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Counteroffers, the whys and why nots.

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You’ve got a new job offer

You finally decide to start looking for a new job. You go through a lengthy search process, you’re presented with an enticing career opportunity, and get an offer you’re fully prepared to accept.

Congratulations! You may feel that it’s all downhill from there but in many cases that is the wrong assumption! First you have to extricate yourself from your current organisation and that is rarely straightforward.

When you tell your current employer you’re planning to leave, they surprise you with a counteroffer. And you’re left with a question you thought you had already answered: Should you stay, or should you go?

It feels great doesn’t it? You’re a valuable asset that two companies are essentially fighting over.

In my 23 years recruitment experience I’ve had more than a few calls from people agonising over this very question. And the answer?

It’s not that simple.

What you must think through is your current employer’s motivations for asking you to stay and why you wanted to leave in the first place.

Why do companies make counteroffers?

Some employers it must be said never make counteroffers and you will know if you work for one of these. For the majority in my experience, it’s a fairly common practice. Consider what happens when you resign:

  • Organisations run lean today, it is unlikely that the gap left by your departure can be easily managed in the short term.
  • Morale is likely to suffer among your team and/or closest co-workers who suddenly have an increased workload.  
  • Senior management will notice, and your resignation may be perceived as an unfavourable reflection on your manager
  • Your absence may jeopardise the progress of a big project, lead to increased workloads for colleagues who remain behind, and even mess up holiday schedules!
  • The organisation needs to start recruiting, it is expensive. A report from Oxford Economics found that it costs more than £30,000 on average to replace an employee when taking into account job advertising costs, hiring temps if necessary, and the loss of productivity while getting a new recruit up to speed. A cheaper solution for your manager and /or the organisation (these two are usually but not always aligned!) is to make you a counteroffer.
  • The organisation starts to think about buying itself some time, perhaps to finish that big project, reorganise other team members, or search for a suitable replacement for you.
Here comes the counteroffer….

In today’s lean organisations the chances of a clean exit with smiles, expressions of regret and best wishes are increasingly rare no matter how well you get on with your manager. Most often your resignation move will be met with a version of “We’ll be back to you in a day or two” followed by (sometimes) several days of silence before you are wheeled back in front of your manager to be presented with a counteroffer i.e. an attempt by your current employer to persuade you to stay.

What does a counteroffer sound like?

For the above-mentioned reasons your company wants to attract you to stay, a counteroffer will usually come cloaked in flattery. It may sound something like this:

  • “But you know we’re right in the middle of a big project! And you’re much too valuable to the team to lose at this moment.”
  • “We didn’t want to tell you until next quarter, but we were just about to give you a raise/promotion to show you how much we appreciate your work. Why don’t we make it effective immediately instead of having you wait any longer?”
  • “Why, we had no idea you were unhappy with anything here. Let’s discuss this further before you make some rash decision. Whatever it is, we can work it out.”
  • “You know we have great plans for you here! I’m confident we can do as much for you in the longer term as this other organisation and you don’t need to take the risk.”

Counteroffers can be tempting and ego-inflating. You may detect an underlying threat that by not accepting the counteroffer, you’ll be throwing away your entire career, future, life etc.

To some extent this is playing to your natural fear of the unknown. Moving employers always carries an element of risk.

It’s natural to have anxiety about leaving a comfortable position “where everyone knows your name”. You’re familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of the company. It’s the devil you do know.

Don’t let fear of the unknown cloud your judgment? Revisit the considerations that have led you to resign in the first place. Ask yourself whether the new position is a positive step toward advancing your career. Will it be better for you than your current position? If the answer is yes, then proceed with pursuing the position. Familiarity will follow!

Why do people accept counteroffers?

It is incredibly tempting to accept a counteroffer for a number of reasons:

  • You don’t have to move and settle into a new company a new culture and new team
  • You don’t have to make new friends.
  • You’ll be getting more money, to do essentially the same job.

It comes down to effort. It takes a lot of effort to move jobs and that upheaval can be really stressful! If we can stick with what we know, then why not?

That’s why so many people do accept that counteroffer – and to be fair, it’s a pretty good reason.

Why you shouldn’t

Accepting a counteroffer can seem appealing if it means a higher salary at your current organisation, but be aware that 70-80% of people who accept a counteroffer either leave or are let go within a year.

Why counteroffers don’t work for you

It’s true in my experience that accepting a counteroffer very rarely works for the candidate. There are several reasons for this:

  • Erosion of Trust. No matter what the organisation says, there is a risk that you become a “marked” employee, organisations have long memories and may not forget your lapse in loyalty, no matter how brief it may have been.
  • In any case, changes made as a result of a counteroffer may appease you in the short term, but rarely last for the long run. You may be earning more money, but your environment will be just the same!
  • Your interests and career will always be secondary to the organisation’s profit or survival. Reconsider the flattery that makes up a counteroffer - Is it really about you??
  • If your counteroffer involves an increase in money, consider the source of the raise. Is this just your next raise, granted early? In that case, will the counteroffer simply prolong your review cycle? Remember that all organisations have budgets which include strict salary guidelines.

Take a step back. If you are still unsure about whether you should accept the counteroffer, discuss it with your mentor or with some other trusted counsellor who can help you work through its full ramifications, especially for your reputation. If you’re perfectly clear about your reasons for leaving, especially the positive reasons, you should be able to resist counteroffers, authentic or otherwise, that are ultimately not in your best interests.

How do I decline a counteroffer?

You should always be polite and professional to avoid burning bridges. After all, your current employer might feel particularly spurned if they’ve gone out of their way to convince you to stay. You never know when you might work together again, or if they know your future manager, so ensure they feel appreciated and that you can leave on good terms.

Thank your manager sincerely for the counteroffer and say, “I really appreciate your offer, but I’ve already committed to a new role and I can’t go back on my word. I know my leaving may put you at a disadvantage, so I have prepared a thorough handover and am willing to help you with the hiring process for my replacement.”

Above all else, make sure to thank them and your team for the lessons that you learned while you were at the organisation. 

Summary

There is no one best approach but there are typical consequences of making one choice over another. My best recommendation is to consider all the angles and make a decision you can live with, but I would avoid the trap of the counteroffer.

The bottom line to all this is don’t make a game of it.

Ask yourself what really drove you to go through the effort of the recruitment process. Do you want a new challenge? A kinder manager? More meaningful work? A shorter commute? Unless a counteroffer sincerely addresses the reasons why you wanted to leave, it’s best to decline.