This blog post first appeared on RetirementTownHall.com. It is part of a blog series that highlights considerations for and the impacts of employee benefit plans on mergers and acquisitions (M&A) transactions. To learn how Milliman consultants can help your organization with the employee benefits aspects of M&As, click here.
What about me? That’s the number one question employees are thinking about when they hear the first whisper of M&A activity.
• Will I have a job?
• What will my benefits look like?
• I was on track for that promotion; what now?
In her blog post “Employee benefit plan considerations for M&As,” Cheryl Frost writes, “In addition, appropriate, well-timed communication is critical to talent management—the most critical asset in the deal. Retention of key management is sensitive and important. Communicating the strategic vision and benefits of the transaction to employees is a key component to the success of any transaction.”
An M&A is the time for more communication—not less. Communication efforts are often spent on getting the attention of employees. During times of change, you have their attention. Use it! This is a unique time to reaffirm the value of the total benefits package available to employees and their families. Promote your financial and health benefits. Remind them about the Employee Assistance Program. These are benefits that are available any time and may be particularly helpful during times of change.
Six tips for an effective M&A communication strategy
If you’re already communicating with your employees on an ongoing basis, you have the foundation on which to build an effective M&A communication strategy. Be sure you:
1. Communicate early and often. Change causes stress. And stressed employees can cause loss of productivity. So get in front of it! Even if you don’t know the answers, it’s OK to say that. Just let employees know when they can expect an update, and then follow through with it.
2. Know where you stand. If you are not sure how employees are feeling or what you need to communicate, review the data. Some indicators of employee stress or disengagement include:
• Higher call volume to human resources (HR) or vendor call centers
• Trends in your benefit claims
• Spikes in 401(k) loans
• An uptick in sick days
• More traffic to your website or specific searches
3. Control the message. Make sure employees get the news from you—not the media or the watercooler. Use every communication channel you have available and make sure the message is consistent. Consider a microsite devoted to M&A information, and update it regularly as more information becomes available or changes occur.
4. Listen. Whether this means town hall meetings, webinars, focus groups, or a simple, dedicated email address, give employees an outlet for questions. This simple act involves them in the process, builds buy-in, and allows you to adjust your communication strategy in response.
5. Use straight talk. Share the facts. Help employees understand the business perspective on what’s happening and why. Let people know what to expect and when, and avoid platitudes or promises.
6. Keep your managers informed. Managers are often the go-to source for employee questions. Make sure to arm employees with positioning statements, FAQs, and where they can go for more information.
A successful merger or acquisition is supported by a thoughtful, well-planned and executed communication strategy. Get your communication consultant involved from the beginning.