Business development · 15 March 2017

Nine top tips for keeping morale high during an acquisition transition

Managing an acquisition transition
Managing an acquisition transition

Mergers and acquisitions can be a great way for businesses to grow at a fair pace: they offer the chance to diversify and expand, while eliminating competitors. However, managed poorly, they can be disastrous for your HR department.

When there is talk of a company being acquired, it is natural for employees of that business to be concerned. They don’t know whether they’ll be laid off, and even if they keep their job the merging of divergent company cultures and increased workplace competition might raise stress levels.

When looking to sell a business, integrating two sets of employees from different corporate cultures when can be especially tricky, as an ‘us and them’ mentality can develop and fester.

The threat of losing their job or of sudden, dramatic change can be intimidating for employees, potentially damaging morale and productivity, which will impact your business’ bottom line. You don’t want to do that, especially when you are selling a business.

There is also evidence that once you’ve lost an employee’s trust, it’s harder than you might think to win it back. A recent study has shown that if, during the acquisition period, an employee is laid off and later rehired, morale is likely to remain low.

In fact, the employee is likely to take more sick days off than if they had only received a warning notice.

So what can you do? If you are acquiring a new business, you need to be aware that, to some extent at least, the workforce might be feeling a bit blue. It’s your job as an employer to tackle these anxieties head on and keep staff happy and working at peak performance.

Top tips for protecting morale during an acquisition transition

  • Keep everyone as informed as possible – during initial acquisition talks, it may not be appropriate to keep all employees fully informed. However, communication is key and you shouldn’t hold back on giving bad news just because it’s unpleasant. From an employee’s point of view, knowing you’re losing your job is better than being kept in limbo, because they can start making plans for the future
  • Set a clear training plan – once two companies have become one, there might be some confusion over who is responsible for what, and some employees might not be used to the new way of doing things. Make sure everyone is aware of what their role encompasses, and train all new employees on processes they may be unfamiliar with
  • Make time for one-to-one meetings – your employees are individuals, so treat them as such. A one-to-one meeting lets your employees feel like they are being heard, and allows them a specific time to voice any concerns they may have
  • Recognise and reward employees – when someone does a good job, make sure to let them know. This doesn’t have to be expensive; a simple “well done” or a small token of appreciation can make an employee feel valued
  • Organise social gatherings – when two companies come together, there may be a culture clash. Some employees might be used to playing music, some may be chattier than others. To prevent an “us and them” mentality developing, organise group-bonding exercises and social gatherings to give employees the chance to mingle and feel at home with each other
  • Encourage staff to take a break – whether that’s taking a couple of minutes to chat and have a cup of tea, or eating lunch away from their desks. You could even have a pool table or other games set up in a break room if you have the space
  • Switch from email to instant messaging – emails can feel a bit formal. Switching to Skype or Slack for company use can make everyone feel a little bit more connected
  • Have a suggestion box – it is important to make employees feel listened to, but sometimes they might not want to raise concerns with their boss. An anonymous suggestion box is a good way to make sure you’re getting honest feedback
  • Increase holiday allowances – even an extra day or two, or perhaps extra days earned after set time periods with the company, can do wonders for morale and loyalty

There are many ways to improve morale in a company, and doing so is rarely more important than when managing staff in a recently acquired business. To keep things ticking over smoothly, stay alert to grumblings of discontent and take action promptly when necessary.

Remember: a happy employee is a productive employee!

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Letitia Booty is a special projects journalist for Business Advice. She has a BA in English Literature from the University of East Anglia, and since graduating she has written for a variety of trade titles. Most recently, she was a reporter at SME magazine.

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