Post-Merger Retention - Should they stay or should they go?

HR’s dual post-merger or post-acquisition role requires thoughtful consideration and immediate action, says Darren Wentworth - September 2012

While mergers and acquisitions inevitably create a degree of uncertainty amongst workforces, HR teams face unique pressures. The speed and efficiency with which they’re marshalled into action can make or break the short-term objectives of the newly merged organisation. But while they prepare to join forces and support senior management through the transition - handling distressing or sensitive consequences such as redundancies, redeployments or harmonisation of pay and conditions - they have their own issues to address.

First steps: start talking now

Frazer Jones has worked alongside CEO’s and HRD’s during many post-merger recruitment and restructuring exercises. In our experience there are a number of critical challenges HR leaders typically need to overcome:
- Clear communication from the outset: Ensure that combined HR resources understand how the focus of their outward-facing roles might shift temporarily until the dust settles, while keeping a lookout to identify those you can rely on not to rock the boat
- Support at hand: Prepare everyone for an upturn in the volume of queries and demands from members of staff (some of whom may be unreceptive or hostile), ensuring there’s always a safe pair of hands close by who can step in should conversations become troublesome for younger or less-experienced colleagues
- For ‘me time’, read ‘HR time’: Reassure the HR teams that, while you need them to support colleagues, their individual concerns won’t be neglected or kicked into the long grass ‘make time to speak to everyone on a one-to-one basis as soon as possible, even if there’s nothing concrete you can tell them about how their own role will ultimately be affected

Should I stay or should I go: what are your people thinking?

Even the most capable HR professionals might be tempted to jump ship in the wake of a merger or acquisition announcement. But it’s by no means the case that this will always represent the wisest (or even the safest) option. In some instances, it might even be regarded as short-sighted by prospective employers who would otherwise snap up candidates from industry competitors - even if they’re sympathetic to the situations in which those candidates find themselves.

The exact nature of everyone’s dilemma will be dictated by their own individual circumstances. Loyal members of your HR team (and the team with which you may be joining forces) may want to cast around for a new role immediately - not because they’re especially fearful about their own position but instead to avoid a later situation where they find themselves on the job market at the same time as colleagues and peers who have been made redundant.

Conversely, opportunities to learn and develop during the transition may require emphasising to others. HR professionals who have been through the mill may be better able to anticipate and overcome similar future challenges, enhancing their marketability to acquisitive employers (and those which are targets of takeovers).

Mergers and acquisitions may mean employers and HR professionals alike playing a waiting game, but those management teams who engage their senior HR professionals as early as possible give themselves a better chance of making the transition workable, even if not entirely painless.