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Do you consider Counteroffers when new opportunities beckon?

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Why your acceptance is as good as professional Harakiri


Counteroffer truths and direction


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.


The counteroffer bait money


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.


Counteroffer and employee self-esteem


In addition to your being labeled, kicked out of the Inner Circle and even being replaced at a later date, ask yourself

  1. 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?
  2. 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?
  3. Would you be able to live with yourself knowing that you had been ‘bought’?
  4. 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?
  5. 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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14 Responses to “Do you consider Counteroffers when new opportunities beckon?”

  1. I counselled unemployed professionals who told me similar stories. They had found a new position, but wanted to stay & so when offered a counter position, accepted only to find themselves unemployed months later. I think some employers think the new offer is bogus & I agree with all your points. It is tricky to successfully purposely pull off an offer to stay.

    • Karmic Ally says:

      Thank you for validating the core message of this blog post, Roslyn. Jacek managed his bid for more money badly and I have seen this happen to very senior professionals in my last job. When it’s time to move on, the best thing to do is make a graceful exit so that the doors to return are kept open.

  2. Tamuria says:

    It is so important to be genuine and not play games when it comes to your job. No one is irreplaceable and while it may suit employers to hang onto you temporarily, I agree you will most likely lose out in the end. Better to just leave with your reputation and respect intact as you never know when you may need to go back.

    • Karmic Ally says:

      Absolutely Tamuria, and especially so in an industry where everyone knows everyone and returning to former employers at a later date is a possibility. Dignity and reputation are key to a good professional brand.

  3. This was very insightful Vatsala, as I would have thought that “negotiating” in this counteroffer way you described, was fairly standard business practice. I imagine the “threatening” aspect of taking another position first and then using that to hold your employer hostage, is really where the trust and negotiation breaks down. I haven’t been in this position myself, but imagine this happens more frequently then we imagine out in the big bad world of business.

    • Karmic Ally says:

      It is a standard practice, Beverley, which is why I felt the need to highlight the dangers in accepting the offer unless the entire process is handled professionally. The sad thing is that the professional does more damage to their brand and career in the long run when they are fired and have to find a job while unemployed.

  4. Reba Linker says:

    Fantastic post, Vatsala, and so insightful from both perspectives (employer/employee). Jacek handled it in a way that got him fired, and I think your counsel is spot on, though as an exception, I have seen it work out form time to time and I agree with Tamuria (above) about the importance of being genuine. I have a very dear friend who needed more time with her family, and because she handled the negotiations so well, and she was so valued at work, that her employer made her an offer she couldn’t refuse – it was that good. Now both of her sisters also work for the company and it’s starting to look like a family business. xo, Reba

    • Karmic Ally says:

      Thank you for sharing the story of your friend who handled negotiations professionally and in the bargain her employer not only reached out to help her stay but now has 3 family members in the same company, Reba. Being authentic and genuine helps and especially if one’s work is already recognized in the organization, then ways are found to help the valuable employee stay with the company.

  5. Joyce Hansen says:

    From the company side, this is an expensive loss. The initial cost of training employee, temp replacement, HR search, time loss until a new employee is trained and up to speed. So, a counter offer can seem reasonable. Then you have to ask why an employee leaves for greener pastures. It may be for more money, a more challenging job, a beneficial career move, or to escape boredom or a negative working environment. Any attempt to have an honest discussion with a departing employee may help to prevent the next one from leaving.

    • Karmic Ally says:

      Bingo Joyce! A leaving employee costs more to the company than just the salary of the leaving employee which is why measurements are done using the cost to company. At the same time it is important to understand why the employee is leaving and go beyond the standard reasons of better job prospects or work life balance and nip the problem in the bud.

      In the same company that I mentioned in my post, there was a time when all the regional CFOs resigned because of lack of support from Regional HQ and burying key issues so that the parent office didn’t know what was going on. These CFOs only learned of the mass resignation later – it wasn’t planned – but the company finally woke up and changes were made including sending the Regional Controller back to the main HQ in a back office post.

  6. Ananth Nag Varanasi says:

    Indeed I liked it, excellent post!!! As I was reading it, I was remembering things that happened in the past with my former colleagues etc. I personally feel the employee should never ask for it and if Employer does it, then well, as you very mentioned ‘Accepting the counteroffer will not change the factors that had driven you to find a new job in the first place, so what would change now?’.

    But if the employee is hard working and sincere and likes his/her job….and maybe just getting carried away due to current turnover/ or hope of greener pastures, then as a Manager nothing wrong in counseling them, not with the intention of a counteroffer but to understand what is the exact reason they are looking (again considering they are not one of those loud/over ambitious folks)….this could lead to a counteroffer (maybe).

    Personally, once I have decided to leave (for whatever reason) I don’t believe in accepting a counter offer. Again as you rightly mentioned, if your current organization doesn’t consider you fit enough for growth (horizontal/lateral) and only thinks about it when you resign, then I guess it’s time to move on. As they say, as one door closes another opens up. :)

    Thanks for sharing

    • Karmic Ally says:

      Thanks for sharing your insights from your experience and the corporate world, Ananth. You are absolutely right that sometimes counselling can help prevent attrition and that option should be tried if the employee is sincere and hardworking and perhaps needs assistance from the employer but I would never negotiate with an employee who uses quitting as a strategy to get ahead within a firm. Thanks again.

  7. Vanita says:

    Thanks for this post, Vatsala. I think the dilemma for the employee arises if one is genuinely glad for the current job, has worked hard and would have preferred to stay. Then I guess the only way forward is to be open about the reason for leaving and why the counteroffer won’t solve the issue? Thanks once again!

    • Karmic Ally says:

      Sometimes, even if the employee loves the job they decide to move on because the open dialogue had taken too late in the exit process and the employee has already emotionally detached himself or herself from the job. The kindest thing the leaving employee can do for others is to explain the reason for leaving because until the cause for leaving is not corrected by the employer, no counteroffer would tempt the employee to stay. Thanks for pointing out the employee dilemma perspective, Vanita.

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