Counter Offers: Who Really Wins?

The recruiter’s and potential employer’s worst mini-phrase: ‘Counter-Offer’. Just the thought of those two words brings cringes not unlike fingernails on the blackboard.

Split from the viewpoints of both the employee and employer, this column provides insights from both camps as to the thought process into the dreaded counter-offer.

You have just been presented with a great opportunity from another company. Whether you were called out of the blue, responded to a job posting or heard about a position through your network, it is an exciting, but potentially stressful time. It is stated that starting a new job is one of the top ten most stressful things that anyone can do. I contend that giving notice also has to be up there. No one wants to be thought of as a ‘quitter’ or one who is letting down the team.

There can be myriad reasons why you want to leave; from poor management to serious company issues to frustration due to pay and career stagnation to just wanting a change. When you make that initial decision to ‘play the field’ or ‘see what’s out there’, you have opened the door for change. In working alone or with a career guide/recruiter, you are questioning whether your current position or company is the best for you right now; and for your future. Once you have had the interviews, and it looks like this new opportunity is clearly the next step in your career, don’t look back!

It is a well-known fact that top companies will never make a counter-offer to any employee. The reason is simple: if they believe that they have done everything possible, provided competitive wages and benefits, and have put someone on (what they believe is) a good career path, they are content to accept that they did what they could. A counter-offer to them is considered a form of blackmail.

So there you are, in front of your boss. There may be anger, disappointment, or sheer disbelief in the thought that you might leave. The classic strategy for them is to use the next two weeks to come up with a plan to keep you. The only question is, why now? Why does it take a two-week notice for them to all of a sudden tell you that they were ‘ready to give you that overdue raise’, or that ‘you are going to be promoted soon’, or that ‘they have big, big plans for you’? All they can do is be reactive when they should have been proactive during your employment there, right?

Even if you decided to stay, the short term changes might be good, but the underlying problems are still going to be there. The long term prospects are really going to be thin because you have ‘violated’ them by threatening to leave. They have to think, when will this happen again? And what will this show the other employees? Once they have a chance, you WILL be replaced. That ‘new’ dream job that you turned down will NOT be there waiting for you once they let you go.

On average, it is estimated that between 80-94% of those who accept a counter-offer leave anyway or are terminated within six to 12 months. From an employer’s point of view, you have demonstrated your unhappiness with the company. No matter how good you are or were, you’ll never be considered a ‘team player’ ever again. There will always be that cloud and hesitation with them always wondering.

He is probably thinking some of these things: ‘This is a bad time for this to happen’; ‘I don’t want to have to spend time and money in replacing you’; ‘This is going to make me look bad if I can’t keep you’; ‘If you go, then the whole department will be in shambles’; and most telling, ‘If I can find a way to keep you, then I have time to replace you’.

Now, what will your boss say to keep you? ‘We can match that!’; ‘We’re going to give you these new accounts’, ‘Let’s put you on a new aggressive commission/bonus plan’, etc. There can also be the guilt tactic of asking you ‘why are you doing this to us?’; ‘<to your team’; ‘We’re in the middle of this here! I was really counting on you’; amongst others.

Don’t fall for it. Always keep in the back of your mind that if you stay, they will ALWAYS be keeping an eye on you, and they will never have full and complete trust in you again as you have breeched that loyalty. Speaking of trust, if you accept a counter-offer, you will be breaking your word and commitment to the other company by staying. You have just committed career suicide as everyone in this industry talks and everybody will know that you can’t be trusted.

When they give you that counter-offer, try this: think of it as if you were unemployed. Does your current job or the new job have what you need now and in the future? The answer will always be the new one-otherwise you wouldn’t have accepted it in the first place.

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