Since the June 23 referendum in which voters in the United Kingdom opted out of the European Union, there has been no small volume of ink and electrons applied to discussing the ramifications, good and bad (mostly bad) of what many describe as a surprising outcome.
So rather than heap more words on that argument, I’m going to look at it from the other side of the road: when people, in any context, become dissatisfied, disillusioned, and feel abused and/or taken for granted, they’ll start looking for the exit, or in this case, the Brexit.
It happens in marriages and other relationships. It happens with consumers and their once-favored brands.
And it happens in the workplace. Always has, always will.
The parallels between Brexit and “Wexit” (Worker Exit, of course), are almost as numerous as the EU officials who never thought the Brits would leave. I’ll highlight but a few that jump readily to mind.
1. First, people in the 21st century are generally less inclined to latch onto institutions of any kind than our parents and grandparents were. The organized church, community and professional organizations, political parties (no wonder!), labor unions, and the traditional employment model have all suffered, as many decide to go it alone.
The rise of the gig economy, in which workers by the millions have opted out of the traditional workforce in favor of declaring their independence, is glaring evidence of the “who needs you?” mindset that’s growing in prevalence and popularity.
2. Just like Britons leaving Europa, disgruntled workers (Discontented Cows, in our vernacular) are willing, yea eager to leave their jobs, even when doing so is almost guaranteed to be financially costly and lead to an uncertain future. When someone wants out of a bad work situation, they’ll leave, even if they have nowhere else to go. Rational thought rarely plays a part.
3. When things reach the tipping point, it’s the most valuable workers, the most talented, like the strongest nations in the EU, who leave first. The UK has the 2nd largest economy in the EU. Rounding out the top 3, Germany and France will likely be the next to consider exercising their options. You don’t hear about Italy and Greece planning an EU exit. And have you noticed, it’s the marginal workplace performers who tend to hang around forever?
4. The very factors that prompted 52% of voting Brits to say cheery-o to the EU are the same ones that weaken organizations whose best and brightest vote with their feet: not being listened to, lowering standards for entry into the club, subsidizing weaker performers at the expense of stronger ones, and taking away that most prized of human powers – autonomy – led to what shouldn’t have been a surprising outcome. And so it’s no surprise that these same failings can bring down your organization if you let – that’s right – you let them take hold.
How to stanch the flow
1. Don’t let the arrogance of Brussels sprout in your organization. The inflated heads of the EU were all like, “They’ll never leave. It’s all bluster. They’ve got it so good here.” (This sounds better if you say it vapidly, and with an Arnold Schwarzenegger or Gérard Depardieu accent). As an employer, you almost certainly ARE vulnerable. And if you’re one of those who believes that the workers in your company should feel “lucky to have a job”, you’re probably most at risk.
2. Listen. Then ACT! The loss of one of the EU’s most valuable assets could have been prevented. There was no shortage of information to indicate that many in Britain were pretty cheesed off over what the Common Market had morphed into. The lesson for us management-types? Listen to your people. Talk to them. Give them a forum. Conduct employee surveys regularly. And then, above all, ACT on what you learn.