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Brexit: Navigating a New Chapter of British Uncertainty

What the election result means for Britain's Brexit negotiations won't be known until the smoke from last night's fireworks has cleared; in the meantime, managers should focus on helping employees cope with the uncertainty

Yesterday’s general election has spectacularly resulted in a hung parliament, which means no party has the parliamentary majority needed to govern by itself. This is the third hung parliament since World War 2 (previous hung parliaments happened in 1974 and in 2010) and adds to the already high level of political and business uncertainty in the UK. This high uncertainty can have detrimental effects on employee’s stress and productivity.

Despite her setback, Theresa May is attempting to form a minority government supported by the Democratic Unionist party. A minority government is unusual in modern Britain; in fact, in the past 40 years there has only been one minority government. This happened in December 1996 when the Conservative Party lost the majority it had won in the 1992 General Election due to defections and by-elections defeats. The minority government only lasted six months, as new elections took place in May 1997 which resulted in the worst electoral defeat by a ruling party in over a century.

Minority government are seen as instable and ineffective: opposing parliamentary members can obstruct new legislation or even bring down the government with a vote of no confidence. The new government’s instability will add to the already high uncertainty related to the Brexit negotiations.

Focus on the Uncertainty

This high uncertainty — not crisis or change — is the immediate concern for managers. Uncertainty can increase employee stress: unexpected news makes employees feel less in control, and harm their ability to do their jobs. The more employees get stressed, the more they are likely to move into “fight or flight” mode, and productivity is likely to slump due to worry or inertia.

It is the role of managers to help employees’ performance to continue undimmed. They must help employees focus their attention on what they do have control over, such as their day-to-day tasks.

It’s clear that improving employee capability to cope with change is the best way to sustain performance through a period of transition or uncertainty. Taking a “business-as-usual” approach – until there is more clarity about the UK election results and the company’s response – will decrease the risk of poor productivity.


More On…

  • CEB Brexit Resources

    Learn how executives are responding to the Brexit situation, and get some practical advice from practitioners and experts on how to formulate a strong and sustainable response plan.

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