Is accepting a Counter-Offer Career Suicide?
As the job market improves, companies keen to retain staff are becoming more likely to make a counter-offer particularly in a ‘candidate scarce’ sector such as engineering. We advise candidates to expect a counter-offer. We’re seeing more and more of them. In fact, we now get worried if the applicant does not receive a counter-offer to stay.
Counter-offers are often the poison apple of the workplace. Of course, while there are exceptions, it is not a risk you should take unless you have completely thought it through. If you decide to accept, be aware of the potential consequences.
The prospect of sitting down with your boss to tell him that you have been offered a job elsewhere will be an uncomfortable one for most employees. It will probably be an awkward conversation to tell him that you will be leaving in a few weeks and it will become even more uncomfortable when he asks you to stay. As enticing as the counter-offer may be, we generally advise candidates not to accept.
According to the National Employment Association, 80 percent of employees who decide to accept a counter-offer are no longer with the company six months later. This could be because the employee loses the trust of their employer or becomes an outcast in the company after accepting the counter-offer.
Five tips to help you decide if you should stay or go
- Employers often make counter-offers in a moment of panic, but what really goes through your boss’s mind when you quit?
- “This couldn’t be happening at a worse time. He’s one of my best people. If I let him quit now, it’ll wreak havoc. I’ve already got one vacancy in my team. I don’t need another one. I’m working as hard as I can and I don’t want to do his work too. If I lose another good employee, the company might decide to “lose” me too. My review is coming up and this will make me look bad. Maybe I can keep him on until I find a suitable replacement. We’re working with a small team already. If I lose this one, we’ll all be working around the clock.”
- A counter-offer is a knee jerk reaction – but after the initial relief passes, you may find your relationship with your employer and your standing within the company has changed. You are now the one who was looking to leave. You’re no longer part of the inner circle and you might be at the top of the list if your company needs to make cutbacks in the future.
- Just a stalling tactic? Many counter-offers are designed to buy your current employer sufficient time. Once they have de-risked this, you could find yourself out of favour and in a dangerous position. Money will often be used to tempt you to stay and I suspect that most companies do not see this as a long-term expense. They will most likely be happy to let you go once they have found someone else to replace you.
- There was a reason you started job searching in the first place. Probably the most important tip of all. While more money is always a motivator, usually there are additional factors that drive a candidate to look elsewhere. Make sure you don’t lose sight of your original reasons for moving on. Write them down from the outset so you can remind yourself, at the point when you are making a decision, on which employment offer to accept.
This list will help prevent you from being blinded by flattery and emotional blackmail when confronted with a counter-offer. It is human nature to want to stay (with the known), unless your work life is totally miserable. Career change, like all ventures, is an unknown. That’s why bosses know they can usually keep you around by pressing the right buttons. Before you give in to a tempting counter-offer, be careful and mindful of that.
Be cynical about delayed recognition.
If you are worth an increased salary and responsibilities, why wasn’t that recognised before your resignation? Even if you get more money out of your company now, think about what it took to get it. You needed to have one foot out of the door to get paid your worth and there’s no reason to think that future salary increases will be any easier. The next time you want a raise, you might even be refused altogether on the grounds that “We just gave you that big increase when you were thinking about leaving.”
Be careful not to burn your bridges
With the prospective employer, if you go back on your commitment to join them after having confirmed your acceptance then this will infuriate the prospective employer. By accepting a counter-offer, you have committed the unprofessional and unethical sin of breaking your commitment to the prospective employer.
It will cause the prospective employer huge embarrassment to unannounce the previous positive announcement of your imminent arrival to existing staff, customers and suppliers etc. They will also potentially have to start the whole process again and your name will be remembered for all the wrong reasons.
With the company that you are trying to leave, if you are determined that accepting the counter-offer isn’t in your best interest, you should decline politely and avoid burning bridges. Firstly, thank your boss for the counter-offer and say “I’m flattered but I have committed to my prospective employer and am true to my word. I realise that my leaving may put you at a disadvantage which is why I have put my work in order and made notes for a detailed and effective handover.”
A good tactic is, a week after leaving the company, send your former employer a thank you letter “Wishing them continued success.” Avoid burning bridges with both your existing and prospective employer. You never know when your paths will cross again. It is a small world.
What if you decide to accept the counter-offer and turn down the other job?
Ideally you would only engage in a counter-offer conversation before you officially accept the new job (after you have received an offer in writing but before you commit to accepting). You may find your current company’s counter-offer is the missing piece you’ve been searching for the whole time. But remember, a higher percentage are likely to leave anyway.
There are times when accepting a counter-offer makes sense and works out. Just be very, very cautious before you accept a counter-offer.
When are counter-offers mutually beneficial to both employee and employer?
There may be situations when a counter-offer may work. For example; where there have been leadership changes; employee’s pay and promotions have been overlooked; where you have had a conversation with your manager only to learn that the manager is/was disengaged and ends up leaving the company or did not care about your issues as their heart and soul was already out of the business.
In summary, 80% of employees who decide to accept a counter-offer are no longer with the company six months later, and, 90% leave before the 12 month mark.
Accepting a counter-offer therefore can be a high risk strategy.
Counter-offers are only made in response to a threat to quit. Will you threaten to quit every time you deserve better working conditions?
If you do decide to stay, don’t be naive. You’re going to have to remain constantly alert and you’ll have to prove your loyalty to be considered for future opportunities. It will be an uphill battle, but getting back into your boss’s and co-workers’ good books is possible; but it might take some patience and time.