Psychology of a Counter Offer – Fractured Relationships

So, my last post focused on the fact that making or accepting a counter offer is a bad idea. Now I want to attempt to explain some of the pitfalls of making and in this post, accepting a counter offer.

As a job seeker the absolute worst thing you can do is shop for a new job with the intent of taking it to your current employer in hope of getting a counter offer.

Most employers will spend a lot of time (which = money) and real dollars advertising, interviewing and preparing offers. So you can understand why they might get a little frustrated when they spend all that time and money to identify you as their “top candidate” only to have you say “when I gave my notice my current employer tabled a counter offer and I think that I am going to stay with them.” Especially after you have spent the past 2, 3 or 4 interviews explaining how there is no growth potential there for you or you don’t like the management style or it is time to move on.

Here is how it breaks down. Let’s say that you’re in the dating world and are very interested in someone out there. You go on a couple of dates and they spend the whole time talking about how horrible their past partner was. As things progress and get a little more serious, you start to invest more time and money into the relationship until, one day you think “wow, this is the person for me.” On your next date you are prepared to drop the “L” bomb, but before you are able they tell you that your relationship is over and they are getting back with their ex. So, how do you feel about that?

Both of you know that it is destined to fail but what can you do – you’re helpless and a little frustrated to be sure. It is the same thing in the work world. The company that courts you to join their team feels the same way when you decline their offer to stay where you are because of a counter offer. And to be clear – you might have damaged that relationship. They may tell you that you can reapply, but they will remember and they may not call you the next time.

If you current company felt that way about you, wouldn’t they have offer you more before you threatened to quit? Why should you have to quit to get a raise anyway? And the fact of the matter is you probably won’t be there in 6 months anyway.

A side note. Most times you will not damage the relationship if you refuse one companies offer to take a better offer from a competing company. In this situation however I do recommend you be honest and upfront about a competing offer and do not try to “play” one off the other.

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Comment by Lisa Howarth on February 5, 2010 at 8:16pm
Your point is well taken, this really comes down to integrity. If you're really just shopping yourself around in the hopes of getting another offer so that you can negotiate for a better comp package with your current company, then all you've done is show your current company that you're capable of "cheating" (to borrow the dating analogy) .. "but I didn't really cheat because I only flirted" just doesn't cut it.

I don't think there's anything wrong with having conversations with organizations, and looking at opportunities, but you need to be honest about your intentions - not only to the companies you're talking to, but to yourself.

A friend of mine was fiercely recruited by a competitor to his company, as was his entire team (it turned out afterwards). He had meetings with the company executives to discuss the opportunity, but in the end turned the company down before they had gotten to the formal offer stage. The rest of his team actually took the paper offer back to negotiate for better packages. The prospect company was exceptionally bitter towards my friend's colleagues - they felt used; however, they told my friend that they really respected him for not "using them" to get a better package, and that the door was always open. (In the end, the current company realized they were underpaying and bumped up the comp .. so integrity and honesty does pay off!)

Realistically speaking, you are your only advocate when it comes to what you deserve. Your company many not always feel the same way about your value that you do, but it's important to stand up for yourself. And remember, it's a VERY small world out there .. when you mess over one company, it may come back to bite you several times over.


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