Ways to build the employee experience following a merger or acquisition


While new business marriages customarily have their whys and wherefores rooted in economics, in the wake of a merger or acquisition it’s HR professionals who are tasked with maintaining the status quo among the rank and file. In personnel parlance, this is code for: brace, brace, we’re in for a bumpy ride.

Three ways to build the employee experience following a merger or acquisition

Fronting the challenges

Once a corporate union is agreed, uncertainty about the future simmers; the integration process can be saturated with tension. You’ll be expected to stop the rumour mill from turning and repudiate any unofficial information, keep employees focused and incentivised, and assuage any anxious souls to keep their productivity purring. (Oh, you’ll also need to produce answers to everybody’s questions – on demand.)

An emotionally draining period, anyone? You bet.

Much employee sensitivity focuses around the impact of two company cultures colliding; new methods, new responsibilities, new people and increased workloads are all typical by-products. Not surprisingly, expect plenty of apprehension around redundancies and the one thing that your people have worked so hard for: their pensions and benefits. The key to breaking through these roadblocks is communication.

Your three-point communication plan

Maintaining the trust and faith of employees who’ve placed their retirement savings with your organisation goes some way towards appeasing any merger animosity – and retaining their services. The real trick is to resist the temptation to play the lone wolf and feel the responsibility lies squarely on your shoulders.

As David Pugh, managing partner at Lemonade Reward, explains: “Sessions run by third parties are welcomed by employees. They’re well-attended and have much better engagement. It helps when the person sharing new information is different from the person who delivered the news of the merger, because they’re seen as being focused on the future.

“Getting the communication mix right is not only critical but greatly appreciated,” he says.

Pugh suggests a two-step process to manage communications:

  1. Step one is ensuring your communications are personal. Staff need to be informed about exactly what has changed with their pension and benefits.
  2. Step two would be delivered by a professional third party in group presentation format. This would be more explanatory in style, drilling down into the changes and outlining the new post-merger pension and benefits package. This process could be concluded with one-to-one meetings, where employees talk to qualified financial advisers.

This type of procedure clearly demonstrates a company is working hard for its people. It gives employees faith in the values and culture of the newly-formed entity.

Conquering the culture conundrum

The whole idea of two companies coming together to form one is fraught with complications, particularly where cultures are concerned. Acquisitions are more clear-cut. But with mergers, invariably the dominant culture – often determined by size – overpowers its new partner. But is the biggest company culture always the best one? Not necessarily.

When the dominant party prevails, so do their benefits and packages. Changes for some staff will follow. They could be hard-hitting, affecting working hours, holidays, health or life cover, or be simple touches like free milk and biscuits for the kitchen.

The more HR can do to protect positive cultural traits so they filter through into any negotiations, the better the new environment will be. Independent professionals can also fight your corner, arbitrating between two sets of brokers to ensure all employees get fair and sensible package deals.

Softening the redundancy impact

Few mergers or acquisitions materialise without the traditional headline-maker – redundancy – flaunting its destructive nature. As companies look for economies of scale in tandem with operational efficiencies, casualties are inevitable.

In this unenviable exercise, equal consideration must be made for those being laid off and those who survive, as the entire episode will be under behavioural scrutiny. Perceptions are important; some sense of justice must be seen to prevail, particularly where procedure is concerned. Again, transparency around communication is king, with consistency and clarity paramount in all announcements.

Responsibilities for HR extend beyond the decision-making and execution phases, as employees working in the new family require reassurance about their futures.

Forums and group councils are recognised as progressive solutions. They are geared towards helping staff cope with the loss of colleagues or institutional knowledge, while embracing their new environments with potentially different people and practices.

Keeping Human Resources human

A change in corporate governance will always spark anxiety, fear and even sadness. From an HR perspective, it can be uncomfortable to manage, particularly when you’re experiencing the very same feelings. But out of the ashes you can rise.

Companies who scale the face of an acquisition or merger mountain by paying attention to their people, often emerge with a competitive edge – both culturally and economically. Approach this with professional, dynamic and varied communication, and there’s every chance you’ll create satisfied, incentivised company champions who are armed with fresh impetus and belief.

This article is provided by Lemonade Reward.


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