Disengagement on a national level

Tony Latter | 30th June 2016

I vowed to never write a political piece, but the EU referendum is an opportunity to discuss disengagement on a national level.

Let’s get it out the way, I voted to remain as did a lot of people similar to me who are in their 30s and either live or work in London. This isn’t a political comment on what the result means, but my view on why people voted as they did. I’ve picked 5 key areas which I believe led to the UK voting to leave. I’ll also draw comparisons between the recent vote and experiences I’ve seen within the many companies I’ve consulted with and the wider business world.

Lack of trust:

There was an alarming lack of trust during the campaigning. Both Leave and Remain didn’t trust the public to make a decision based on a balanced argument and instead raged a war of scaremongering. As time passed the public became more and more sceptical of these tactics. The Leave campaign saying an extra £350m per week could be spent on the NHS, which was misleading as yes it’s the levy the UK pays to the EU, but it didn’t take into account the rebates we receive which would have halved this figure. Remain were telling us if we voted to leave there would be a cataclysmic economic collapse returning us to the dark ages and our security as a nation would be compromised. Both parties were trying to outdo the other into scaring us to vote one way or the other without trusting you or I to make a decision based on a reasoned presentation of the facts.

This lack of trust is all too common within companies I’ve consulted with in the past. There has been a ‘we know best’ attitude from the leaders whilst the staff didn’t trust the judgement of the leaders as they weren’t ‘in the thick of it’. In reality neither the leaders or staff were right, in order to succeed and drive a business forward you need an open relationship where leaders listen and staff have the platform to have their voices heard.

Lack of leadership:

It doesn’t matter whether you’re running a political campaign or leading a business there has to be clear leadership in order to succeed. The Remain campaign appeared to suffer due to a lack of conviction from Jeremy Corbyn which resulted in a poor return for Remain from the traditional northern Labour strongholds. Whatever the sector the most successful companies are those that have strong leadership full of conviction, think Steve Jobs at Apple and Richard Branson at Virgin.

Lack of vision:

Neither Remain or Leave could articulate exactly what the benefits were for the voting public. They couldn’t create a vision for voters to buy into and show us what life after the 23rd June would look like. In the business world if you want to drive cultural change you need everyone to buy into a vision and once they do the transformation can be incredible.

Lack of action:

For too long parts of the UK have felt ignored with too much focus on certain areas of the country, namely London and the South East. We’ve all worked in companies where we believe one team or department is better resourced than ours and this creates resentment and a desire for change. This is what happened on a national level. Perhaps if the recent government had spread the resources further than the Watford Gap Services the Northern vote to leave may not have been so overwhelming. After all, if you feel let down and that promises of a brighter future haven’t materialised then why not vote to Leave in the hope that it will stimulate change.

The same can be said for any organisation, I remember a company I worked for prior to founding The Happiness Index where I was placed on a future leaders program. The program was designed to identify and cultivate raw talent and prepare them for life in senior positions within the company. After being told I would be in the program and given a start date it didn’t materialise. Instead of receiving a hugely rewarding experience the lack of action led to a loss in engagement and my motivation and performance dipped for a period of time.


The 5th and final area I feel played a part in the UK voting to leave was complacency. This affected both the politicians and public. After the polls closed the Leave camp were talking of a well fought battle which indicated an acceptance that they would not win. I’m sure there were many who supported Remain who decided to stay at home safe in the knowledge that their vote wouldn’t matter as it wouldn’t be that close.

This is exactly the type of complacency that leads to failure. There are a number of large brands who were complacent and failed to adapt, Blockbuster’s inability to see the streaming culture as a threat to their traditional business model being a notable example.

Whatever our own personal thoughts regarding the result nobody I’ve spoken to can deny democracy has been carried out. We all had an opportunity to cast a vote and felt engaged with the process. Why wouldn’t business leaders want to replicate this within their own companies? By giving employees the opportunity to provide regular feedback they create an environment bursting with engagement. It invites trust, shows strong leadership, helps everyone to buy into a common vision, addresses any questions regarding a lack of action and totally avoids complacency.