Ah yes, the very thought of sitting down with your manager to tell him or her that you are resigning will be an unsettling, uncomfortable one for most employees. It will likely become even more awkward if s/he then asks you to stay, after you have accepted another offer…. and yet so often we don’t prepare for a counter-offer.

Counter-offers are a fairly common occurrence in technology, engineering and other competitive job markets, where the cost of replacing these skills is high and the time frame in recruiting key talent can be lengthy.

In addition, with the “war on talent” hotting up and resulting in an even greater drive to draw passive candidates into the market place, many employees, at all levels, are being presented with interesting opportunities and offers, whilst still essentially happy within their current employment.

Without a doubt there is an upside to a counter-offer. You will get more money, additional responsibilities, flexible working hours or be moved into the position you were wanting… but beware, there are downsides.

So how do you avoid finding yourself in this position of having to deal with a counter offer, in the first place?

  1. Understand why you are dissatisfied with your current job before shopping for a new one. Christopher Elmes of the Capital H Group, a human-capital consulting firm in the United States, advises, “Before you get into that situation, make every effort to understand why you’re willing to entertain the offer to move”. A good idea is to write down what these reasons are, at the outset, so you don’t lose sight of your reason for looking at new opportunities.
  2. Meet with your manager and talk about changes that could make you happier. This could be more responsibility, flexible hours, incentive plans, a clear career path, the possibility of a promotion or indeed a new position – in addition to a salary increase.

If you give your manager the opportunity to help you, your relationship could actually grow stronger. In some cases your direct manager/supervisor is the stumbling block, so better then to consider who would be best to engage with, within your organisation.

Let them know that you’re satisfied where you are, but you want to do some long-range planning. If your manager is not interested in listening or making changes, then yes, it could be a great time to look for another job — and if the offer is good enough, actually take it.

It’s very flattering to be wooed, but what are some of the reasons your manager counter-offers?

  1. Employers often make counter-offers in a moment of panic! “I’ll never find another person in a month. He deals with all the key accounts, what will the clients think? She’s one of my better employees. If I let him quit, we’ll never get the project finished in time. We’ve already got two vacancies in that team, we don’t need another one. I don’t want to have to pick up his work too.”
  2. A stalling tactic. Could it be to buy your current employer sufficient time to set an alternative plan in place? Once they have set a succession plan in place or reallocated skills, you could find yourself out of favour and in a fairly dangerous position.
  3. Of course, your organisation may genuinely not want to lose you and your manager truly values your skills and experience. If you had spoken to your manager upfront, then many issues could already have been addressed and you would not be handing in your resignation right now!

No matter what the counter-offer is, the reality is that if the underlying dissatisfaction issues are not fully addressed and dealt with, then it does not make a difference in the longer term, for the employee.

One has to ask oneself one question: Will this counter-offer really SOLVE the issues I have with my employer?

The downside of accepting a counter-offer?

  1. Realise that if you accept a counter-offer based on money, your relationship with your employer will be primarily tied to cash, not trust, and that is not a healthy space to be in for future growth within the company.
  2. If your colleagues find out about your agreement, your relationship with them may be damaged. They may be envious or wonder why you decided to stay, if you weren’t “happy”.
  3. A counter-offer is a knee jerk or gut reaction. After the initial relief of you saying “yes, I’ll stay” passes, you may find your relationship with your manager and your standing within the company has changed.
  4. If you go back on your commitment to join your prospective employer, this will naturally not sit well with them. By accepting a counter-offer, and therefore breaking your commitment to your prospective employer, you will have shown unprofessional and unethical behaviour.

Recruitment specialists often speak of the “fact” that 80 percent of employees who decide to accept a counter-offer are no longer with the company six months later.

I cannot find firm evidence of these particular statistics but what I can say, from experience, is that on many an occasion when a counter-offer is accepted, that employee still leaves their employer within a period of six to twelve months. Why? The underlying dissatisfaction issues were never dealt with, at the time of the counter-offer or thereafter.

An article by Paul Hawkinson on www.careerjournal.com, the Wall Street Journal’s executive career site, leads with “Business Week, the National Employment Association, the National Business Employment Weekly and others report that approximately 89% of the people who accept counter-offers leave their job within six months” and Elmes states their studies show the average employee stays with his employer less than a year after accepting a counter-offer.

Staying?

If you do decide to stay, then realise that you’ll have to build trust and your business relationships again. You are going to have to prove your loyalty, focus and passion in order to be considered for future opportunities. Realise too, that if you received a salary increase outside the “normal range” that further increases may not be so forthcoming, especially if you are now falling at the top end of the employers salary scale for a specific role or function.

There are certainly occasions when counter-offers are mutually beneficial to both employee and employer.

Where there has been changes at management / leadership level which affect one’s reporting structure, where you can now recognise the potential career path ahead of you, where it is recognised that your pay and/ or promotion had been overlooked or where you have had a prior conversation with your manager, to then learn they themselves were dissatisfied and planning themselves to leave the company, are all fine examples of when accepting a counter-offer makes perfect sense and will likely works out.

You may get to stay at a company that you love working at, and also now have the position / responsibilities / pay you were seeking all along.

Be very cautious however, before you accept a counter-offer. Do not be pressured into making a decision without understanding all the facts. Take the time to see past the flattery, to understand the real reasons for the counter-offer.

You are in charge of your career – so manage it wisely.

A comment on counter-offers by Beverley Hancock

PICKING A POISONOUS APPLE?
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