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HR managers ‘pretty complacent’ about Brexit

The Great Place to Work HR Manager Survey 2018 delivered some surprising results

Half of HR managers do not believe Brexit will have an impact on their organisations. Photograph: iStock

Half of HR managers do not believe Brexit will have an impact on their organisations. Photograph: iStock


Are Ireland’s human resource managers too relaxed about Brexit? According to the Great Place to Work HR Manager Survey 2018, more than half of respondents believe it will have no impact on their business.

“That seems pretty complacent to me,” says Prof Patrick Flood, one of the report’s authors and co-director of the Leadership and Talent Institute at DCU’s Business School.

“That 53 per cent of HR managers feel that way is pretty stunning because if you asked different types of manager, such as in sales or marketing, you’d get a different response. You just can’t escape the fact that Brexit is going to have an impact on businesses one way or another.”

The survey, which is now in its fourth year, was compiled in association with the Leadership and Talent Institute at DCU Business School and Trinity Business School and includes HR professionals across a range of sectors.

Of those HR managers who believe Brexit will make a difference to their organisation, 36 per cent feel it will have a negative or very negative impact, while 11 per cent believe it will actually have a positive impact.

HR managers look more attuned to the risks posed by the new EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), however, with 86 per cent of respondents indicating the new rules, which come into force in May, will impact on their HR departments.

Some 60 per cent of respondents say their organisations are ready for GDPR, a state of readiness which Prof Flood calls into question. “If almost two thirds of HR managers feel they are ready for GDPR, I only hope it stays fine for them, because it is one thing thinking you are ready and a very different thing indeed from having your systems tested,” he says.

Just under one fifth (19 per cent) say they are not ready for GDPR, leaving themselves open to swingeing fines. This is despite the fact that, in many organisations, GDPR readiness is being driven by HR departments and that 85 per cent of respondents say their organisation has a HR person in their top management team.

The survey finds differing views among HR managers in relation to contingent or freelance workers, commonly referred to as members of the ‘gig economy’. Of organisations that use such workers, just 37 per cent say their reason for using them is based on the specific expertise they bring being beyond the capability of the current workforce.

This implies the majority of organisations are employing contingent workers for some other reason, suggests the report’s co-author Na Fu, associate professor in Human Resource Management at Trinity Business School. It may be a legacy of the recession that has left a residual fear of making a full-time hire where one can be avoided, she suggests, “despite the fact that the economy is booming”.

Housing shortage

More than half (55 per cent ) of HR managers see the housing shortage as a key factor likely to prevent the future recruitment of talent.

A growing awareness of the importance of corporate and social responsibility is reflected in the fact that 78 per cent of respondents agree that their organisations have a social impact, with 20 per cent neutral about this and just 2 per cent disagreeing. Where social impact does take place, much of it relates to CSR work with charity partners.

Social media usage is also monitored in this year’s report, and 83 per cent of respondents say social media is leveraged in their organisation to reach external audiences. A similar number (82 per cent ) use it to attract talent.

Social media policies or guidelines are in place, according to 81 per cent of respondents; however, just 38 per cent of organisations represented provide social media training. “What was also interesting is that while organisations seem to view social media as important, they don’t tend to use it to interact internally,” says Fu.

Just 15 per cent of organisations currently use Chatbots – computer programmes which conduct conversations. However, 26 per cent say they will implement them in the future.

Whistleblowing is a particularly topical issue, and 75 per cent of respondents claim to have a whistleblowing policy in place, with 73 per cent saying whistleblowers are protected in their organisation.

“I’d be sceptical of that, however, given that only 50 per cent of respondents were found to have whistleblowing mechanisms in place – such as a hotline,” says Prof Flood. “Putting together a really robust whistleblowing policy and a practice that protects whistleblowers is a really extensive job. My sense is that everyone is very much in favour of protecting whistleblowers, but I’d have to ask, are the practices in place to really safeguard them.”

Another mismatch between sentiment and practical measures arises in relation to mental-health issues. Some 88 per cent of respondents report that mental health is supported in their organisation, with 81 per cent saying they feel comfortable talking about mental-health issues and 61 per cent of HR managers believing wellness programmes are supporting talent attraction.

However, just 28 per cent of respondents say managers have undertaken mental-health training.

“Again, there is great positivity towards the issue of mental health but when the rubber hits the road, what practices can really be in place if such a low number of line managers have undertaken any mental-health training?” says Prof Flood. “If the front-line managers in an organisation aren’t trained up in this area, it’s a bit like the Emperor’s New Clothes – all talk.”

The survey

The Great Place to Work HR Trends Survey 2018 is run in association with DCU Business School and Trinity Business School and based on the responses of 95 HR professionals working in 95 separate organisations.

Of these, 80 per cent are private, 17 per cent public and 3 per cent semi-State. Of the private companies, 63 per cent are multinational companies, and 37 per cent domestic.

Responses come from a range of sectors, including health services, retail and distribution, banking, business services, building, engineering and manufacturing.

Key results

- Half of HR managers do not believe Brexit will have an impact on their organisations.

- Almost two thirds believe they are ready for GDPR.

- More than three quarters feel their organisation has a social impact.