Mergers and Acquisitions : The Merger Syndrome

The merger syndrome is a phenomenon first documented by Marks and Mirvis (1985, 1992). The term describes employees’ (and managers’) reactions after the announcement and in general all positive and negative effects and consequences triggered by a merger. Usually employees of the acquired company are more affected by the big changes. That is why the merger syndrome is more intensively felt in the ‘weaker’ organization (Appelbaum et al., 2000; Hörnig, 1985).

The merger syndrome is characterized by a change of identity, higher centralization of decision making, coping with high levels of stress, formalization of communications on the one side and starting of rumor mills on the other, moving into a crisis-management mode, power games, a loss of identity, motivation and commitment, decreased productivity, feelings of insecurity and impotence, anxiety, mistrust and by manifold similar and simultaneously occurring phenomena (Appelbaum et al., 2000; Bruckman and Peters, 1987; Dickmann, 2002; Marks, 1988; Marks and Mirvis, 1985; Schlieper-Damrich, 2000).

The literature does not clearly distinguish between causes and consequences when describing the occurrences of the merger syndrome. The phenomena rather seem to be interdependent, and the authors confine themselves to loosely describing the single events. In an attempt to structure the mentioned facts from literature, Figure 1 is designed to give an overview of the merger syndrome. This framework is based on cognitive appraisal theory and on the deduced propositions developed above.

Figure 1. Structured summary of what different authors mention in the context of the ‘merger syndrome’


  • :Appelbaum, Steven H., Joy Gandell, Harry Yortis, Shay Proper, and Francois Jobin (2000), ‘Anatomy of a Merger: Behavior of Organi- zational Factors and Processes throughout the Pre- During- Post-Stages (part 1)’, Management Decision, 38 (9), 649–62.

  • Bruckman, John C. and Scott C. Peters (1987), ‘Mergers and Acquisitions: The Human Equation’, Employment Relations Today, 14 (1), 55–63.

  • Dickmann, Michael (2002), ‘Mergers & Acquisitions: Wogen der Emotionen glätten – eine HR Aufgabe’, Personalführung, 6, 124–30.

  • Hörnig, Bodo (1985), Beteiligungs- und Fusionsvorhaben: Eine entscheidungs- und investitionstheoretische Untersuchung, Berlin: Duncker & Humbolt.

  • Marks, Mitchell Lee (1988), ‘The Merger Syndrome: The Human Side of Corporate Combinations’, Journal of Buyouts & Acquisitions, 18–23.

  • Marks, Mitchell Lee and Philip H. Mirvis (1985), ‘Merger Syndrome: Stress and Uncertainty (Part 1)’, Mergers and Acquisitions, 20 (2), 50.

  • Marks, Mitchell Lee and Philip H. Mirvis (1992), ‘Rebuilding After the Merger: Dealing with “Survivor Sickness” ’, Organizational Dynamics, 21 (2), 18.

  • Schlieper-Damrich, Ralph (2000), ‘Integration verlangt Führung – Thesen zur Merger-Fähigkeit’, Personalführung, 2, 40–46.

Managing Emotions in Mergers and Acquisitions. By Verena Kusstatscher Formerly Lecturer at UMIST Manchester School of Management, UK and now consultant to organizations on M&A issues & Cary L. Cooper, CBE Professor of Organizational Psychology and Health, Lancaster University Management School, Lancaster University, UK

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