Although the research on business communication has provided managers with much data about employees’ behavior, such significant changes as a merger remain a difficult task. Companies still fail to see all the pitfalls in the process of their strategic alliances, and employees display resistance to the proposed changes. The spheres of workers’ communication and emotional responses to the merger process are at the center of attention as they consider an essential part of increasing the merger’s success. One of the terms linked to these themes is sensemaking – a process of making sense of an unclear or confusing situation (Maitlis & Christianson, 2014). Through sensemaking, one rationalizes the events and gives meaning to one’s experiences. This paper considers the sensemaking process in a merger from the perspective of peripheral employees – workers whose position may not have much access to information and power in the organization.
Organization Communication and Employees’ Sensemaking
First, one has to review how sensemaking is connected to merger implementation. In a merger, employees of both companies often have to make changes to their established culture and processes (Schlindwein & Geppert, 2020). Therefore, they are exposed to a new environment that grows from the two existing entities. The two groups acquire information, which they interpret in order to become a part of a new and unfamiliar collective. Here, the process of sensemaking occurs – as workers gather knowledge about the changes, they get familiarized with the new reality and whether they feel comfortable in it. According to Schlindwein and Geppert (2020), both emotional and cognitive dimensions play a role in employees’ sensemaking. The emotional response to a merger can drive the sensemaking and behavior of people that comes from what they have gathered about the situation.
It is established that communication between employees, management, and companies is critical in ensuring a merger’s success. According to Zagelmeyer et al. (2018), companies increase the positive responses to the merger by creating a system for open, honest, and timely information sharing and feedback. Here, emotional reactions are based on eliminating the uncertainty that a dialogue between employees supports (Zagelmeyer et al., 2018). As workers and managers share and collect vital knowledge about companies and each other, they understand more about the new culture and processes in the merged entities. Moreover, they feel a deeper connection to the firm and the latest changes. Therefore, one can conclude that communication influences the cognitive and emotional dimensions that are important to the outcome of merger implementation.
The Role of Emotion in Communication and Sensemaking
It is possible to connect the benefits of communication for emotional responses and their effect on sensemaking. As Tourish and Robson (2006) note, sensemaking relies on information gathered by a person in order to construct an opinion and make a conclusion on their view of the situation. In the case of a merger, data collected through communication channels act as the basis for sensemaking, thus influencing workers’ perspectives on the merger. However, feedback provided by the workers to the top management is also a part of this process. Tourish and Robson (2006) find that by neglecting this upward communication, management risks distorting employees’ sensemaking process and creating a negative image of the merger. The same relationship between uncertainty and poor outcomes is investigated from the peripheral employees’ perspective. Marmenout (2010) discovers that the worker’s position in the structure greatly affects their desire to leave the company and their satisfaction with the merger. Thus, one can underline the role of communication in reducing uncertainty to improve the sensemaking process for peripheral employees.
As established above, communication affects the process of sensemaking in two dimensions. The link between communication as a source of information and the cognitive dimension is clear. The emotional side of the merger implementation process includes both positive and negative feelings, such as satisfaction, fear, lack of perceived power, detachment from the new company culture, and more. According to Marmenout (2010), perceived power plays a significant role in the view of the merger. Here, peripheral employees appear to be at a disadvantage as they rarely can influence company changes.
For instance, many subcontracted or part-time employees may be hired with a specific clause in their contract about the lack of rights provided to full-time (core) staff. As a result, the low level of power in the merger can lead to negative emotions. The sensemaking process that is influenced by negative emotions, as a result, is likely to result in workers being ready to leave the company (Marmenout, 2010). High levels of uncertainty create a dysfunctional environment in which workers are not motivated to support the merger (Marmenout, 2010). As power and communication influence one’s perception, they also shape sensemaking.
How Peripheral Employees Understand a Merger
When employees are informed about their business being united with or acquired by another firm, they may experience negative and positive emotions. As they proceed through the merger process, the actions that both companies take aid workers in sensemaking. However, not all actors are equally informed and involved in the merger implementation. There exist core workers whose performance and skills are considered vital for the business to succeed. They occupy top positions, and their decisions and power are incremental to the organization’s growth (Kroon & Noorderhaven, 2018). In contrast, peripheral workers are still crucial for the firm’s performance, but their functioning and access to decision-making are highly limited (Marmenout, 2010). For example, employees with temporary contracts or subcontracted workers can be considered peripheral as the person occupying the position can be replaced or hired from another business easily. This group of workers may lack the decision-making ability or a voice to contribute to the company’s advancement.
As can be seen from the definition, peripheral workers occupy a position that may not be considered important during the merger process. Subcontractors, part-time employees, and other employees are not engaged in the managerial side of business operations. Thus, top and middle management can overlook their response in preparation for a merger. For this reason, the discussion of their potential emotional response and the process of sensemaking is also lacking in academic literature.
Peripheral Workers’ Perspective of the Organization
An interesting point of view that connects the themes of communication and emotional experiences is the concept of power in the sensemaking process. Comparing the perspectives of managers and peripheral employees – groups with some and no power, respectively, one can see how the actions taken by companies influence their perception of the merger. In the case of managers, they possess both systemic and episodic power, where they can make decisions and shape their responsibilities according to their new position.
Thus, the emotional response to the merger and its effect on sensemaking is directly tied to the involvement of managers in communication and preparation for the merger. Schildt et al. (2020) note that the level of power often shapes one’s perception of dealing with new information and whether to share it with others. Peripheral employees depend on the information conveyed to them by companies. The lack of involvement can lead to them forming their perspective based on feelings of uncertainty and disconnect (Kroon & Reif, 2021). For example, the lack of managerial involvement in sensemaking leads peripheral employees to engage in their collective understanding influenced by downward communication.
Literature on Stakeholders’ Views
There exists a lack of research that specifically looks at the perspectives of peripheral employees. Nevertheless, Schildt et al. (2020) and Zagelmeyer et al. (2018) provide evidence that workers can become empowered by information and positive emotional responses to company actions. Moreover, Kroon and Noorderhaven (2018) demonstrate that a clear understanding of one’s occupation also plays a role in increasing their satisfaction with the merger. Here, the lack of uncertainty is viewed from an emotional perspective. One’s identification with the company, often insufficient for peripheral employees, increases their positive emotions about the merger and willingness to cooperate (Kroon & Noorderhaven, 2018). This study further supports the connection between emotions and sensemaking, as the workers’ view is shaped by the feelings of belonging and recognition of their skills.
The connections between communication, emotional responses, and sensemaking of employees during a merger are established in academic research. It is observed that both upward and downward information sharing and feedback are essential for workers’ engagement with the merger process. The desire to support the merger relies on employees’ sensemaking and positive cognitive and emotional experiences with the firm’s operations. In the case of peripheral employees, the lack of power and knowledge leads to negative emotional responses. As a result, this group can perceive the merger negatively, which leads to detachment from the company’s ideas and a lack of interest in the business and its growth.
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