How to make sure you survive a merger or acquisition

Talk of a potential merger or acquisition can be somewhat unsettling for professionals, particularly those who are happy in their job and anticipate a long-term future with their current employer. Should their organisation become the target of a buy-out, it creates a great deal of uncertainty. If the deal goes ahead, will their job still exist in a year's time?

Some mergers and acquisitions are relatively seamless, such as where one organisation takes over or joins with another which operates in a different field or industry sub-sector. In these situations, there is likely to be little or no crossover between the two businesses, and as such, less duplication of activities and roles. As such, the companies continue to operate largely as before, albeit with new shareholders, a revised management structure and potentially a different name.

However, where the companies involved in an mergers and acquisitions are previous rivals, or at least have similar business models and target markets, some element of rationalisation is inevitable. It doesn't make sense to have two people doing the same job when one will suffice, and as such, there are always likely to be redundancies. As the two companies become intertwined, only those professionals who can prove their continued worth to the new, enlarged organisation will be kept on the payroll.

The Pfizer saga

Pfizer's recent attempts to secure a takeover of UK pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca brought the issue of mergers and acquisitions firmly back into the media spotlight. Trade unions and politicians expressed concerns over the potential deal - initiated by the US-based drug company and rebuffed by its target - on the basis that jobs could be lost in Britain if it went ahead. Pfizer pledged to keep its European base in the UK, but few guarantees were provided to the 6,700 employees working for AstraZeneca.

Ultimately, businesses are obliged to maximise the returns for their shareholders, and employing more people than is necessary to deliver the required output makes no economic sense. There may be social benefit in providing jobs, but commercial organisations cannot be expected to spend more than necessary on personnel. If, following a merger and acquisition transaction, a role becomes redundant, it will only be a matter of time before the incumbent loses their job.

Proving your worth

But this is not to say professionals are powerless to defend their employment role - in fact far from it. If an individual is eager to remain on the payroll once the merger or acquisition has been completed, there are various ways they can increase their chances of being retained.

With 29% of chief financial officers surveyed by Robert Half claiming their organisation will target growth through mergers and acquisition activity in the future, it makes sense for professionals to formulate their own strategy for such a scenario. Business leaders clearly view M&As as a valid way of boosting turnover and profitability, and as such, many members of the UK workforce could be impacted by a takeover bid at some point in their career.

Yet employees have more control over the situation than they may realise. Few mergers and acquisitions are completed quickly, due to the complex nature of the deal, meaning there is plenty of scope to be proactive. This may involve undertaking additional training, volunteering for new responsibilities, working longer hours, becoming an innovative thinker to solve problems and generally being more visible within the organisation.

Often, when merged organisations have more than one person for the same role, employees will be required to re-interview for their job. The person deemed to be most valuable will be kept on, and the other - or others - will either be found a new position or made redundant. Recognising the risk at an early stage allows professionals to start reshaping their CV, reflecting the vision and mission statement of their new employer, and also hone their interview skills.

Making yourself valuable

The more professionals can learn about the organisation they now work for, and the people to be charged with making redundancy decisions, the better. This provides maximum opportunity to impress management and prove your worth ahead of a decision on who stays and who goes. What type of employees will the organisation be looking to keep, and who will they be looking to move off the wage bill?

It may be possible to pick up clues about what the new leadership team are looking for by reading through press releases, listening to interviews given by company directors, or simply by having a frank and open discussion with management. This can also provide an opportunity for self-promotion, something not all professionals are comfortable with, but a potentially vital tactic for safeguarding employment. Those professionals who simply get on with their work quietly risk being overlooked by their new bosses - and ultimately discarded.

That said, self-hype will only get you so far. Professionals must be able to provide evidence of their achievements, and demonstrate how they add tangible value to their team and organisation as a whole. It is essential to understand how your role fits into the new post after a merger and acquisition of a business, and what can be offered in this position going forwards. It is also worth thinking about ways the job could be adapted to better meet the needs of the business - something that may display commercial awareness and vision.

Conclusion

There is always a risk that jobs will be lost following a merger and acquisition, and in almost every case, redundancy implies no fault on behalf of the individuals affected. Losing your job when two companies join together is not something hiring managers will hold against a candidate - it is simply an unfortunate fact of life for some employees that their job ceases to exist.

But given the upheaval that redundancy is likely to cause, and also the fact that new opportunities may arise after a merger and acquisition of  organisations, many professionals will fight to stay on the wage bill. And in most cases, there are opportunities for a promotion - whether in the same job or a different role. It is all about demonstrating your skills, displaying your value and showing your employer how committed you are to the organisation.

Tags: Workplace