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Counteroffers and why to never accept them

We provide our perspective on counteroffers and why accepting one often proves to be a costly mistake

The miraculous counteroffer... There's a pretty good chance if you've handed in a resignation letter recently, your current employer will scramble to see if they can do something... anything... to change your mind about leaving. Chances are, they'll sprout a magic money tree and unforetold riches will suddenly be available to you.

No money tree counteroffer

Have you ever heard the saying that "nobody leaves a negotiation happy"? Well nobody leaves a counteroffer scenario happy either!

Your employer is unhappy about being cornered into offering more cash or better conditions for you, you're unhappy that you had to go through such desperate lengths to be valued... oh, and the firm you have already committed to joining? They are probably quite unhappy too! How did we get into this mess?

As a headhunter that works in a market with more live jobs that suitably experienced candidates available, the counteroffer has become an everyday part of life. There is a general consensus that it's easier & cheaper to counter-offer an employee rather than to replace them but in reality, counteroffers are a plaster-over-the-wound fix that rarely works out long term.

If you find yourself on the receiving end of a counteroffer, there is one thing I always think is worth remembering:

Your resignation happened a long time before you actually resigned. Your 'mental resignation' - that point of exasperation with your circumstances at work is what drove you to start exploring other career opportunities. Even if you stay, you have already 'quit'.

You should also think long and hard about the road that led you here. Whilst an increase in salary is often the 'headline' that is focused on, it's highly likely that there were other factors at play that contributed to your original decision to leave. Drivers can include company culture, work-life balance, management style, lack of opportunity for upwards mobility, benefits, location, stagnant learning opportunities and a lack of challenge, stress & pressure and an absence of recognition.

There is an almost endless cascade of reasons why accepting a counteroffer is ill advised, though here are some of the key takeaways;

  • Your loyalty is now forever in question. Your commitment to your employer will always be doubted. Trust has been eroded. Once the dust has settled, if you stay your internal relationships will have been damaged with your team and your manager.
  • If you've been offered a pay rise to stay, that makes you expensive. How will that affect future pay rises & bonuses as well your position in the event of restructuring or redundancy programmes? The cash for your counteroffer has to originate from somewhere - that is your next raise delivered early.
  • In the medium to long term, will you be considered for future promotions? You will likely be overlooked in favour of more loyal team members whose longevity with the firm seems more assured.
  • Do you have integrity? You have accepted a position with another firm which has invested significant amounts of time to meet and interview you over the course of (probably) several meetings. They have likely rejected all of their alternative candidates upon you accepting the position with them, halted all advertisements and are awaiting for you to join their team which means they will have to start from scratch if you go back on your word. What is your word worth? What does a decision to accept a counteroffer do to your reputation in the industry? Do you have respect for the time and generosity demonstrated by the people within the company you've already agreed to join? You cannot rightly feel let down by your current employer to the point of wanting to quit to then let down a whole group of others at a new firm yourself.
  • Why did you have to resign in order to get the salary or promotion you deserve? Does your current employer really value you, or is it just easier and cheaper to give you a counteroffer? It's tempting to feel flattered by a counteroffer - this is a desperate and reactive ploy to keep you, not a compliment.
  • The firm you have accepted a position with values you. They have seen you for what you have to offer, despite you having no established track-record delivering results there. You have their full confidence - they believe in you to the same degree that you believe in yourself.

This is what will happen

Your current employer will not want you to leave. They may match or exceed the salary you've received elsewhere as a method to try to retain you. They may offer or promise a promotion & career progression now or in the future. They may assure you a good bonus and/or a future pay rise. To top that off, they will be ever-present at work, imploring you to stay and trying to invoke a sense of loyalty from you. There are projects that need to be completed, resources that will suddenly become available to you and a newfound interest in your career development established - they are counting on you. Don't be tricked.

People inherently fear change. It's harder to uproot from the status quo. Wouldn't it be easier to just stay put? The easy option here is almost certainly not the best one.

I would always give everyone the same advice: shake your current employer's hand, thank them and politely say 'no thank you'.

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