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Mergers Keep Human Resources Departments Jumping

Mergers, where one company buys another and combines operations, can affect all kinds of workers. This is especially true of human resources (HR) professionals. They have to deal with how the changes impact their colleagues as well as their own department.

"If you merge with a similar company, you're going to have two of everything," explains Wendy Giuffre, a human resources consultant. "You don't need two of everything because... the actual people-need for an HR department doesn't grow exponentially with the numbers."

Although a merger often leads to some HR staff being let go, that's not always the case. It all depends on how the acquiring company is planning to run things.

"I'm consulting with a company and they were just taken over by a large conglomerate. And in this case the HR department will remain intact because this company leaves their purchased companies pretty much alone, because they're all almost like satellite offices all over the place," says Giuffre. "And they let them operate as such."

Much more often, however, a company that merges with a smaller company makes changes that include shrinking some departments.

"When companies acquire another company, sometimes they'll have no intention of making changes. But the reality is, why would they buy it if they weren't going to change it?" says management consultant Rick Dacri.

"But that doesn't mean that everybody [at the acquired company] goes and the new people stay there," he says. "I think what happens is that the organization of the acquiring company looks at them and they want to... understand the people in the organization, and they like to keep the best."

There are many things an HR professional can do to be -- and to be viewed as -- the best.

"It's important for an individual to be viewed as kind of a go-to person, as the expert, someone who gets things done... because employers pay for results and not activities," says Dacri.

Dacri says it's essential to build strong relationships within your company. You want to be viewed as someone who works well with people, someone who is, "A trusted advisor that people can go to for advice, for counsel, especially for HR people [who must be] people who can listen as well as who can speak."

Dacri says HR professionals must also continue to hone their skills through continuing education. They must participate in courses and activities that challenge them.

"Education doesn't end once you have your degree -- it's a lifetime process," says Dacri. "Volunteer to do things in the organization that are maybe different, that force you to stretch. Those are the kinds of things that position you well in the organization."

It's stressful when your company is involved in a merger.

"Any time a company comes in and makes an acquisition, there's tremendous uncertainty," says Dacri. "What's going to happen to the company? Is the company going to stay? Is it going to close? Are people going to lose their jobs?"

Mergers also create a lot of challenging work for the HR team.

"HR people are often the ones that are employed by the new company to implement the changes," says Dacri. "It may be changes in pay, may be changes in benefits, may be changes in departments. And they're the ones that have to meet with the individual employees to... tell them about the changes.

"And, unfortunately, when there are people that have to leave the organization because there's more than they want, they're often the ones that have to be involved with that separation, helping them find new jobs, helping them collect unemployment, helping them make the change to their benefits or cancelling their benefits," Dacri says. "So it is a tremendously stressful period of time."

Dacri notes that a merger can also be exciting. Nothing gets better without change.

"Change is good," he says. "The fact of the matter is, in any kind of organizational life, it's continuous change. So those people who are uncomfortable with change are going to have difficulty in business, because businesses continuously change in order to grow, thrive and frankly survive. So change is one of those facts of life."

Are mergers more common these days? Probably not, says Dacri, though it can seem like it because mergers make the news. "I don't see it as more common," he says. "I do see it happening frequently [though]."

Human resources is always looking for people with a knack for finding talented people and developing them.

"There are a lot of opportunities for HR professionals," says human resources consultant Anne Howard. "Factors creating the opportunities include globalization, demographic changes, the transformation into the information era, [and] increased legislation, among others."


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