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Nov 4, 2015

Is your workforce resilient enough to survive a merger?

For company founders and executive teams, mergers and acquisitions are often exciting – a productive and profitable business has been built, a successful workforce has been cultivated and now the organization is appealing to a buyer.

However, for HR professionals and employees, a merger can drive significant stress.

What is takes to navigate a merger

Change is an anxiety and stress trigger for many individuals, and a merger or acquisition is a major shake-up for a company. Employees worry if their job will remain, if their responsibilities will change, if they will lose colleagues or have to relocate.

Many large corporations have successfully navigated mergers, and one key aspect of making it work was the resilience of their workforce. While you may have talented, high-performers within your employee base, this doesn’t necessarily mean your workforce is resilient, or able to reframe challenges to minimize impacts of stress and feel confident and empowered when facing difficult situations.

This is a common misconception among organization leadership and HR departments that could lead to a less-than-successful experience.

There are six (6) key ingredients that make an individual resilient (most have these capabilities to varying degrees) and the collective resilience of employees will determine how an organization will weather the merger storm.

What makes a workforce resilient?

  1. Employees need solid emotional control to set anxiety aside and face challenges head on.
  2. While individuals may be tempted to storm out of the office, skip a meeting or avoid a manager, they must be able to control their impulses.
  3. Being able to solve problems is critical when going through a merger. Under pressure you can fall into thinking traps like blaming others for all the issues a merger has brought to the surface.
  4. Employees with self-confidence and optimism will successfully see the merger through. Tapping into positive thoughts and identifying the values that drive you enables employees to remain focused on the upsides to the merger.
  5.  A sense of empathy for other colleagues and new partners will help put this major change in perspective.
  6. Perhaps most importantly, tuning into a sense of adventure will help employees focus on the excitement that change brings.

A lack of engagement on the job is one of the greatest predictors of low resilience. If HR professionals are detecting disengagement, they should take steps to build resilience among their workforce.

How can HR help?

An unprepared or stressed workforce will result in reduced productivity, employee loss or absenteeism during times of change. HR managers tasked with guiding employees through a merger should use the following tactics to bring out the natural resilience within staff:

  • Work together with the executive team and communications departments to develop a comprehensive, open communication plan so that rumor mill doesn’t control the dialogue. Especially when it comes to changes surrounding benefits and compensation, HR should keep employees up-to-date about any changes to expect. Consider issuing surveys at critical points through the process to identify employee concerns and help bridge the gap between those driving the merger or acquisition and their employees on the ground floor.
  • Managers should ensure an integrity and fairness of process so that everyone in both organizations knows the rules of the game. For example, how will retention and reduction in force (RIF) decisions be made and when. Secret deals and under-the-table agreements will put a dwarf employees’ resilience.
  • The best leaders in these situations inject positivity into the workplace; celebrating plateaus in the merger process and making the intermingling of staff a fun process rather than an awkward meet-and-greet.
  • HR teams should meet with senior leaders to ensure a clear mission and purpose of the new merged entity has been created. From there, HR can share new values with employees and infuse the messages into all communications with the staff.

Human resources plays a vital role in the success of a merger or acquisition, and by assessing the resilience of the workforce and keeping it balanced throughout the process, the transition will be as seamless as possible.