Survey shows workers in the UK are anxious, insecure, trapped and uncertain – and Europeans call Brexit foolish, small minded and deluded

A survey which sought to find out how people in the UK and Europe feel about Brexit has produced some shock results which could have major consequences for international business and global mobility.

Brexit has dominated headlines in the UK ever since June 2016 when, in a referendum, the country voted to leave the European Union. Much of the focus has been on how it will affect the UK economy and on the political challenges ahead in negotiating the best outcome.

Now a survey by Crown World Mobility, a business which helps corporations manage global talent, has looked at the cultural opinions, perceptions and emotions about Brexit in continental Europe – as well as in the UK.

It polled 2,505 business professionals in Germany, Republic of Ireland and the Netherlands, and 1,013 in the UK, who work in companies which offer international assignments – the very people whose working lives could be affected most by Brexit.

In the survey, which laid bare the emotions behind the headlines, the result showed Europeans:

  • Chose the word ‘foolish’ to best sum up Brexit
  • Said their emotions towards the UK are now more negative
  • Claimed Brexit was bad for business
  • Revealed their hidden fears about the consequences of Brexit

Meanwhile, in the UK, British workers, including those on assignment, are also worried. Just look at the words they used to describe their emotions around Brexit:

  • 40 per cent polled, said the decision to leave the EU had made them feel more ‘uncertain’ as a worker.
  • Another 22 per cent feel less integrated and 18 per cent less welcome as a worker.
  • One in six, 16 per cent, said the leave vote had made them feel ‘trapped’.
  • Almost a quarter in the UK say the best word to describe the way they feel about the future after Brexit is ‘anxious’
  • 39 per cent said they were more negative about the UK since the referendum, almost 30 per cent said they were more positive.
  • Almost one in 10 who voted leave in the UK referendum now feel more negative towards the UK because of Brexit. And 39 per cent who didn’t vote feel the same way.

Phil Smith, Practice Leader for Compensation Services, Crown World Mobility, said: “It would be easy to think that Brexit is an isolationist issue relevant only in the UK, but this survey paints a very different picture – one that businesses all over the world will want to take notice of.

“More than half of respondents in every country felt Brexit was bad for the EU and almost as many agreed it was bad news for international businesses; and opinions like that are unlikely to come without repercussions.

“Whilst there is some understanding as to why Britain voted to leave, Brexit has also generated some negative feeling towards working in and with the UK.

“That’s significant because uncertainty can have negative consequences if work is not done to keep relationships strong.

“The impact of the vote seems to have gone beyond the residency and business aspects, to also affect personal sentiment towards the UK.

“How people ‘feel’ is an often a hidden aspect of international business, but it should not be underestimated.”

When it came down to the emotional impact, Europeans weren’t shy in letting Britain know how they felt.

The words used to describe how Europeans feel about Brexit were:

UK:  #1 Foolish: 18 per cent; #2 Small minded: 12 per cent; #3 Deluded: 11 per cent

Germany: #1 Foolish: 18 per cent; #2 Small minded: 15 per cent; #3 Deluded: 11 per cent

Netherlands: #1 Foolish: 17 per cent; #2 Brave: 12 per cent; #3 Deluded: 10 per cent

Ireland: #1 Foolish 28 per cent; #2 Small minded: 14 per cent; #3 Deluded: 10 per cent

“It’s interesting to see that the Netherlands chose ‘brave’ in second place, which indicates a greater level of empathy towards Brexit in that region,” said Phil Smith.

“In fact, the results in the Netherlands were often vastly differently to those in Ireland in particular, which shows that not all views on Brexit are clear cut.

“Negative emotions can be driven by fear and uncertainty and should be addressed now. The survey also showed that business professionals in Europe fear it is going to be harder and more expensive to work in the UK post-Brexit, which is an important issue for the future of global mobility.

“There is no doubt in my mind that international business and global mobility will continue. But businesses need to prepare for Brexit and strengthen relationships too. By making the extra effort now to understand each other on a deeper level, business relationships for the future can be protected – no matter where the politics lead us.”

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Rebecca joined the HRreview editorial team in January 2016. After graduating from the University of Sheffield Hallam in 2013 with a BA in English Literature, Rebecca has spent five years working in print and online journalism in Manchester and London. In the past she has been part of the editorial teams at Sleeper and Dezeen and has founded her own arts collective.