Throughout the course of a career, it’s likely one will at some point work for a company as it undergoes a merger or acquisition.
Many employees feel blindsided when told their employer has been bought and will come under new ownership, fearing what could happen to them personally or how the organizations they work for could change.
At the same time, their employer may remain tight-lipped to try and quell fears and maintain morale, or may simply not have answers to the questions ready immediately.
“In most acquisitions, they might not change a lot at the beginning, but they will change,” said Cary Cooper, professor of organizational psychology and health at the University of Manchester.
A variety of factors matter, particularly whether the acquiring firm takes a more controlling stance or allows for more autonomy at the organization it’s taking over, he said.
Some potential changes include leadership shake-ups, HR policies like those regarding time off, new practices like swapping from Google to Microsoft email platforms, and a shift in culture.
About 80% of employee questions about acquisitions focus on HR-related information.
Julia Christenson, U.S. chair for employee experience at PR firm Edelman, noted that benefits structures, compensation models, time off rules and other similar policies could change.
Don’t freak out and do your research
“The first step is do not freak out,” said Scott Dobroski, a career trends expert at Indeed. “Just because a company is bought or acquired does not mean bad things are going to happen,” he said.
The first thing employees at a newly-acquired company should do is research to better understand exactly what organizations bought them out and why, he said.
“Put your antennas up, put your business hat on,” he said. “If you understand why the business that is acquiring you is doing so, that can help you figure out very quickly what it may mean for you going forward,” he said.
“Do they have a history of buying other companies and changing them? It’s really easy to actually understand what it could mean for you with some simple research and looking at past acquisitions,” he said.
Will I lose my job?
Normally changes are introduced gradually, though one often made early is also employees’ biggest fear: layoffs.
Downsizing is often a major and realistic fear for those working at newly-acquired companies, Cooper said. “They all tend to say, ‘listen, nobody’s going to lose their job, don’t worry about it,’ and I’m afraid the reality is, some usually do,” Cooper said.
Certain departments are at heightened risk of job loss or becoming redundant in newly merged companies that already have people doing those functions, like human resources and public relations, he said.
What can I do about this?
It often takes about a full year for all the changes an acquired company goes through to actualize, Christenson said.
In many cases, employees may feel stuck in a holding pattern as leaders make big decisions and say there’s “more to come,” sometimes without immediately sharing information or saying when they plan to do so.
Throughout the transition, employees should look closely at whether leaders’ words are matching their actions.
“See how things play out, see how decisions are made,” she said.
“See how the company culture and values either stay the same, or if they shape and change in a way that works for you or not,” she said.