You’ve just learned your organization is going through a merger. No matter what industry you’re in or which role you occupy, an M&A can be a scary experience.
Mergers tend to cause workplace stress because of the uncertainty and confusion.
As an HR or operational leader, you have a special responsibility during an M&A.
Your job is to provide clear communication and transparency about the process, why it’s happening, and how employees will be impacted.
Why does this matter? Because M&As have an impact on two important workplace metrics:
- Retention: Retaining key talent is important for a successful merger, but employees who feel uncertain about their future during an M&A may begin looking elsewhere for opportunities.
- Productivity and change management: Poorly-executed mergers can lead to reduced employee productivity, morale, and job satisfaction, which impacts post-merger success.
Your people are your organization’s most important asset. Fail to stay attuned to their needs, goals, and anxieties during the process, and you risk losing value instead of increasing it during your merger.
How can companies keep tabs on how their employees are feeling?
Mergers are complicated and offer little time for senior leaders to go on a monthly listening tour of their company.
At the same time, they need to stay in the loop about how their workforce feels to be successful.
Employee surveys are an efficient way to gauge your workforce’s sentiments about a merger. With the right employee engagement software, you can design M&A-specific questions to distribute pre-merger, during the M&A, and post-merger.
Here are the top questions every company going through a merger should ask their workforce.
Pre-merger survey questions
- Overall, I believe the acquisition will be good for our organization.
- I feel confident I can deliver in my role following the merger.
- I feel secure in my current position.
- I understand how the acquisition will impact my role.
- I’m excited for the new opportunities that will result from this merger.
- I believe in this organization’s ability to make this transition successful.
- My workload has been reasonable following the acquisition.
- I feel as included in decisions that affect my work as before the acquisition.
- My coworkers are going above and beyond to make this transition successful.
- My direct manager provides the support I need during the transition.
- Other departments at the company are collaborating well with us to make the transition successful.
- I feel welcomed in the new company.
- I have the resources I need to do my job well.
- I understand my role in the new company and how it relates to the company’s success.
Pre-merger survey questions
Word’s spreading that a merger is in the works. There’s no formal announcement, but there are leaks and employees are starting to whisper about what this could mean for them.
At this stage, clear communication is essential.
What happens if employees don’t know what’s going on
If employees don’t receive clear communication about the prospective M&A, they’ll fill in the blanks themselves.
The more complex your merger is, the more pre-merger leaks you can expect from the “inner circle” of decision makers. Your workforce will want to know:
- Whether your organization is the acquirer or the acquiree
- What type of acquisition this will be (e.g. conglomerate, vertical, etc.)
- How the company’s culture will change in a post-merger environment
- Whether their roles will become redundant
- Whether this will positively or negatively impact their career progression
Overall, I believe the acquisition will be good for our organization.
Why is it important to assess employees’ agreement with this statement?
If people are uncertain, they’ll go looking for answers from their manager or a colleague or a friend who knows someone who works for the legal firm overseeing the merger. You get the idea. The result is that your organization loses control of the message. And the perceived message will determine whether employees:
- Believe it’s worth it to go above and beyond in their role, otherwise known as showing “discretionary effort”
- Start thinking about the future of their career outside of the company
How can you explain the reasons for your merger without providing too much information?
You can start by sharing the type of merger: horizontal, vertical, concentric, or conglomerate.
Your organization’s acquiring another company in the same industry. There are several benefits of a horizontal merger that can increase employees’ confidence in their company’s future. A horizontal merger can lead to larger market share, a larger customer base, and more revenue. All of this suggests more growth opportunities for employees and more job security.
On the other hand, horizontal mergers can lead to poor synergy between the two merged companies and reduced flexibility. Your teams may become anxious about what the new work environment will look like.
If you know there’s going to be a horizontal merger, communicate that an M&A is in discussion for the positive reasons outlined above: increasing market share and value.
Your organization’s realizing efficiencies by merging with a company that sits a step before or after it in the supply chain.
Once you know this, communicate the positive messages. A vertical integration likely means that few jobs will be lost.
It also provides reassurance about the future outlook of the company. The company is strengthening its foothold in the industry and securing its supply chain for future business growth.
When two businesses in completely unrelated fields or industries come together, you have a conglomerate merger.
A conglomerate merger can either be pure (the two companies have nothing in common) or mixed (the two companies have a few things in common so the acquired company will help the acquirer extend its product line or market share).
While conglomerate mergers help a company diversify its offerings, there are risks.
Conglomerates can become inefficient, because they lose their focus or divert important resources away from core operations. They also struggle to establish expected synergies because two different work cultures conflict.
Nowadays, conglomerate mergers are rare.
