Counteroffers

The Dangerous Allure of Counter-Offers

They'll be sorry when I leave!

What departing employee has not had that thought?  In fact, has it crossed your mind?
All too often, employers do seem sorry - suddenly offering the kind of salary, promotion or opportunity for recognition that they had refused to grant before.

Of course they're sorry.  You're about to leave on your timing, not theirs.  There is probably work to be done, which they were counting on you to complete.  You have just fired your boss when he or she would prefer to have the right to fire you.  You have created a vacancy which they will need to fill at some expense.  And if you weren't a terrific person, they wouldn't have hired you in the first place.

They say:
"You can't do this to us."  (Have a nice guilt trip.)
"We need you."  (Until the project is done and we can find a replacement).
"We never realized you were unhappy."  (Our employee communications are not the best.)

Surprisingly, the very best companies rarely make counter-offers.  They believe they treat their employees fairly and wish them well if a better opportunity exists elsewhere.  If you work for one of them, don't be disappointed if you fail to receive a counter-offer.  But if you do receive one, take a moment for a reality check:

  • First, executive search consultants know from long experience that there have to be strong reasons for leaving a job before most employees will consider taking a new one.  If that is true in your case, have those reasons disappeared?  Will staying on the job solve them?
  • Second, if the counter-offer includes salary or job enhancement, what is the source?  Are you simply getting your next raise or promotion in advance?  And will you have to accept yet another job to get the raise or promotion after that?
  • Third, your employer may appeal to your sense of loyalty.  Ask yourself how loyal the employer has been to employees.
  • Fourth, statistics are not in your favor.  The National Business Employment Weekly reports that four out of five people who accept counter-offers are gone within the year.  Like Caesar's wife, you cannot flirt with another and still be considered virtuous.  Rest assured that your employer will assume you'll look again.
  • Finally, let's not forget that new job.  Just as there are reasons for leaving your current company, you have seen significant opportunities at your new company or you would not have accepted the offer of employment.  These do not disappear the moment you receive a counter-offer.
The best way to avoid the messy, embarrassing situation of a counter-offer is to take charge of the situation.

Here are a few tips:
  • Resign in writing but hand the resignation to your boss. This helps you keep the initiative and stay in control.
  • Tell him or her that you've carefully weighed the merits of the two positions and have chosen the new one.
  • State specifically that you neither seek nor want a counter-offer and hope instead for an amicable departure.
  • Last but not least, avoid the temptation to recite a list of grievances. They will only provide your employer with ammunition for a counter-offer.

To quit or not to quit is often a gut-wrenching decision.  It involves one of those "passages" in life that require abandoning the comfort of the old and assuming the risk of the new.  Also, there may be guilt about leaving your tasks to others, not to mention the "buyer's remorse" that accompanies most big decisions.  Your employer likely realizes the emotions you are going through and will use them in formulating and presenting a counter-offer, if allowed.  Once you have made your decision and written out your resignation letter, stick with your decision. 

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