Engaged employees are critical to a company’s success. That’s especially true during a merger or acquisition — when employee involvement can quickly make the difference between success and failure.

A recent Gallup survey found that just 34 percent of employees are engaged at work. For organizations undergoing significant change, like a merger or acquisition, employee engagement becomes even more vulnerable. Under stress, some employees do the bare minimum to stay employed while polishing their resumes on the side.

It’s easy to understand why. Decisions affecting employees’ career paths and livelihoods are being made by executives behind closed doors. When questions go unanswered, rumors fly and people become anxious and pessimistic, their drive sapped by worries about layoffs. It’s a valid concern—on average, 30 percent of employees are deemed redundant after a merger or acquisition of companies in the same industry.

A merger is never simple for anyone – employees, executives, or HR. But, by implementing these five recommendations to boost employee engagement, you can help reduce frustrations for everyone involved and achieve a better outcome for the company.

1. Let Your Values Guide Your Actions

Culture can be a competitive weapon for a company, and how leaders behave during an M&A process can reinforce (or harm) that culture. According to Bain & Company, a culture that inspires and spurs performance makes companies five times more likely to be top performers.

Culture is defined by the demonstrated behaviors – decisions, actions, and communications – that reinforce an organization’s values. The way a company’s leaders embody those values is on full display through their behaviors during an M&A event. HR managers should ensure that all integration and synergy-related decisions, actions, and communications are made in line with the culture and underlying values, keeping in mind that current, new, and departing employees – as well as customers and investors – will be watching.

2. Over-communicate

Gallup discovered a gap between how employees and leaders view communication. When leaders feel they have said enough, employees still want more. If they don’t get enough solid information about the company’s future direction and where they fit into it, they are more likely to clock out – literally and figuratively. That is especially true for top performers, who may have already been contacted by recruiters.

Executives should step up their communication game during a merger by holding town-hall-style meetings and encouraging managers to meet one-on-one with their teams to answer questions. They should relay both good and bad news as soon as legally possible. Employees want the truth, and the sooner they know it, the better they can prepare for their future – mentally and practically. This allows employees to feel like they’re back in the driver’s seat in terms of their careers and will help to calm their fears around potential layoffs and company performance.

3. Empathize

Employees respond to leaders who demonstrate they understand and share their feelings. A survey conducted by Catalyst revealed that empathy is an important driver of employee engagement and inclusion. Out of the survey respondents with highly empathetic managers, 67% report often or always being engaged, while only 24% of respondents with less empathetic managers share this level of engagement.

Expressing empathy is more important than ever during crucible moments such as a merger, yet many executives remain too buried in the macro picture to think about it. HR managers need to help leaders focus on their people and encourage them to express their very real appreciation and concern for employee welfare. An empathetic leader can motivate the workforce even during the most difficult times. Their leadership should be supported with coaching and outplacement services, as well as an open-door policy for managers whose teams have questions.

4. Engage with Those Who Are Leaving

Managers may start to ignore employees destined to be laid off, but these workers are crucial to a successful transition. If they’re not offered support, they can demoralize others around them or damage the company’s reputation on social media. Workers you don’t plan to cut pay close attention to how the company treats all employees and may decide to stay or leave based on what they see. If you treat departing workers with kindness and respect and offer them help in finding a new position, they will likely spread an atmosphere of goodwill throughout the company.

5. Involve Employees in the Transition

During a merger or acquisition, companies set up dozens of committees, task forces, and teams to facilitate the transition. It’s important for HR leaders to serve on them and recruit top performers to get involved as well.

Serving on a transition team helps employees build project management and analytical skills. And there’s no better way to learn about collaboration than by bringing together people from two different corporate cultures toward a common goal.

Facilitating the integration of a merger can work wonders for a resume, especially if employees can list specific accomplishments. Employees who may not otherwise get to present ideas to senior managers have the opportunity to do so on a transition team. If their proposals go over well, they may be given additional opportunities post-merger. If not, another employer may value their newfound skills and demonstrated results.

Mergers and acquisitions present serious challenges to employee engagement. By communicating honestly and often, expressing empathy, and involving employees in important decisions, companies can go a long way towards keeping workers motivated and productive — both during the transition and in the critical first weeks of launching the new organization.

To ensure management is able to prioritize employee engagement during a merger or acquisition, it’s necessary to prepare your corporate information for the rigors of information-sharing requirements throughout a deal. This playbook covers the necessary steps and best practices for information management leading up to, during, and following a merger or acquisition. Use it to help prepare for a smooth transition, which your employees will appreciate.

Read the Mergers & Acquisitions Playbook Now!