Embracing Uncertainty When you Sell a Business

by Caitlin Mary 22nd of June, 2022
Embracing Uncertainty When you Sell a Business
Embracing Uncertainty When you Sell a Business

Selling a business can have a huge impact on the status quo of any company and its workers. Australians have been facing a variety of challenges in the workplace over the last two pandemic-affected years from job insecurity to economic uncertainty. For owners, many have struggled to manage both their own personal circumstances and that of their employees while also potentially trying to sell the business. 

When you are looking to sell a business it's important to be aware of your employee's needs and prepare them for change. A lot can be learnt from Employee Assistance Programs or EAPs and how to take care of your employees during the process of selling a business.

What to Learn from EAPs When you Sell a Business 

Selling a business is always a complicated series of events, fostering positive mental health is important. Employee Assistance Programs, or EAPs, are designed to help organisations support the mental health and wellbeing of their employees, helping craft and support a workplace culture that, over time, fosters psychologically safe workplaces.

“The EAP industry has been around for a long time and AccessEAP was one of the founding members of the EAP industry here in Australia. We’ve been operating in this space for over 30 years.” Melita Griffin, Director of Customer Relationships at AccessEAP said.

Bsale recently spoke with AccessEAP about the role EAPs have played during the pandemic for Australian business owners and how leaders can look after themselves and their employees, especially when preparing them for changes such as when an owner looks to sell a business. 

“Increasingly over time, the Commonwealth has started to see the EAP industry as being an important component of the health framework, particularly for mental health, and it is something that the industry, and certainly our peak body the EAP Association of Australasia, is one that continues to work on.” 

Approximately over 9 million employees across Australia are supported by the EAPAA and as Melita says: “That’s a lot of people directly.” going on to say that a lot of organisations that are trying to “walk the walk” on creating psychologically safe workplaces and supporting wellbeing in the workplaces actually extend their EAP to immediate family members of their employees as well.  

“When you look at the total number of Australians that are being supported by EAP providers, that number is quite substantial. We see ourselves as having a very important role to play in supporting the mental health and wellbeing of Australians.” Melita said.

Creating positive and healthy workplace environments during changes like selling a business, and particularly in the face of great economic, public health and environmental uncertainty, is challenging and there is no magic silver bullet. Every organisation is unique and Melita says, as owners the key is identifying what is unique about your organisation, the strengths of your people and how you can build on those strengths to remain when selling the business.

“The organisations that really focus on improving their communication and really look at trying to build trust in the workplace, are the organisations that I think perhaps have been more nimble in their response to COVID and the big word that everybody is talking about is flexibility in the workplace. It means different things for different people, it means something different for different industries, for example, you can’t have a working from home policy in primary health care because you have to [physically] be in there."


Communication is at the core of most organisations and success and having effective systems in place before you sell a business is important.

Rather than focusing on industries that have not necessarily been able to rely on ‘work from home’ flexible work arrangements, or simply subscribing to four-day work week models as we have seen a lot in the media lately, Melita said that they challenge leaders to think about what they can do that could allow flexibility in their workplace before selling a business in a way that makes sense for their company and be meaningful. 

“There are lots of different ways to do it and I think one of the best ways that organisations and leaders can get it right is actually by having a conversation with their people, what is it that would help them feel supported in the workplace but also give them a sense of being able to have a say in how they do their work and the contribution that they make to the organisation as a whole,” Melita said.


Uncertainty Around Flexible Workplaces


In terms of embracing flexible workplaces, for owners and those selling a business, the key takeaway is communication and having conversations with their employees about the prospect of selling a business.

Every person will have different needs and will require different accommodations whether they’re a parent requiring more time during the day to homeschool their children during sudden lockdowns, or perhaps somebody in the latter stages of their career. Flexibility will look different for everybody.

“Having an open conversation allows people to say ‘these are the things that are meaningful for me and these are the ways that I think you as my leader or as my manager can help get the best out of me’ and recognise that things are messy in this COVID environment. I think in some ways, we talk about how it [COVID] has humanised work because we’ve all had the experience of having to kind of juggle dogs barking in the background of calls, or children or partners walking across video conference meetings. In some ways, that’s really been embraced by organisations.” 


