What About Me?

By Wendy Turner-Hargreaves

What would happen to your employees if you merged with or were acquired by another company?

The uncertainty during a sale or merger can cause a significant increase in anxiety among employees, which could be a deal breaker if it isn’t dealt with carefully. Because while its crucial that the financials stack up, the company employees are an important element in the business’s value. If the current business owner is retiring for example, the acquiring company will be keen to see that the second tier of management is solid and secure. Plus, the continuity and smooth transition is critical for client relationships and that process of seamless change requires careful handing, often by the existing team.

Understanding and handling the employee’s concerns requires sensitivity because there’s a conflict here. You don’t want to cause unnecessary worry, but in reality, a sale or merger can mean staff losses or changes in management or role. Aside from the management team, who are likely to be closer to the sale process, your staff are going to be thinking – what about me?

In my experience, these are the 7 most asked employee questions:

  1. Post-acquisition, will I still have a job?
  2. Will I receive a severance package if I’m made redundant?
  3. What changes will be made to my role and accountabilities and will I have a say in those changes?
  4. Will I need to relocate or work elsewhere?
  5. Will my package stay the same?
  6. Will the structure stay the same?
  7. How will the culture of the business change?

Some employees will be excited by the change, while others may feel split loyalty. Whatever the reaction, it’s important to have a clear communication plan which establishes trust with the new owners or partners. When we’re going through this process, we implement a Talent Care Programme which is one of the modules in the Fidelis Business System. Part of that module involves guidelines on communication with employees including:

  • Be truthful and open to discussion. People may not like what they hear but they will appreciate your honesty.
  • If you don’t have all the answers to their questions, agree a time/date when you will. Be sure to meet this deadline.
  • Don’t be vague in your communications. If something is open to interpretation it can cause destructive speculation and rumours.
  • Have a communication calendar which is shared with the workforce so that they know when to expect information (and when to wait). Being timely shows that everything is organised and under control.
  • In the likelihood of any staff changes, impacted employees should be informed in advance of the possibility of redundancy and be given ample time to look for new jobs.
  • Be caring and empathetic. Your concerns are broad, while theirs are likely to be highly focused on their own role and their livelihood. Staff who feel secure, listened to and informed are less likely to be ineffective or feel under threat.
  • Be flexible. Expect impromptu meetings or one on one discussions.
  • Have back up. If you aren’t always available to answer questions appoint another senior team member to liaise in your absence.  

While you may be handling negativity, there are many positives to emerge from the changes and it’s important to clearly communicate them. They might range from new benefits, equipment or working conditions through to potential stock price rises leading to capital gains for employees with company stocks.  

Potential culture clashes can be an issue for some people who have become used to a particular way of working or management style, but a change in culture can also be a breath of fresh air if the workforce previously felt stifled. Uncertainty though, can manifest in unhealthy ways, especially if there are employees who aren’t happy with the changes and disapprove of decisions made. Most of the uncertainty though is around job losses.

Historically mergers or acquisitions can result in job losses, but not always. The reasons for the losses can be down to positions becoming redundant or to improve efficiency wherever that may be needed. This is a balancing exercise for the acquirer who will be looking to maintain operational functions and look after employees while maximising on cost synergies at the same time.  

It’s essential for business owners to handle all of this sensitively, alongside their new partner or acquirer. It’s one of the reasons why we have a dedicated Talent division in Fidelis. It’s good to be a ‘people business’ but only if you genuinely put the time and effort into supporting and guiding the people in your business, encouraging them to be the best they can be. This starts right at the beginning of your journey together and should be consistent through to the end.

At Fidelis, we are always pleased to hear from business owners who are looking to sell or exit their business. Wherever you are in the process, for a confidential, no obligation discussion please get in touch.

Contact details:

Telephone: 0161 410 7070

Email: theteam@thefidelisgroup.co.uk

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