I was reluctant to write a post about last week’s EU referendum. Enough keyboard warriors have already given their reactions, opinions and solutions. But a couple of recent posts and comments from HR people have changed my mind.
First, let me state that, as a Remain voter, I’ve been through anger, disbelief, shock and all the other emotions that many others (like this, this and this) have also experienced. It’s small consolation to live in a city which voted overwhelmingly to remain and where I’ve yet to meet anyone who’s anything other than horrified by the result and its implications for them and their children.
But what I will not do is get involved in a blame game. People who voted Leave did so for a variety of individual reasons – some will have had well thought out principled arguments, some were out and out racists, some had a rose-tinted and nostalgic view of England in the 1950s and some were just conned by the duplicitous snake-oil salesmen leading the Leave campaign. To start trying to demonise the old, or working class people from the de-industrialised north, or those who live in rural areas, or those without a degree, for the way they voted is neither constructive not helpful. Indeed, the demonising of certain groups, particularly by politicians (and I don’t just mean UKIP) is the sort of tactic that has led us to the present situation.
We talk in HR a lot about “engagement” – an ill-defined concept which provokes a range of reactions from evangelism to cynicism. But I remember in one discussion a colleague saying “I can’t really describe what an engaged employee looks like – but I certainly know what a disengaged one is”. What we saw last week was the result of a disengaged population who wanted to kick back against something. As an old boss of mine used to say when discussing union negotiations, “when you’re in a lose/lose situation, do what you want to do”. And that’s what they appear to have done.
The UK seems to be in a collective Kubler-Ross curve at the moment. But the only way we will move forward to is get past the denial and anger stages and start to make the best of our new circumstances. And maybe that means applying some of the ideas we use to try to improve employee engagement on a wider basis.