Counter-Offers: should you accept or decline?

Beware temptation


Counter-Offers: should you accept or decline?

From time to time I hear recruiters say: "I think this candidate’s only using me to get a counter-offer".  

Mmmm? Perhaps, in some cases.  Although in my opinion most people play fair and indeed lack the brazen confidence required to resign with the actual intention of inducing a counter-offer.  It's pretty rare.  Is it rare to receive a counter-offer? Certainly not.  If you are good at your job and valuable to your organisation I would hope that you would receive one.  If you don't? Well that's another discussion.

But should you accept it?  Let's see.

What is a counter-offer? You've had a series of "dentist's appointments".  You've  prepared and delivered your PowerPoint presentation describing what you would do in the first 100 days of the job.   And lo and behold! Congratulations!  You have a job offer.  You now have to resign.  Three emotions major in this circumstance, dependent upon your relationship with your boss and your job, but you will most likely be experiencing one, if not all of the following: fear, elation or guilt.  That's normal. I'll talk about how to resign next week.  Anyway, you do the deed, and resign.  And there and then, or more likely after further discussions, you get a counter-offer.  

Counter offers can involve one or several of the following:

- Flattery: "you are too good to lose"

- Money: "we would like to match/improve upon what the other company are offering you"

- Position: "I was just about to offer you the newly created post of Head of Widgets"

Why have you been made a counter-offer? There are a number of reasons.  Here's some:

- It's cheaper for them to offer you more money than to replace you. For example. if they have to recruit it will cost them money, whichever route they take.

- It's inconvenient for them- they are going to have to train your replacement, which will cost both time AND money. Plus your replacement may be have a long notice period and they will have to wait and/or figure out a way of covering your work.

- It's disruptive - whenever someone leaves it unsettles the rest of the team. People start to think: "If Bill is leaving, perhaps I should/he knows something I don't/I might not like my new boss/I'll really be upset if I don't get his job etc. etc.  Disruptive.

- They may actually value you. The fact I have put this last is a simple reflection of my cynicism and experience. This is usually the last reason, take it from me.

Accept or decline? There are reasons why you might accept the counter.  More money and more responsibility? Of course.  Avoiding the disruption to your personal life of changing jobs?  OK.  Better the devil you know? Certainly.  Finally getting what you wanted (whatever that may be?). Fine.

BUT, be aware of the single, strong reason why you must be careful and why you might NOT accept a counter-offer. And it's simple: a counter-offer is an offer made under duress.

You see it's like this.  You have effectively twisted your boss's arm.  He had no intention of making you this offer until you resigned.  In spite of all the nice words, it could just be that if he had meant to promote you/give you a pay rise/get you a new company car he would have.  And he didn't. Could it be that he has only made this offer because you have forced him to? It could be said that in this 'rufty tufty' corporate culture of ours that this is not a problem. Perhaps. But in my opinion, it is.  The problem with twisting someone's arm is that it hurts and they will never see you in quite the same light again. The relationship is damaged.  It may be repairable damage, but in many cases it is not.  

The research I have seen suggests that the majority of employees who accept counter offers are back on the job market within 12 months.

So, what to do? My recommendation is simple.  If you think that you might be tempted to accept a counter-offer it is best not to resign in the first place.

The damage you will do is, on balance, just not worth it. If a pay rise is what you want, why not just man(or woman)-up and go and ask your boss for one?

If you are considering accepting a counter offer, GET IT IN WRITING.  I know many people who have accepted a verbal counter-offer and the promises have never materialised.  Then you really have messed up.  

The recruiter who steered you to the last job offer no longer trusts you, the company to which you were considering going to well, you are no longer on their Christmas card list and your boss knows that he's got you just where he wants you.

In summary, when it comes to counter-offers, handle with care.

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