The Brexit Paradox: What About Recruitment Revenue and Growth?

Ever heard of Schrödinger’s cat? Sure you have. The thought experiment suggesting that if both a cat and something that could kill the cat (such as a vial of poison) were sealed in a box, the cat can be considered both “dead and alive” until the box is opened? Well, it certainly seems that Brexit is giving Schrödinger a run for his money when it comes to paradoxes.

To say that the ongoing Brexit negotiations are casting something of a ‘cat-in-a-box’ shaped shadow over the UK and Irish recruitment industries would be an understatement. Just as the cat’s wellbeing is uncertain until the box is open, it seems the impact of Brexit on UK and Irish recruitment businesses will remain uncertain until a vote is cast and a deal is struck.

Heading into 2018, Brexit was the top macroeconomic and political concern for UK and Irish recruiters, outranking economic growth rate, inflation, and GDPR. But with Brexit only a couple of months away, and the withdrawal deal still unconfirmed and awaiting a vote from MPs in Parliament, where do recruitment professionals currently stand?

Overall, recruitment professionals across the UK and Ireland predict Brexit to have very few positive implications for their business’ future revenue and growth goals. 34 percent of recruiters predicted that Brexit will make it harder to achieve these goals, whilst a further 32 percent still remain unsure of how Brexit will impact business two years on from the referendum.

34% of recruiters believe Brexit will make it harder to achieve future growth and revenue goals

Amid the uncertainty, 19 percent of participants remain steadfast in the opinion that Brexit will not impact their businesses’ ability to achieve future revenue and growth goals. It is worth noting here that there’s a positive correlation between perception of Brexit’s impact, role seniority, and business size.

Recruitment professionals in executive positions at enterprise-level businesses seemingly hold more confidence that Brexit’s impact will be positive than their less senior counterparts in mid- to small-sized companies. Likewise, those in more senior positions consider the UK’s withdrawal from the EU to pose no threat to their upcoming plans. With this in mind, we must consider whether this is a reflection of business strategy knowledge that those in senior roles may have that less senior individuals may not.

By role seniority: What impact will Brexit have on your business’ ability to achieve its future revenue and growth goals?
Executive Senior Manager Staff
Positive 18% 10% 9%
Negative 32% 34% 40%
None 26% 13% 17%
Unsure 24% 43% 34%
By agency size: What impact will Brexit have on your business’ ability to achieve its future revenue and growth goals?
Enterprise Mid-size Small
Positive 20% 11% 14%
Negative 20% 40% 32%
None 13% 15% 20%
Unsure 47% 35% 32%

Despite the 32 percent (13 percent positive impact, 19 percent no impact) of recruitment pros that currently have a sense of certainty, by and large, the feelings of negativity and uncertainty outweigh those of positivity and certainty. Whilst the majority perceived Brexit to hold negative consequences for their business, it’s telling that - in addition to the 32 percent that asserted they were unsure of Brexit’s potential impact - almost an additional 30 percent of participants opted to skip answering the question altogether. Whilst this may reflect a simple lack of interest in the question, it is possible that these individuals are caught in the Brexit Paradox; with no certain knowledge or understanding of what the UK’s withdrawal from the EU will look like, they are unable to answer. Uncertain of whether the cat is alive or dead, one might feel more confident wagering no guess at all.

All in all, whilst some UK and Irish recruitment professionals feel certain in their opinions around the outcome of Brexit - be it positive, negative, or unthreatened - data reveals that the majority of participants are uncertain or unable to provide an opinion as to how the political changes will impact their business’ ability to achieve future revenue and growth goals in 2019. And, until the parliamentary vote - and the opening of Schrödinger’s proverbial box - later this month, chances are high that the market will remain certainly uncertain as to what comes next.

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Bob McHugh

Senior Manager, Global Content and Research


Bob McHugh is the Senior Manager, Global Content and Research at Bullhorn. Before joining Bullhorn, Bob spent five years at the digital marketing agency, Brafton, as a Social Media and Engagement Manager. He earned his bachelor's degree from Siena College and his MFA in writing from Emerson College.