It has become increasingly common in today’s tight job market for employers to make a counter offer to an employee who has announced their intention of leaving the company for a job elsewhere. After all, a lot of time, energy, and money is involved in obtaining good talent. Then there’s the time and expense of training, and any learning curve that might need to be accounted for with a newbie.
So if you are thinking of leaving your current employer for greener pastures, should you assume you will receive a counter offer? The short answer is yes and no. Yes because it happens, and no because it may simply not be doable from the point of view of your employer (depending on what you want) and/or they may not want to set a precedent for other employees to follow. If the only reason you are considering leaving is because you believe you are underpaid, and you are using the threat of leaving as a means to obtain a higher salary, this could backfire in a big way.
But what if you have found another job and accepted their offer, only to receive a counter offer when you hand in your resignation? Should you take it? “In my experience counteroffers don’t work 95% of the time,” says Jenny McCauley, who is currently Senior Vice President of Administration at Southwestern Energy. In the majority of cases, we agree with her. Here’s why.
It’s a Temporary Fix
Think about why you started looking for another job to begin with. Is it solely to do with compensation? If so, did you try to negotiate your salary before going out to look for another opportunity See our featured article “5 Tips and Strategies for Negotiating Offers or Raises”? If you didn’t, why not? Are you not comfortable having that conversation with the person that would have the authority to grant you a raise? Again, why not? Is it indicative of the company culture or just your boss? Could the problem be that you need guidance or encouragement to address the subject? Look also at the scope of the problem. Are you grossly underpaid, or do you merely feel that it’s time for a raise and you’re disappointed not to have received one lately?
If you are not underpaid then maybe it’s more about the lack of career advancement or other factors. What are the real issues, other than or in addition to money, that have made you want to leave? How are they going to change if you stay? Things like working conditions and lack of advancement opportunities aren’t likely to vastly improve for the sake of one dissatisfied employee. And you certainly can’t expect things like company culture, employer brand, or the presence of certain co-workers and bosses to change; so if they are not in keeping with your values or your comfort levels, you will still be unhappy. See a counter offer for what it is: a way of buying time, keeping you there till the crisis passes, you can be replaced, or they’ve had time to redistribute your workload. They now know you were disgruntled and will probably leave at some point anyway.
Your Loyalty Will Be in Question
Because your boss made you an offer to stay doesn’t mean they realize how important you are all of a sudden and will now treat you as a valued member of the team (if they didn’t before). In fact, just the opposite is true. Your loyalty is now in question, by your current bosses (who may feel blackmailed), co-workers (who may resent you for getting what they see as special treatment), and the company you rejected. (They will feel betrayed by your broken promise. Good luck getting them to consider you for a job again.)
You Are Burning Bridges
Accepting a counter offer can be compared to burning the bridge at both ends. On one end you are taking an offer to your current employer (even if you have not accepted it), thereby implying that you are willing to use an ultimatum as a negotiation tactic. If you haven’t made significant effort to communicate and resolve the issues you face with them prior to this point, then they are likely to see this as a mark against your loyalty, dependability, and position as a long term asset to the company. They may make a counter offer in a pinch to get you to stay, but you are now playing a dangerous game: while you may think you’ve gotten what you want, in actuality you’ve given them incentive to develop and execute a succession plan for your position. You could be replaced as soon as a viable solution is reached.
Meanwhile, on the other end of the bridge, you have wasted the time and effort of the other company for self-gain. As already mentioned, this is likely to reduce your position on the desirability scale in their eyes too, perhaps completely. This won’t serve you well if at some point you once again find yourself actively seeking a new employer.
In summary, accepting a job offer is making a commitment. How you respond to a counter offer from your current employer, or if you use another offer as a means to negotiate with them, ultimately says more about you than it does either your present employer or the company who has extended you an offer. If you accept an offer then turn around and break that commitment, you will almost certainly be perceived as less trustworthy in future by both parties. Furthermore, how will you feel about yourself? What kind of an example are you setting for your kids, peers, and underlings?
We all make mistakes and are faced with decisions from time to time that we wish we hadn’t made. Try to reduce the likelihood that changing jobs (or not) will be one of those. Approach your boss with any issues you are having when they arise. Don’t wait for them to become “resign-able” offenses. If you really are a valued employee, your boss will respond in a helpful and sincere manner. If all you receive is lip service and the issues persist, or if you have simply outgrown your current employer and better opportunities await elsewhere, you’ll know it really is time to start looking for – and commit to – another job.
Taylor Maurer runs the talent acquisition firm HCRC as senior managing partner. He is a professional heavy civil construction recruiter dedicated to attracting and retaining high quality talent.