“This is what life and work look like in 2022, let's embrace that change and that uncertainty if we have a really great conversation we can be really open and honest about how we can get together,” Melita said.

Looking at flexible workplace options and how the new owners will handle this when they buy a company is worth reviewing before you sell a business. Ensuring your team is efficient in online work and has good communication in place. New owners may come into the organisation after you sell a business and prefer all of the team to be working a set number of days per week in the office. So you need to prepare your team and company for what could be ahead while you are still in the process of selling a business. 



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Embracing Uncertainty When you Sell a Business


The Decision to Tell Employees When You Sell a Business

The decision to talk with your employees when it comes time to sell a business can be a tricky topic. Some owners will decide to tell them when they first plan to sell the business, others will inform employees after the contracts are signed. What is important though, is making sure they are prepared for the change that is coming. 

When you sell a business it can be stressful, broking is a high-stress hard-working industry and there can be a lot of stress for all parties involved, the ones selling the business including buyers. 

“The people that are buying opportunities are taking onboard an enormous set of responsibilities for themselves personally, and being comfortable with that risk when you’re looking to buy, that you’re going to be trying to turn into this really fantastic *viable ongoing concern*, it’s going to be different for each individual leader and owner and it’s going to be different for their people as well. It’s really easy to get caught up in the hustle and certainly that sense of ‘always being busy’, we try and decouple that for leaders when we talk to them.’ Melita said. 

It can be a lot of change for an organisation when the owner is thinking to sell a business. Spending time with your staff and ensuring their current needs and future needs can be addressed, will help the organisation to transition smoothly from selling the business to the new ownership. Depending on the size of the business for sale and how heavily involved the owner selling the business is in the day-to-day operations will affect the type of change and preparation employees need. 

Owners selling a business are stressed about the current economic environment Melita said, that in the face of so much volatility owners selling a business and leaders: “Have to front up the next day and say ‘here is the direction that we’re going, here is why I think we need to be going in that direction and then try and get people to buy into that vision.” 

“That’s tough, and one of the things we have seen an increase throughout COVID is that leaders are more frequently reaching out for support to get advice, certainly for example our manager support hotline they’ll be asking everything from basic HR questions to what do I do there? How do I improve my communication? How do I decrease conflict in my workplace? How do I not feel stressed when we don’t know if we are going to be open in 6 months' time?” Melita said.

Owners who prepare their employees and offer training around change in the workplace can have the organisation better prepared when they sell a business. The buyer will be able to come into the organisation and will feel less resistance to the change. 

Be an Authentic Leader When Selling a Business

There are some simple things that owners can implement that show a powerful message to their organisations even if they are not selling a business, for example, managers and leaders making an effort to send (or schedule to send) emails during regular operating hours. 

“If you’re going to say to your managers your leaders your employees ‘I care about your mental health and wellbeing’ but then you’re sending an email to staff at 11:30pm on Friday night, for example, it’s really easy for that message to be lost. You’re comfortable working at that time because you know, kids are asleep or it’s the only peace and quiet time that’s where you may be more productive because you’re just wired that way.” Melita said.

“It’s tough to be an authentic leader.”

“It’s really quite humanising when you let others see that you are stressed, you’re not having a great day, that things are weighing on your mind. What we’ve seen with organisations that have a really strong high trust culture quite often those leaders do admit that. That sense of authenticity, one of the words that are quite popular when talking about this is vulnerability, it’s a really great way of bringing people on the journey with you and they see that you’re okay saying that you’re not okay.” 

Melita says that this kind of authenticity and vulnerability is a great way to build a culture of trust within your organisation and assists with selling a business, even if it may seem counterintuitive to some traditionally held notions.

“When your people see that you genuinely care about their well-being, we know that the research shows that productivity improves when there is high trust and psychological safety,” Melita said.

