The Counter-Offer: An Offer You Can(t?) Refuse

During the downfall in the Irish economy, and for the years to follow in its aftermath, most professionals were relieved they simply had a job. Times were tough. People you knew were either let go or took off to Australia in search of better career prospects. You had a job, and you made sure you kept it. However, as the job market steadily improved in Ireland, and the recruitment market along with it, people’s perspectives began to change.

Suddenly, it was no longer out of fashion to consider leaving your workplace. Be it for better conditions, proper recognition or simply the need for a change of scenery, people began shopping around for new jobs. And who could blame them? Many professionals had remained in the same role for years and have seen no bonus or only minor increases to their basic salary.

In addition, the flurry of new tech companies setting up shop in Dublin provides the added incentive of new adventure, improving skills and a revived interest in your career. However, as new job offers began pouring into the Irish job market, so has the frequency of counter offers by current employers.

But it’s not all smooth sailing for the lucky candidate who just got a career upgrade. They’ve been with a certain company for a while, and once word breaks they intend to leave (be it via formal announcement, or the notorious workplace rumour mill) their current employers aren’t going to let the company’s time, money and stability just walk out the door. From the current employer’s perspective, it makes perfect sense. After investing time, money and energy on an employee for a considerable time, that employee wants to leave? Well, not without a fight.

Fight or Flight?

To the candidate who’s just secured their new job, leaving just got a lot tougher. Suddenly, often after years of lacklustre employer engagement, lacklustre pay and limited career prospects, the employer offers the candidate as much as possible to keep them on board. Be it more money, a fancy new job title or better conditions, they honestly can’t afford to lose an employee. So herein lies the dilemma.

The counter-offer scenario can be quite an uncomfortable situation for the employee and employer. Furthermore, it is further complicated and has a ripple effect beyond these parties as it inherently involves the new employers and the recruiters working on their behalf as well. The employee has verbally accepted an offer from another business and hands in their notice to resign. However, after having accepted this resignation and listened to the employee’s motivations for wanting to leave, the current employer subsequently makes a counter-offer against the prospective new employer. Someone is bound to get disappointed. And sadly, it is often the employee who loses most.

Trick or Treat?

True, having accepted another position puts one in a strong bargaining position with their current employer, and may yield some worthy rewards should they decide to stay. In the short term, that is.

Short term, the employee will enjoy more pay, the sudden ‘recognition’ of their value, and the attention of management. Perhaps a few interesting projects, too. This, added with the added peace of mind of not starting over in a new workplace and changing your routine can be enough to satisfy most.

In the long term however, the employee who chose to stay often lives to regret that decision. The negotiated package doesn’t answer the true reason why the employee wanted to leave in the first place. It is rarely only because of the money. The employee wanted a change, and they settled. Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, they are now ‘marked’. They may be the first to be shown the door if the company takes a hit, or simply blacklisted by management, purely because they proved they wanted to leave, but can easily be silenced into submission with a few extra perks. You’ve lost their respect, and you’re no longer a real member of the team. Not in their eyes.

A counter-offer, by definition, is an offer made to counter another. It is not one based in genuine desire to recognise an employee’s hard work. It is one aimed at getting them to stay. To some employees, this is really all they were after. Accepting the offer of simply spreading a few well-placed ‘whispers’ in the office may be all an they needed to reinforce their worth by letting their boss know they have other options. This approach may work for the employee to get a few extra bucks, but in the long term, they really gain nothing in terms of respect. As for the employee who has genuine interest in another job, accepting a counteroffer is not only a poor career move, it’s the height of unprofessionalism. To the employer, they’ve shown their true ambitions, but displayed how easily can be backed down. To their prospective employer, they’ve broken their commitment to take the job, wasting not only their time – but the recruiters too – precious time, which could have helped another candidate get the job they really do intend to take. You’ve engaged all parties in what has been an expensive, time-consuming show of force, which ultimately will give you the wrong type of recognition from all involved.

Keep it Real

As enticing as counter offers may appear to be, it is vital the employee take a step back. They must consider the options available to them carefully. And most importantly, their consequences. Before accepting any offer it’s important to take time to think objectively. From the basics, such as the finances, benefits, and commuting, to considering the company culture and social fit. The employee should also consider which organisation they can add most value to and which position will be best for their overall career.

If you are currently considering a job offer from another company, bear the following in mind:

  • What are your career objectives, and which job meets your personal ambitions to achieve them?
  • Why do you want to leave your current job? Is it just about the money?
  • Are you simply looking for a change of scenery? and if so, why?
  • Why are you interested in this specific job you’ve accepted?
  • How committed are you to taking up a new position in a new company, with all that entails?
  • If you truly intend on staying at your current job, what might be some better, more effective ways to gain recognition and compensation for your work?

Pre-empting the counter-offer (and this is something that an external recruitment agent – if you have used one to secure the new role – should discuss with you from the start of your job search) will help the candidate manage their reaction and their decision-making process. Often it is the unexpected nature of a counter offer that creates an emotional reaction when a candidate thought they were simply handing in their notice. As with all things in life, preparation is key and candidates should always anticipate a counter offer so that they are emotionally and intellectually ready to handle it with clarity, common sense and having already weighed up the pro’s and con’s of leaving vs staying.

Ultimately, it is the candidate’s decision, and their responsibility to make a career-defining decision. It is one which will have an effect not only on their own job, but to all who may have reluctantly been ‘invited’ to take part in the candidate’s career conundrum: current employers, future employers, recruiters, and most importantly, themselves. It is not a simple case where the candidate has made their bed, and now has to lay in it. There are two beds to choose from, and they have to select the right one wisely.

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