Last month I wrote about the rapid pace of merger and acquisition activity in the past few years. M&As continue at a record pace in 1999, both in the number and value of the deals, and trends appear favorable for continued buying and selling. Today, any business can be bought or sold at any time. So how do you survive or thrive if you're caught up in the M&A frenzy?

M&A risks

Employees experience three psychological "shock waves" following an M&A deal, according to Price Pritchett in his book, The Employee Guide to Mergers and Acquisitions. First, there is uncertainty and ambiguity, followed by mistrust and finally, the instinct for self-preservation takes over. These shocks to the organizational system create communication and productivity problems, power struggles and low morale. Teamwork can be replaced by employees "bailing out" of the new organization. Employees go through a grief and mourning process with emotions of shock and numbness, suffering and resolution, according to Pritchett.

Safety and health can take a hit through the downsizing of the combined safety and health staff; increased work for remaining employees; and overall distraction from safety and health efforts until the new company's safety philosophy and commitment to injury and illness prevention is demonstrated.

There can also be bright spots when companies merge or acquire each other. Opportunities for job enrichment or advancement might exist in the combined, larger organization. Synergies to improve safety and health processes are possible. You also might decide to pursue job or career changes, which, in the long run, may suit you better than staying put in your existing position.

Worst-case scenario

If your position were eliminated today, how would you fare in the job market? Clearly this is the major risk you face if you're part of an M&A deal.

To address this possibility, you must continually improve your marketability. Additional credentials are important, as well as additional or greater job skills. Also, think about how you would market yourself. You need to maintain an active network of friends and colleagues. Keep attending professional meetings.

If your company were acquired today, would you or your position be indispensable in the new organization? It helps to have unique or best-in-class safety and health programs that are very successful and hard to replace. Otherwise, the acquiring company might handle your work with its existing staff.

A reminder: Credentials and talent increase your chances of survival, but acquiring companies generally give preference to their existing staffs.

Pritchett identifies 10 steps that can help you survive during the initial stages of a merger or takeover, when staffing decisions hang in the balance. (See Box 1 below)

Pritchett's summary advice is that "your survival depends not so much on what happens to you as on how you handle what happens."

Let's switch our perspective for a minute. What if you work for a company that has bought another company? Your position might be more secure, but you're not risk-free. Your cooperation in helping the two organizations blend together may help prepare you for another step up the management ladder. But if you are resentful and not supportive of extra work or new job assignments that may accompany the M&A, you can stall or weaken an opportunity for growth.

Managing change

Making the best of an M&A deal-no matter what side of the transaction you find yourself on-comes down to being able to manage change.

Management of change is an existing good safety and health practice as well as a requirement in at least one OSHA standard. When OSHA evaluates a workplace for entry into the Voluntary Protection Program (VPP), one of the management practices it looks for is how the facility manages change. OSHA's process safety management standard specifically requires "management of change" procedures.

A particularly good overview of the management of change process can be found in the "change model" located at This model lists the following maxims to live by if you want to facilitate change. (See Box 2 below)

These change maxims work equally well for organizations and individuals. There are some management of change references specifically for people working in the safety and health field, too. If you want further information on this topic you should review the book, Managing Change for Safety and Health Professionals, written by F. Pierce, CIH, CSP. Information about this book can be found at

I could not locate quality information to determine if people working in the safety and health field are at any greater risk for being affected by a merger or acquisition than other occupations. Nor did I find any data that demonstrates workers experience more injuries and illnesses during M&A activity. Keep on the lookout for this data.

By Dan Markiewicz, MS, CIH, CSP, CHMM. Dan provides environmental, health & safety consulting services through his home-based business. He can be reached at (419) 382-6696;

Box 1

Keep on keeping on 1. Control your attitude;

2. Be tolerant of management mistakes;

3. Expect change, and be a change agent;

4. Don't blame everything you don't like on the M&A;

5. Be prepared for "psychological soreness;"

6. Get to know the other company;

7. Use the M&A as an opportunity for growth;

8. Keep your sense of humor;

9. Practice good stress management techniques; and

10. Keep doing your job.

Box 2

Directing the flow 1. Stress frequent communication;

2. Continuous improvement is critical to survival;

3. Keep trying until you get things done right;

4. Celebrate success;

5. Think outside of the box, experiment;

6. Create ownership and involvement;

7. Walk-the-talk; and

8. Hold people accountable.