The EU Referendum has taken up countless column inches, time on TV and radio and is THE topic of conversation across society.

But aside from the die-hards who’ve made up their minds and are not for turning, the majority of people have the same thoughts, all centering on the issues that we can’t separate fact from fiction and haven't been given the opportunity for a true understanding of what the consequences of our vote really mean.

We’re also pretty tired of being bombarded by mudslinging, threats and endless doom-mongering from all sides. In short, we’re all pretty uncertain and in many cases, simply voting with our gut instinct, trying to block out the noise.

Now imagine that Great Britain is an employer, the Government and Remain Campaign the management team and the Leave Campaign the trade union or representative body. And imagine that we are the shareholding employees of GB Inc. What a mess!

We’ve got to vote on whether to divest from our parent company and take our division down its own path, but we’ve got no real idea what’s going on. Our reps tell us that we need to leave in our interests, the management team wants to stay.

Both tell us our jobs and incomes are on the line, but none have explained what either decision will mean for the strategic direction of the company.

Uncertainy & indecision

So whilst the decision is ours, we somehow feel like turkeys being asked to make a choice on whether it’s going to be Christmas or Thanksgiving first!

In short we are disengaged, angry, uncertain and unable to get on with the business of doing our jobs due to the worry and stress of the imminent decision. The financial performance of the organisation rapidly nosedives and our usually amenable suppliers and customers, suddenly start to become markedly less flexible.  

What we’re going through as a nation is exactly how employees react during badly communicated changes

Sound familiar? It’s clear that what we’re going through as a nation is exactly how employees react during badly communicated changes. And it’s utterly avoidable; through provision of adequate information, and a clearly articulated proposition, strategy and goal.

Mergers, divestments and business restructures are golden opportunities to utterly fail as an employer, losing people and undermining business performance through poor engagement. Alternatively, if managed correctly, they offer great scope to engage, involve, energise and empower.

Getting your people on board

A great number of the population is massively engaged with the referendum debate, far more than usually becomes engaged with politics and the running of the country, yet the engagement has taken a negative tone as people are worrying, rather than approaching it as a positive opportunity to make a change or endorse the status quo.

This doesn’t mean that all the messages have to be positive, but it does mean there needs to be a degree of certainty, as well as a element of involvement from those on the ground in working out how they will adapt to any changes which may affect them.

Without this, rumours start, people feel lost and either passively disengage or become actively disruptive. Disciplinary cases increase, absence and performance management become a problem and employing people turns into an endless firefight at a time when everyone needs to knuckle down, remain positive and continue with business as usual in addition to any work around the potential changes.

Stop and consider whether you’ve really done enough to bring your people along with you

So if you’re a CEO, board member or HRD about to push your business through a major change, think about the state of nation during these weeks leading up to the referendum, stop, and consider whether you’ve really done enough to bring your people along with you, or whether you’re going to leave them angry, confused and unable to trust you again.