Uncertain Times: With 70% Of UK Execs Looking For A New Role, Retaining Your Top Talent is Vital

16 January 2020

Uncertain Times: With 70% Of UK Execs Looking For A New Role, Retaining Your Top Talent is Vital

Whether you're pro or anti Brexit, it's hard to argue against the fact that we’re living in a time of at least some degree of political uncertainty... The outcome of which may be negative, or may in fact have a net positive result. Regardless of the often all-too-sensational headlines, the answer is yet to be seen.

To gauge what impact this political uncertainty is having on how execs feel about their roles however, Novo polled 100 UK executives with a series of related questions. The key outcomes of our survey are discussed in this blog post. So grab a coffee, pop your phone on silent, and read on. We think it makes for an interesting read.

Executive Staff Retention – The Big Picture

Q: Are you currently looking for a new executive role?

Q: Have you recently considered looking for a role in another country, outside of the UK, due to the current political & economic climate?

The first two questions on the survey produced some very revealing results. While just over two-thirds (70%) of executives are looking for a new role, a much higher figure of 84.3% have considered taking a role outside of the UK due to the current uncertainty.

This suggests that the UK may be about to experience a “brain-drain” as executive talent moves away to countries with more political stability.

The survey also revealed that 77% of executives say think that the current political situation has increased their desire to look for a new role, with 62% saying it has made more difficult to find a role and 71% feeling less safe in their current role.

Worrying news for UK-based companies? Yes and no.

Yes, the fact that so many executives are considering moving abroad is a cause for concern.

However, action can be taken to improve retention of executive talent. 

How to Retain Executive Talent in the Current Climate

The results to the following two questions in our survey can help us develop a strategy for retaining executives during these turbulent times.

Q: Would you consider a move to a 'better' executive role if the right one came up?


Q: If you were to move to a new role, how important would the following be in deciding what role to go for?

Executive Search Survey - Important job featuresThe fact that 94% of executives would consider moving to a ‘better’ role if one came up can be viewed in two different ways.

It can be seen as concerning that so many executives are willing to consider moving roles. Or it can be viewed as a good thing – i.e. companies can retain staff if they make their current position more attractive than those offered by competing companies.

Question eight gives us a good idea of what attracts people to a role in the modern world. Surprisingly, increased salary isn’t too far ahead of other less “materially focused” factors.

The most important factors are (in order of importance to the individual):

  1. Increased salary
  2. Flexibility
  3. Good company culture
  4. Better career prospects
  5. Health cover level
  6. Perks (car, laptop, etc.)

Therefore, any recruitment and retention plan should focus primarily on pay rises, flexible working hours or remote working and company culture. In other words, if you want to attract and retain the best executive talent, you need to be ready to do more than just throw money at the role.

Of these three main factors, probably the cheapest and easiest to improve is company culture. 

Improving Company Culture to Boost Retention

First of all, don’t confuse company culture with perks such as company car, health cover, gym, etc. Sure, company culture can encompass these things, but they are just the material aspects. Much more important in the modern world is the emotional side of company culture.

Modern executives are looking for roles that don’t leave them burnt out with stress or feeling unfulfilled. These negative emotions lead to disengagement. The opposite emotions – feeling happy, fulfilled, calm and relaxed, lead to engagement.

Staff engagement, especially at the executive level is vital.

A Harvard Business Review report revealed that disengaged employees are 37% more likely to be absent and 60% more error-prone in their day-to-day work.

Conversely, highly engaged staff drive up company growth, with an increase of up to 21% in productivity. A 2017 Gallup report revealed that companies gain 10% in customer ratings and gain a 20% sales increase on average when their employees are highly engaged.

As identified in an earlier article, the main ways to improve employee engagement are:

  1. Freedom and flexibility – avoid micro-managing employees, especially executives.
  2. Health and wellness – people are increasingly health-focused and expect employers to provide Employee Assistance Programmes which may include gym membership, mental wellness support, etc.
  3. Collaborative working – workplaces that embrace collaboration have been shown to be more successful and engaged than those that don’t.
  4. Transparency – honesty and openness build trust which is paramount for success. Ensure a free flow of information from the top director level, through to the C-suite, to the workforce and vice versa.
  5. Empowerment – empowering employees is a direct result of trusting them to do their job properly. Encourage accountability and avoid creating a blame culture.

Implementing these changes, as well as including perks, will make a bigger difference to staff retention than a pay rise, in most cases.


Novo is an industry-leading executive search & selection company, with locations across the UK. With our client-led approach to executive search, we bring the benefit of many years of industry expertise from our team of individual sector experts.

Contact Novo: 0844 241 2064


The raw survey data PDFs are available below: