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Brexit set to disrupt European businesses and drive action on expat recruitment and reward

International Insights on Brexit

March 29, 2017

Almost two thirds (59%) of European businesses with significant interests in the UK view Brexit as “another disruption” rather than the “fundamental challenge” to their operations that is feared by a quarter (26%), research by Willis Towers Watson revealed today.

LONDON, 29 March 2017 - The poll of almost 100 senior HR and reward executives across Europe, mainly from large multinational companies, also showed concerns over the recruitment and retention of the key talent needed in the UK, and their pay and benefits.

The results come at a landmark moment in the Brexit process as the UK Government invokes article 50 on March 29, marking the start of formal negotiations to leave the EU.

Olaf Lang, Head of Talent and Reward for Western Europe at Willis Towers Watson, said: “Brexit is a major event for businesses with strong interests in the UK, but more view it as a disruption rather than a fundamental challenge. That relative confidence is encouraging for planning and growth, but many businesses are clearly worried about how to keep their UK operations fully staffed and skilled, and how to attract and reward talent from the rest of the EU.”

Over a third (36%) of respondents said their company had become more concerned since the Brexit referendum about attracting and retaining EU nationals with specific skills into the UK. A similar proportion (31%) is now treating the mobility of senior staff between the UK and the EU as more of an issue, and 29% say it has become more of a priority for all other staff.

Also, since the referendum, 24% of businesses have assessed the type and number of staff needed in the UK, while 29% are doing so or plan to do so within the next three months. 

Olaf Lang added: “Businesses are concerned about what barriers to skills may be put up in a post-Brexit landscape and are carefully taking stock. Many have flagged the movement of staff as an issue – both for senior managerial positions and specialist roles like HGV drivers or multilingual call centre staff.

“Anxiety over keeping non-UK staff in the UK is already showing. The drop in sterling has made reward packages less attractive, and some companies are tackling that by boosting pay packages and incentives.”

The survey showed one in five (20%) said it had become more of an issue that UK reward packages were now less attractive for non-UK nationals. Likewise, when asked if they had made cost-of-living adjustments for expats, 15% said they had done so or were planning to do so in the next three months, while 16% said they were considering it.


Willis Towers Watson (NASDAQ: WLTW) is a leading global advisory, broking and solutions company that helps clients around the world turn risk into a path for growth. With roots dating to 1828, Willis Towers Watson has 40,000 employees serving more than 140 countries. We design and deliver solutions that manage risk, optimize benefits, cultivate talent, and expand the power of capital to protect and strengthen institutions and individuals. Our unique perspective allows us to see the critical intersections between talent, assets and ideas – the dynamic formula that drives business performance. Together, we unlock potential.


1 The Willis Towers Watson Talent and Rewards Brexit survey drew 86 respondents and was conducted in February 2017.
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