How to Handle a Counteroffer
You've successfully completed the interview stage and have been offered the job. You’ve negotiated a package you are happy with and now it’s time to start thinking about your exit strategy. You arrange a meeting with your boss and start planning your resignation.
How do you approach the subject? You start explaining your decision process and how you’ve decided to leave the company to go to another opportunity. Then your boss surprises you with a counteroffer. Your current employer explains how you were just about the get that promotion they’ve been promising, alongside the overdue a pay rise and more responsibility you have requested. You’re the only person who can make the final decision. Will you stay or will you go?
What happens if your employer gives you a counteroffer once you’ve decided to leave? If the only time you get a better deal is when you resign, I’d say there’s a message there. It’s very easy to fall back into your comfort zone and of course, your employer doesn't want you to leave, but if they really didn't see this coming then alarm bells should be ringing — they’re obviously out of sync with the market and you should be questioning why you were not recognised on merit.
Receiving such an offer, although it’s flattering, shouldn't always be viewed as a vote of confidence. Do they really want to hold onto you because you are a valued member of staff? Or do they view your pay increase as a cost saving against the price of recruiting? If your managers' success is measured on staff retention, their reasons for providing a counteroffer may be completely selfish rather than what’s best for the company or for your career.
Think about your reasons for leaving. Nine times out of ten when you go for an interview, it’s more than just the money that you’re not satisfied with. Perhaps your current role isn't challenging enough, perhaps you feel you don’t have enough autonomy, or maybe your relationship with colleagues is dwindling. My 30 years’ experience has taught me that most people who decide to accept the counteroffer and stay where they are end up leaving six months later. It’s always about more than just the money.
Because you have shown that you are willing to leave, your loyalty will always be questioned. You could be putting yourself in a vulnerable position where you could be blamed if something goes wrong in the future. Every doctors or dentist appointment going forward may be treated with suspicion. You also have to accept the possibility that you’ll never feel a part of the ‘inner circle’ again and it may be tough to overcome the stigma with colleagues who might resent the new deal you have negotiated for yourself.
Typically, counteroffers are usually nothing more than a stalling technique to give your employer more time to replace you. The reasons you wanted to leave in the first place will still remain, they just become a little more bearable in the short term because of the pay rise and promotion offered. Will you need to threaten to leave every time you want to negotiate a pay rise or take on more responsibility?
The biggest taboo in accepting a counteroffer, is that you have broken your commitment to the prospective employer you worked so hard to impress. After negotiating your salary and going through the motions of joining a new team, breaking this commitment could burn all bridges with that prospective employer. Depending on the process and whether any recruiters were involved, you may also gain a reputation for time wasting and behaving unprofessionally. If the counter offer is tempting you to stay, think long and hard about the implications for your reputation within the industry you work in and for your long term career.
If you do decide to stay, you need to treat it as a formal process. Sometimes employers will promise a better package and encourage you to change your mind and then change nothing. All of a sudden you’re back where you started, but without a job offer. You don’t need to put yourself in this position and must ensure you get all agreements signed and agreed before letting your prospective employer down.
Reputable businesses rarely make counteroffers, they will accept your resignation with regret, appreciate the contribution you have made to the business and wish you every success for the future. At some point in every career there comes a time to take on a new challenge and leave a business. Reduce the potential career damage and stress levels associated with this transition by having the confidence to trust your gut and stick with your decision.
Hopefully you make the right decision and continue planning your exit strategy!
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