If your organization is initiating one, an effective communication strategy before, during, and after the merger is important because of the disorientation that comes with joining two massive entities.
When two companies that are in the same industry but have different products or lines of business come together, this is considered a congeneric merger.
These mergers can also be viewed with trepidation since business leaders will likely remove any duplication.
You’ll have to be careful about how you handle this kind of pre-merger communications, so valuable employees don’t believe they’ll be made redundant and start looking for jobs elsewhere.
I feel confident I can deliver in my role following the merger.
After a merger, workloads and job stress tend to increase as people take on more responsibility, new colleagues enter the mix, and new managers take over.
This last change can be especially demoralizing. Employees may feel like the work they’ve done to-date counts for nothing. They have to start from scratch proving themselves to a new boss.
If your survey results show that people feel worried about their ability to perform in their role, distribute a follow-up pulse survey to understand why they feel like they’ll struggle.
Are they concerned about:
- their workload?
- changed company culture or politics?
- new systems or technologies?
Address these concerns in your merger communications strategy by sharing how you’ll be supporting employees, what the new org structure will look like, and what the new focus of your organization will be.
I feel secure in my current position.
An estimated 30% of employees are considered redundant after a merger within the same industry.
You can’t make promises about who will stay in a post-merger environment. You may not have that information to give.
What you can do is understand how many people believe they’ll be made redundant per role and department.
You might learn that there’s a high level of uncertainty and dissatisfaction within a team or department that’s vital to your post-merger success, which calls for a tailored communications strategy.
Suppose a leading tech company is undergoing a merger.
While the engineers and developers are happy, the salesforce is hearing rumblings of changes to their processes or compensation structure.
A strong sales team is vital to a company’s ability to generate success, and great salespeople are constantly being recruited by competitors.
If your sales team senses weakness or uncertainty, they may consider pursuing a new opportunity.
These survey questions are also a way to gauge your workforce’s willingness to take on new roles in a post-merger workforce. Even if their roles become redundant, there may be net-new roles the company needs to fill. This can give your HR team a sense of whether you’ll need to focus your energy on re-training or recruitment after the merger.
I understand how the acquisition will impact my role.
Do you have plans to keep most of your workforce? If so, it’s important that they know how an acquisition will impact their roles.
If roles will remain the same, you’ve got an easy message to communicate.
If roles will have new responsibilities tacked on, you’ll want to prepare a plan for additional training or upskilling.
Transparency is key. If your official line is that roles will stay the same, but employees know that 40% of the current workforce’s roles overlap with the acquirer’s roles, they’ll view your communication strategy with suspicion and stop trusting future messages.
I’m excited for the new opportunities that will result from this merger.
Maybe your organization’s merger won’t have a significant number of layoffs.
Maybe it’s a vertical or horizontal merger where cooperation will be essential to the newly-formed company’s success.
In this case, you want to gauge whether employees feel excited about this change as opposed to anxious.
If they’re anxious, you’ll need to amp up communication around the business opportunities and career growth potential of this upcoming merger.
I believe in this organization’s ability to make this transition successful.
How much faith does your organization have in its management?
If it’s low, figure out why.
Is there mistrust around communication?
Has there been fumbles in the past around big change management projects, such as integrating a new system or software?
These past activities inform how your employees process any reassurances about your merger.
Plus, companies are already starting at a disadvantage. One in three people say they don’t trust their employer.
That trust keeps decreasing the further away from senior management you get with 64% of executives reporting trust in their organization and only 48% of non-managerial staff saying they do.
If you score low on this question, pose follow-up questions to get to the root of the problem, so you can address them.
These answers reveal weaknesses you may not have previously considered.
Post-merger questions to ask your employees
Once the merger happens, the challenges really begin. How you engage with employees will determine how well the process unfolds.
My workload has been reasonable following the acquisition.
Have several roles been consolidated? Ineffective consolidation may leave employees handling a significantly larger workload than they did before the merger.
This adds to the already pervasive problem of employee overwhelm.
Today’s “always-on” work culture has blurred the line between what’s personal and what’s professional.
Mergers further complicate matters. Gratitude about still having a job may make employees hesitant to complain.
Instead of asking for help or a lighter workload, they may choose to find another job instead.
By asking people about their post-acquisition workload, you can identify the specific tasks that are causing stress.
The solution could be as simple as introducing a tool that automates time-consuming, repetitive, manual tasks. But you can’t present these solutions if you don’t first know the problems.
I feel as included in decisions that affect my work as before the acquisition.
This is an important question, especially for people in critical roles.
An employee may value the consultative approach their company takes and the fact that their voice is heard.
