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Brits Abroad from an HR Perspective

4th May 2018
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Brits have a reputation abroad - mostly involving tussles over sunbeds by the pool. However, British employees in the foreign labour market are far less represented than our European counterparts. There are huge benefits that come with working abroad which many UK workers may be missing out on. In the face of the modern global workplace, HR departments should ensure their workforce is given the full skillset needed to succeed.

Findings from ADP’s Workforce View in Europe 2018 have highlighted UK workers lack of interest in a move abroad. The annual report explores the attitudes of almost 10,000 European employees towards the future of work, addressing their thoughts, feelings and fears. Unlike in previous years, all of the countries surveyed are now experiencing economic growth and falling unemployment, yet strong divergences still existed amongst workers’ feelings towards working abroad. Employees in Italy and France are much more likely to be considering a move overseas than other countries, with 57% and 37% respectively considering such a move. However at 26%, the UK’s figures are far lower.

It is encouraging that UK workers feel such a strong security in their employment opportunities and our economy is not at risk of the brain drain that many countries face. Yet there are great benefits that come with relocating abroad. Innovation, dynamism and sensitivity in the workplace are all encouraged by diversity of experience and background. While most would agree that the UK, and particularly London, is not short of innovative and high-achieving companies, there are other areas where UK workers may not be developing in the same way. Could we be facing a shortage of soft skills, such as language abilities and interpersonal skills that are often stimulated by a move abroad?

In addition, the age of AI and automation is upon us and is set to see a sharp rise in the coming years. As these technological developments progress we are likely to see these soft skills become of increasing significance. There is a lot a robot can do quicker and better than a person, but empathy and understanding is one of the few things that a human can still exceed at. Working abroad is a key way to boost not only these abilities but also language skills; all of which will be of great importance in the age of automation.

It’s also important for HR teams to consider the large amount of foreign employees in the UK who face the challenge of working and operating in another culture and language. Figures from the Office of National Statistics show that in 2016 around 11% of the UK workforce was made up by non-UK nationals. Consequently, there are high numbers of British employees working alongside foreigners who should be aware of the potential difficulties they face. In an increasingly global and diverse workforce, empathy and sensitivity for these situations is hugely important for ensuring a happy workforce.

HR divisions have a responsibility to ensure these soft skills are being developed in other ways if UK employees are less likely to work abroad; something that will also be of benefit to foreign employees who will hopefully feel better understood and supported. Awareness and training is one of the key ways to build and progress in these areas - an investment that is worthwhile in order to ensure we develop employees and create a supportive working environment, and something that will also bring tangible business benefits in a world that is only set to become more global.

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