New perspectives and needs for flexibility in the workplace are also highlighted…

“It’s continually evolving the longer we go through the pandemic. I know personally outside of AccessEAP I pay a lot of attention to the unicorn startups who have these amazing growth journeys and how they focus on people and culture has always been really interesting to me. We know from talking to leaders that there is real fear about the ‘great resignation’. The data isn’t yet in Australia to show that it is, but it could be and I think that’s the fear and the concern.”

Melita believes those selling a business and organisation embracing the uncertainty and having open honest conversations, will allow flexibility to organically happen.

"I think elements of that flexibility around the thinking about how we can build productivity in workplaces has probably shifted for good.” 

“What does it Look like in a year's time? I don’t think anyone hand-on-heart can admit that but I think flexible approaches to supporting people in how they do their work is going to continue to be a feature in Australian workplaces in at least the next 12 months.” Melita said.

While everybody right now is talking about the ‘four-day workweek’, Melita said that one of the flow-on effects of having flexibility and choice is that people are now thinking about their job and career in different ways too. In terms of being more in control of crafting what your future looks like. 

“That’s a phenomenon we’re seeing play out with flexible work arrangements. It’s been supported by those more forward-thinking organisations, those start-ups and those unicorns. I think it makes sense in the context of being in control and making decisions that you are actually in control of, we’ve seen that is something that has been common in Australian workplaces in the last 2 years with everything else that is going on. With all of the uncertainty and ambiguity, and certainly with having to be in lockdown, a lot of our previous choices were restricted in some ways.”

While we are experiencing greater freedom in terms of those things, Melita said that they found people would focus on the things that they did have the ability to make decisions about and it was one of the things they constantly spoke to leaders about. 

“Focus on the things that are in your control and help your people focus on the things that are in their control. It’s a great way to manage some of those stressors and anxieties, we’re in a global pandemic still, focusing on elements that support positive mental health and wellbeing for owners is just as important for their people as well.” 

“You’re now in a position to be able to make some choices and not be necessarily caught up in some of the paradigms of the past that we would have never considered a possibility until we were two years into a pandemic,” Melita said.

Riding the Wave of Change


When asked for advice for owners and those selling a business in 2022 Melita said it really is about riding the wave of change. 

“Change is a constant but what that means in 2022, is very different than it did in 2019 and adapting a flexible mindset with yourself, allows you to be able to ride those waves of change. In an environment where there is so much volatility, uncertainty and ambiguity trying to be flexible in your own thinking and being kind to yourself is a critical way you can support your mental health and wellbeing.”

“As a leader, you’ve got to remember to focus on yourself as much as focusing on your employees and how to create a positive mental health and wellbeing approach in the workplace where people will actually be buying in and going on the journey with you,” Melita said.

There are many things owners can be doing right now to foster these positive changes in their workplaces even if selling a business, you don’t need to wait until you actually sell the business there is a real genuine or urgent need for intervention or change.

“We always talk to owners and leaders about being proactive about mental health and wellbeing because those proactive approaches allow you to get on the front foot so that things don’t escalate. We know, and the research proves, that at any one time in your organisation you’re going to have a percentage of your employees that are going to be consistently thriving and have great mental health and love their work, love their life and really growing as a human. You’re also going to have about 25% of your workforce that is going to be struggling with a mental health issue and everything else in between, like a bell curve, you will have people who are generally doing okay but could be better with a bit of support.” 

Great leaders and owners that proactively look to try and implement mental health and wellbeing strategies are the ones that have benefited from investing in and implementing those strategies upfront mitigating a lot of risks from mental health issues escalating in the workplace, especially when the notion of selling a business presents itself. 

“Throughout the pandemic, one of the things that we have seen change, in terms of attracting and retaining talented people is that organisations are now spruiking their mental health and wellbeing approaches as benefits to their employees and it has become a really critical factor in being successful to higher and retain talented employees,” Melita said.

“So don’t be shy about talking about what you’re looking to do, being open and upfront with people ‘this is what we’re trying to do to support your wellbeing’ is a great way for owners to be focusing on attracting the kind of talent that is going to help them grow.” 

Thinking of selling a business? Get in touch with us today and start the journey.

About the author

Caitlin Mary


Caitlin has a background in media and communications, studying journalism at University and doing various freelance writing and production work over ...

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