A dramatic change in this area can impact employee morale and motivation and tempt employees to look for opportunities more in line with their former company’s culture.
An employee survey can help identify:
- the teams where this presents a problem
- how widespread the problem is
- opportunities for improvement
My coworkers are going above and beyond to make this transition successful.
How do employees from the two original companies mesh after the merger?
Are they cooperative and curious, or are they struggling to reconcile different ways of doing work?
Was your merger an international one involving countries with different professional norms and customs?
Ask your employees how they’re getting along with their co-workers.
Tension between co-workers can reduce productivity, turn a fractured culture into a toxic culture, and reduce employee retention.
My direct manager provides the support I need during the transition.
During times of change, employees look for leadership.
They’ll expect the most immediate guidance and communication from their direct manager.
If employees say the support they’re receiving is insufficient, ask follow up questions to determine where they need help. It could be that managers don’t have the training or the information to properly support their employees.
Other departments at the company are collaborating well with us to make the transition successful.
How well are the merged companies meshing?
Manual processes, confusing approval processes, and new systems can throw a wrench into employees’ workflow.
While adaptability is expected, there may be opportunities for more training or streamlined processes to improve the relationship between different teams.
I feel welcomed in the new company.
How comfortable your employees feel after a merger may depend on whether they’re from the acquired company or the acquiring company.
If they’re from the acquired company, there may not be a significant difference since their leadership will likely stay the same and their original company’s culture will be the dominant force.
If employees are from the acquired company, their management may have changed and they may undergo corporate culture shock as they adjust to the acquiring company’s ways of doing business.
This question is a quick way to gauge whether there are tensions that will impact your post-merger performance.
I have the resources I need to do my job well.
After a merger, your employees’ responsibilities may go up as roles are consolidated. It’s important to know whether they have the resources they need to do their job.
An increase in the number of employees may call for a new software.
Increased demand may call for more junior resources, subscriptions, or licenses.
Ask the people doing their jobs what they need to do their jobs well.
I understand my role in the new company and how it relates to the company’s success.
Having a sense of purpose is important for employee engagement.
Do your employees know what the purpose of their role is in the new company?
If not, you may have an engagement and performance problem on your hands.
When employees don’t know why they’re doing the work that they’re doing or they don’t have insight into higher-level decisions, they tend to view any added effort above and beyond their job description as futile.
How can you prepare your employees for a merger?
Employee surveys are an effective way to temperature check your workforce’s feelings throughout an M&A.
That said, there are general steps you should take, regardless of the type of merger or your existing company culture, to prepare your workforce for a merger:
Create an internal communications strategy
Control the message around your M&A, so that employees don’t get all of their information from the media or the workplace rumour mill.
Even if you do manage to keep your M&A under wraps until the ink dries on the paperwork, suddenly announcing to employees that their company is now owned by another company can be a jarring, anxiety-inducing experience.
Employee surveys can help greatly with this experience. They can help you gauge how employees are responding to news of an M&A and help you direct your attention to where it’s needed most.
Share your transition and integration strategy
Once news of an M&A spreads, your employees will have questions about:
- who their new managers will be
- how their track record and previous accomplishments will transfer over to this new company’s people management processes
- how specific workflows will change
You may not immediately have the answers to all of these questions, but it’s important to communicate that you’re aware of the concerns and will share updates as they come.
Share organizational charts of what the company will look like and how it will be structured in a post-merger environment as well.
Align the two organizations’ goals, objectives, and company cultures
Employees from both organizations have spent years learning the ropes, studying the company’s values, and acclimating to the company culture.
An M&A throws a wrench into all of that, causing confusion and distress as people try to fit what they know into a brand new model of operating.
Before your merger, take the time to map out both companies’:
- Goals and objectives
- Mission and vision
- Company culture
Then, look for areas of alignment and divergence. If you can start looking for connection points beforehand and coming up with strategies to address friction points, you can limit the amount of post-merger tension and conflict.
Remind employees why their roles are important
With heads full of ideas about layoffs and promotions and new managers, it’s easy for employees to lose focus on their day-to-day work. They may question whether their work is valuable to the company or if it’s worth shifting their energy elsewhere, like networking or updating their resume. Take steps to remind employees of the value of their role by:
- Broadcasting the accomplishments of different teams
- Rewarding employees from different departments who do work that aligns with the company’s mission and vision
Use an employee engagement software to stay in the loop about how your employees feel
Sparkbay’s employee engagement software makes it easy for employers to understand how their employees are handling an upcoming or completed M&A process.
Our tools allow companies to distribute surveys to employees’ computers or mobile devices and easily answer questions through a user-friendly interface.
Business leaders can redistribute these questions periodically and compare responses over time to gauge whether things have improved.