted organisation which will be impacted by changes in tourism, agricultural policies, conservation and others, it is difficult to predict.”

The survey findings are very alarming. Most managers (57%) have had no involvement in Brexit contingency planning whatsoever. They just aren’t being included in the planning process; it’s all being managed behind closed boardroom doors or by outside consultants. It’s risky not to make sure managers understand what is going on as ultimately they are the people that need to execute any plans and therefore they should be involved in the process. This may be why we now have a situation where the majority of managers are pessimistic about the economy as a whole but don’t believe it will have a negative impact on their own organisation. These are very contradictory positions.

According to the survey, the biggest organisational challenge that managers feel they are dealing with is uncertainty. More than half (57%) of those surveyed said that the top Brexit-related issue facing their company was difficulty in planning for the future. Recruitment problems also loom large with managers saying their companies have faced significant hurdles when it comes to taking on or retaining EU workers. A quarter (25%) said difficulties in recruiting EU workers was one of the top three issues their organisation was having to deal with, while another 23% said holding on to EU workers was their top issue. Recruitment and retention issues of EU workers was the highest in London with 32% of respondents concerned about this problem

More than half the managers we surveyed think Brexit is not going to have an impact on how they do their jobs and 62% are saying they are optimistic or very optimistic about their companies’ prospects in 2019. But we also have a situation where more than a third of managers admit they are ill prepared for Brexit. This is a messy situation and I fear for how companies are going to cope once the realities kick in next year, particularly if we crash out of the EU without a deal.

It’s also clear that Brexit is creating numerous complications for businesses. The difficulties they face regarding retention and recruitment of EU workers is a real issue given we estimate there are around 150,000 EU managers working in the UK. One thing we can all agree on, however, is the need to invest more in home-grown talent. Post-Brexit it will be more important than ever that companies develop their managers and leaders to boost performance and productivity; we need to ensure that the UK’s managers are well-prepared to prosper in a post-Brexit future, whatever it may hold.

The CMI’s Managers Voice survey involved nearly 950 UK based CMI members, of whom 76% are in full-time paid employment (12% are self-employed; 41% are middle managers or junior managers, 38% are senior managers or directors, and 7% are CEOs).

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