Is the UK suffering a brain drain?

New research suggests that British companies are finding it increasingly hard to hang on to top talent...

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Recruitment consultancy Harvey Nash reckons that Britain may be on the verge of a brain drain, as highly-skilled workers decide to pack their bags and head for less turbulent climes. The latest ONS statistics, due out this week, are expected to show that 2006’s record emigration figure of 400,000 has shot up again since then. And with the British economy stagnating, the cost of living rising and the pound plummeting, you can understand why...

A Harvey Nash survey of over 500 senior managers found that one in four are already losing skilled workers overseas, while another 49% are worried that it’s going to start happening soon. Some of those leaving will be immigrants returning to their home countries – for instance, a sizeable proportion of the US, French and German citizens working in the City are likely to return home in the next 12 months.

But the problem is broader than that. Harvey Nash reports that candidates are now far more open to the idea of moving overseas for a job – perhaps to the emerging markets of the Middle East or Latin America. ‘Whereas before [persuading someone to relocate] would have been fraught with problems and difficulties, because of the job market as it is now, people are seriously considering emerging economies and different markets,’ Harvey Nash CEO Albert Ellis tells MT.

Three-quarters of respondents suggested extortionate living costs were driving people abroad – and even if inflation does fall, as most people expect, the effect will be limited as long as the pound continues to languish against the dollar and the euro (and there’s little chance of that changing any time soon). The fact that many big UK businesses are slashing their workforces or targeting growth overseas isn't encouraging people to stay put, either.

Indeed, Harvey Nash argues that British firms are not taking proper care of their top talent. ‘Some of these financial services companies are so fixated on the issues they’ve got on the table at the moment that keeping their talent is very low on the agenda,’ says Ellis. And the rhetoric being used doesn’t help – Ellis describes some of the recent announcements (like BT’s boast of 10,000 job cuts last week) as ‘appalling’. ‘I think they’re trying to impress shareholders with the scale of their cutbacks,’ he suggests. ‘But it’s not going down well on the shop floor.’

30% of respondents said greater job satisfaction and improved career prospects was the key to retaining staff – but it’s hard to feel positive about an employer that’s making a virtue out of redundancies. ‘Generally morale will be low in those organisations that are making these sort of announcements,’ agrees Ellis. And when morale is low, it’s only going to encourage your top people to seek a more conducive working environment elsewhere – which is bad news for you, and potentially bad news for UK plc...

In today's bulletin:
Biggest drop in inflation for 16 years
Barclays caves as Varley puts job on the line
Easyjet row escalates as Stelios refuses to sign off accounts
Is the UK suffering a brain drain?
Competition: Win two FREE business class flights with bmi

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