How to protect our employees in the Brexit era

It is difficult to work - let alone create - in a climate of fear and uncertainty. We must act now to ease the pressure and make our employees' well-being the number-one priority.

2017 has got off to a rather challenging start. What will the consequences of Brexit and the Trump administration really mean for the majority of people working in our industry? I believe we must prepare, very thoroughly, to support our people as the cultural and economic impact of these events unfold. 

How we do this in the coming months will ultimately define us as managers and leaders of people.

There have been several studies examining what Brexit means for organisations, including a recent report from the Creative Industries Federation. The report recognises that the creative sector is one of the fastest growing in the UK economy and offers a massive opportunity for continued growth. 

Our sector has a fabulous propensity for optimism and that will continue to drive innovation and creativity. In these difficult times, we talk about slower growth, not decline. However, uncertainty is a main theme and dealing with it can be very destabilising, particularly as it can impede decision-making. Coping with uncertainty is also very difficult for many individuals and can cause pressure that, if not managed well, leads to stress. 

On top of the challenges caused by fluctuating business revenues, there is a new uncertainty. One of culture. A significant number of our workers come from continental Europe and these employees, together with those from diverse backgrounds, will be feeling vulnerable at the moment despite reassurances and considerable shows of solidarity.

How we behave as leaders matters the most. Responding well to the issues we are experiencing, whatever the world throws at us, will single us out as great leaders of people. 

So, how should we respond in this context of uncertainty? There are three important ways to keep our talent thriving this year.


Communication is one of the best ways to reduce fear and insecurity and, therefore, reduce the levels of pressure and stress. 

Here at Nabs, we experienced a significant increase in the number of calls to our Advice Line last year, notably from people seeking emotional support as a result of pressure and stress.

It is vital that people have someone to talk to, someone to whom they can raise their concerns and ask questions. We already have a lot of pressure in our industry. Yes, as many leading sport psychologists say, a little pressure is good for us – it helps us perform well – but we need to manage it and ensure it doesn’t lead to stress. 

In times of uncertainty, we know communication is our most important leadership tool but it is easy to shut down when we don’t have all the answers. As media organisations, we specialise in external communications but it is easy to forget the importance of internal dialogue. 

In fact, PwC’s number-one recommendation for leaders in its Brexit – A Key Role for HR report is to help the business drive a positive mindset and ensure that great ideas continue to flourish. I cannot think of a more relevant recommendation for our businesses, whose success depends on ensuring the right working environment for the generation of new ideas.

We also need to remain proactive with our people strategies to foster the well-being of individuals. At Nabs, we believe in empowering individuals to develop their own tools to cope with pressure. We can offer top tips and masterclasses on topics such as building resilience and mental toughness. Prevention is always better than cure. 

Continue to embrace diversity 

Our industry focused a lot on diversity in 2016 and we continue to see lots of positive debate and action, with many organisations now running in-house diversity initiatives. 

We must continue to drive change and make our industry attractive to talented people, whatever their backgrounds. Importantly, we should focus on the cultures and working environments we create internally to enable us to retain, as well as attract, that talent. This has never been more important. Creating an inclusive internal culture where we not only respect but begin to deeply understand and value difference is crucial to retaining talent. None of us is perfect so we must all strive hard to develop our own internal diversity strategies and plans.

This is so important for us in 2017. Our industry reaches so many people and has the ability to drive economic growth. It has a unique opportunity to lead by example and fully embrace diversity. I also believe we can do more to uphold diversity in our marketing and avoid re-enforcing negative or inappropriate stereotypes.

Develop talent and retention

The most recent figures from the Department for Culture, Media & Sport show more than 500,000 people work in advertising and marketing in the UK. Figures from Creative Industries Federation members reveal that 10-14% of their employees are European Union nationals and the Advertising Association has found that the UK ad industry attracts the best talent from around the world. We need to keep that talent engaged and feeling valued to continue to ensure our workforce is diverse and performing at its best. 

As growth slows, the pressure to cut people-development budgets will be overwhelming. When combined with the innate desire to do more with less – and our in-built requirement to put the work and client first – there is a real risk we forget our people. We must ensure our talent strategies and plans are at the top of the list. If budgets are tight, there are other options – for example, investing in self-managed learning, but for that to work we need to give people the time to do it. 

Putting people first is often difficult but if we don’t look after our number-one asset – our talent – then our industry cannot thrive.

Diana Tickell is the chief executive of Nabs

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