I Want to Sell My Business. But How Can I Be Sure My Employees Are Taken Care Of?
As an owner of a business, there are often times when the employees of the business can become like an extension of the owner’s family. Employees are often present during challenging times in the business owners professional and personal life and the owners of the business can often be a stabilizing presence in an employee’s life. One of the biggest concerns of a business owner is what the welfare of their employees will be upon a successful sale of the business. Often times, the concerns can be placed into four broad buckets,
1.) Will the employees be keeping their jobs?
2.) Will the employees be keeping their same level of compensation?
3.) How will the insurance benefits change, if at all?
4.) How will our company culture change – do we still have team building events planned every quarter and holiday bonuses we can count on?
The answers to these questions can go a long way in determining whether a buyer is the perfect fit for a business, outside of the fundamental valuation and transaction structure. Mergers and acquisitions are complicated endeavors, involving an incredible amount of work and attention to detail. While in the midst of an acquisition, HR Departments are the group tasked with managing perhaps the most valuable part of a company – the human capital. Granted, some aspects of the transaction are unavoidable, including the letting go of employees in an underperforming division or in a role that will be redundant within the acquirer’s organization. But, if both buyer and seller can get on the same page and formulate a plan for informing the employees of a change, this will ease the transition and mitigate the fear of the unknown.
Now, to address the first question that will come to an employee’s mind upon finding out their firm is being acquired – am I going to keep my job? In the vast majority of transactions, employees will retain their roles and often times an acquisition can be an opportunity for upward mobility within a larger organization. Timing will be of the utmost importance when it comes to making any type of announcement regarding an employee’s employment status, whether positive or negative. One hurdle to avoid at all costs is raising alarms unnecessarily. In order to avoid this complication, it’s best to announce a merger or acquisition upon execution of a Definitive Purchase Agreement and the transfer of funds. This ensures that the deal is closed and official and will eliminate the risk of pulling the rug out from under the employees of a recently acquired company.
When the topic of compensation arises, there are numerous factors at play, including the performance of both the buyer, seller and individual employee as well as the defined compensation structure that already exists within the buyer’s corporate infrastructure. Having a discussion regarding compensation can also take a different tone – perhaps a buyer can offer employees a more compelling work/life balance, an office space that offers the opportunity to exercise, eat healthy or be in a location that is convenient and offers easy access to post office hours entertainment. Being able to pitch potential employees on all of the value that a buyer offers aside from the number on their paycheck can help bridge any perceived gaps
Beyond the importance of staying employed and maintaining the current level of earnings, individual employees will also be concerned with their benefits package and whether the buyer offers a more compelling insurance package or one that could be considered a down grade. In any event, being completely transparent about the pros and cons of the new benefits package will be important in mitigating the fear associated with change. A buyer who makes themselves available to answer questions that are both qualitative and quantitative in nature will be able to ensure a smoother transition. This would include providing feedback mechanisms such as one-on-one interviews, focus groups and anonymous surveys. In most cases, there is not a need to turn everything upside down immediately – buyers should not expect for all the new employees to join their new health insurance plan immediately, buyers should also consider letting the new employees keep their old PTO until the end of the year, if a new employees has already reserved PTO, a buyer can still honor that time and garner a little morale.
Ultimately, communication will be key - giving employees an opportunity to feel seen and heard will give them the sense of feeling valued by their new employers. Additionally, this will bring a level of comfort to the seller that those individuals who helped them achieve success will continue to be taken care of and that the culture of a company that takes years to create will remain intact and continue to permeate throughout the new company.
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