Why your acceptance is as good as professional Harakiri
Counteroffers are becoming the norm in the corporate world, where you go and tell your boss you are leaving for a better career opportunity and they entice you to stay with a promotion, or match the money or something that makes you forget that you wanted to leave and stay on. What the employee doesn’t know is that this is a standby solution for the employer which will affect their career further down the line.
My first experience of a counteroffer was sitting on the other side of the table. I know what it’s like from the perspective of a boss who finds himself or herself in a pickle because an employee decides to leave in search of greener greedier pastures.
The scene was my office in Poland in 1995. I had just returned from Paris the previous evening after a grueling weekend at our Regional Headquarters along with the Country Manager and 4 of my Insurance Managers where we had gotten our annual budget approved and opened up doors for career development for our staff. I was also recovering from septicemia and the trip had been hard on me but the gifts that I was bringing for my Finance Team had been well worth it.
I was a new CFO barely 3 months into a job where part of my mandate had been to lift the spirits of the Finance Department which had been low after the previous CFO had stormed out of the company after a fight with the Country Manager where he had thrown a chair out of the window. We were westernizing things and bringing the team into a new world with the help of the parent company’s Human Resources department.
It was a Monday morning and I had come in early to check my emails before the start of the Monday meeting when a junior team member, who looked after the cash and bank accounting, walked in and wanted to talk. Let’s call him Jacek. I was happy to see him because the Country Manager and I had plans for him.
Then I had the shock of my life.
This young man had come in to tell me that he was leaving for a better job and better opportunities. I understood that, but what I didn’t understand was his telling me that he could of course stay if I made him a counteroffer. Perhaps he had mistaken my stunned silence as a need to be told what to do next?
I told him to wait till the Country Manager came in so I could talk to him about this employee’s terms and conditions for staying. The Country Manager was as shocked as me but being a more experienced professional, called Jacek into his office and told him that the Company could not be held hostage with a self-proposed counteroffer. He was asked to work through his notice period which the chap refused to and pointed out that he had vacation time which he would use against his notice and if anything else was left, then to cut it from his salary.
He was fired on the spot and we found a replacement after a month while a temp helped out.
Of course we could have met his demands and covertly looked for a replacement but the attitude was not correct and a bit of professionalism would have taken him a long way. To date, I don’t know what became of him and he certainly isn’t on LinkedIn.
For sure you’ll read of all the happy ending stories where the employer and employee lived happily ever after but that involves a lot of diplomacy, tact and approaching the resignation with professionalism that allows both sides to talk about the situation and find a peaceful solution. It may not be the money; it might be the employee feeling that they are not getting the right exposure or want more challenging work. That’s easy to work with, especially if opportunities are available and I show you how to do it in my book Get Noticed.
Not all stories work out like that but I really don’t think accepting counteroffers are a good idea. Not in the long run at least.
What does a counter offer look like?
In simple English, a counter offer happens when you have accepted another employment offer and your current employer comes back to you with enticements to stay in the current job with new terms and carrots that can be both emotional heartstring pullers and financial incentives.
What accepting a counteroffer really does for you
This isn’t a feel good post and what you are going to read may make you uncomfortable but read on because you need to know what goes on behind the scene of a counter offer and how it can damage your prospects and result in professional Harakiri.
The truth is, there is a cost to company of having you on board which goes far beyond your paycheck and it is easier to retain an employee whom they have invested in with training and other resources than to hire a headhunter to find a replacement. So there will be surprise when you say you are leaving followed by lots of pull on your loyalty and offers of new designations, promotions, remunerations and coaxing to stay on. You might have chats with Human Resources and more senior professionals and if you buy into all the flattery that goes with it, then your guilt will be too much to ignore and you might accept the counteroffer.
Things won’t necessarily improve and you run the risk of being labeled as a ‘problem’. The main reason why you wanted to leave won’t be addressed and you may yet leave although at a later date or get fired a few months later by which time the employer would have found a suitable replacement for you.
Your managers will remember how you were retained and when it comes to promotion time, or increment and bonus time, you might not get what you expected because of an out of turn promotion or money that was budgeted for your carrot having been already spent.
By airing your issues and yet choosing to stay based on a counteroffer, your loyalty and commitment will always be doubted. This could mean that if a layoff is looming in the horizon; you might get the pink slip after all.
Your resignation or the firefighting done to retain you reflects on the boss’s ability to keep his staff and if it means that his own career prospects get affected, he will always eye you with suspicion. You’ll be out of the Inner Circle and considered untrustworthy. How would it feel if you take the day off for some genuine work and your boss calls to check on your whereabouts? That’s happened with a former colleague of mine.
I would heartily recommend reading Covey’s book Speed of Trust, whether you are mulling over a counteroffer or want to learn more about credibility building.
If you used the threat of leaving to get a promotion or more money, then know that professionally managed companies won’t play along. You don’t blackmail these companies and think you’ve made it.
That’s what happened with Jacek. He showed his greed and lack of maturity and the Country Manager took a call that we couldn’t have him in the office. He was not to be trusted. In fact, he was marched out of the office and the guard was told to make sure that he couldn’t access our office again.
Had Jacek approached it differently, he would have found out that we had plans for him and given 3 more months, there was an increment in the offing based on merit and how far I would have mentored him to take on more responsibility.
Had Jacek been more professional, he wouldn’t have burned bridges and the door for him to return to us would have been kept open. Instead he lost our respect.
5 important personal reasons for not accepting a Counteroffer
On the other hand, I can give you tons of reasons for declining a Counteroffer some of which are already given above but for this post, let’s stick to the 5 personal reasons to keep in mind in no particular order.
In addition to your being labeled, kicked out of the Inner Circle and even being replaced at a later date, ask yourself
- Why did you have to threaten to resign for you to get that promotion or pay rise. Weren’t you good enough on merit to receive the same?
- Likewise, what kind of a company is that which has to be threatened before they give you what you are worth? Do you really want to work there?
- Would you be able to live with yourself knowing that you had been ‘bought’?
- Accepting a counteroffer will not change the factors that had driven you to find a new job in the first place, so what would change now?
- Where is the money coming from? Your next pay increase?
In short, once you have made up your mind to leave and have found a new job, the best thing for your future career is to be professional and work out your notice period to the best of your abilities Do proper handovers and make the employer feel that your leaving is a loss to the company. Walk out of the door knowing that this company will welcome you back if you ever decide to. Don’t ruin your image and professional brand by accepting a counteroffer unless it is one where both sides win. If you feel that you need to manage your career better then let us work together and achieve that career progression professionally.
I’d like to know if you have ever been made a counteroffer by an employer. Did it work out? What one tip would you give to the other readers of this post? Please tell me in the comments box below.
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