Why you should never accept a counter-offer

There have been plenty of articles written on this but a post “Why Counter Offers Are Good (except for headhunters)” on recruitingblogs.com by Amos spurred me to write about this for my audience. I was incredulous to read his article whole heartedly encouraging his candidates to elicit a counter-offer to get the promotion they want. Sure, it was a brave post to a hostile audience and sure you might think, ‘of course you’ll disagree Rob’, but for those that know me well, trust me when I say, whilst in my benefit it is not for my benefit, but yours. This is wrong advice on so many fronts 9 times out of 10.

I am not going to write anything revolutionary here but it is worth pointing out the facts so that if anyone does encourage (outside your current boss who obviously will) you* to take the counter-offer, you have a reference point. Read them carefully and keep them at hand.

I am not going to write anything revolutionary here but it is worth pointing out the facts so that if anyone does encourage (outside your current boss who obviously will) you* to take the counter-offer, you have a reference point. Read them carefully and keep them at hand.

*Quit pro quo: the presumption here is I am talking to an audience with a strong ethical and moral value system here. If you would happily sleep with your best mate’s sister to get ahead in life then your moral compass is probably too far gone for this to be relevant.

The fundamental facts are wholly aligned against counter-offers and are as follows:

1) Statistics

Six to nine months later, 90% of those candidates who accept a counter-offer are no longer employed with the company that extended the offer (Martin Varnier Research)

2) Have a plan

Decent and well-managed companies don’t make counter-offers….EVER! Their policies are fair and equitable. They will never be subjected to counter-offer coercion, which they perceive as blackmail. Do you want to work with one that does?

3) Personal brand damage

By accepting a counter offer, you have committed the unprofessional and unethical sin of breaking your commitment to the prospective employer making the offer.

4) No smoke without fire

Any situation is suspect if an employee must receive an outside offer before the present employer will suggest a raise, promotion or better working conditions.

5) Re-active environments

Counter-offers are only made in response to a threat to quit. Will you have to solicit an offer and threaten to quit every time you deserve better working conditions?

6) Tactics

Counter-offers are usually nothing more than stall devices to give your employer time to replace you. Your reasons for wanting to leave still exist. They’ll just be slightly more tolerable in the short term because of the raise, promotion or promises made to keep you.

7) Team player?

No matter what the company says when making its counter-offer, you’ll always be a fidelity risk. Having once demonstrated your lack of loyalty (for whatever reason), you will lose your status as a team player and your place in the inner circle. 

(1-7 Source: Wall Street Journal)

These are all very serious and compelling truths about why you shouldn’t stay. However, the ones I want to focus on are 1) and 2):

1) Because it is a researched fact, not whimsical argument

2) Because fundamentally whatever the short term benefits of agreeing to a counter offer, do you really want to work for a company that is neither decent nor well managed. Will it serve your career goals in the long term?

Finally, my advice to avoid this situation which is actually the ultimate goal as opposed to turning down counter offers, is this:

If your company is not professional or mature enough to promote someone that they clearly need to and that deserved it because of a lack of corporate discipline i.e. 'managers too busy' or any such excuse, then you should take control (this is the proper 'taking control of your life' part as opposed to forcing control as a last ditch attempt to get what you think you deserve).

Walk into the CEO/Managers office with a plan. Say you want a promotion and deserve it and articulate why. Being promised "it will come" is not good enough. Do not leave without agreement on your plan or the understanding there will be no promotion because of x, y, z. This plan should be a 3 month SMART goals based plan with Results that lead to Actions. It will maybe take you about an hour to knock up (if anyone wants help with this please email me at rob@33talent.com).

Consequences of not hitting these goals needed to be outlined for both sides i.e. Joe Bloggs doesn’t get the promotion if falling short and the company X must promote if hitting or exceeding goals. Within 3 months you will have reached your goals (if you don’t then focus on getting training on where you fell short and do the same again – all planned and time lined). At this point they have no choice but to honour the agreement or break it. If honoured, break out the champagne. If not, then you now have the ethical and moral high ground to look elsewhere. What happens after that is clearly up to you still (which is a good thing). If you get offered elsewhere and counter offered then of course you could accept it. The good thing is here; you wouldn’t lose the loyalty bonus or ethical standing as they broke their promise first.

However, my aside at this point would be that you are too good for this company. You know you have gone above and beyond, been pro-active, and even implemented a career progression plan for them which they then broke a promise on. So if I was you and the company had rescinded on such a professional, clear plan of action that I had brought to the table, I would know whatever the short term benefits of the counter offer, long term the company did not have a belief or value system that I could happily work within and my career would be better off elsewhere.

My advice to candidates would be to always do it like this, in a professional and planned way. The other route is way too unplanned, emotive, risky and potentially career damaging. 

Views: 20773

Comment by bill josephson on December 7, 2012 at 9:16am

Points well taken when actually giving notice.

What about the candidate who receives an offer and never gives notice, but says to their employer they were thinking of leaving or have an opportunity to leave due to specified reasons?  Using an offer to clarify career growth or express dissatisfaction rectifying a working environment aspect?  The guy who's traveling 40%, likes his job, afraid to be assertive in these economic times without having confidence of a contingency (offer) in their pocket, and willing to stay if it's knocked down to 10-15%?

Is that a savvy employee approach or come with the same risks?

Comment by Tiffany Branch on December 7, 2012 at 10:07am

While I do agree with the article, there are always exceptions to the rule. I accepted a counter-offer once and it was the best thing ever. My boss felt that I was making a bad decision with the compnay I was going to. He advised how my role would end up, then asked why I wanted to leave. It was money. He couldn't match the offer I received but I got a very nice increase. I stayed another 2 years and was promoted. When I resigned, he accepted my resignation because he knew it was an advancement opp with a great company.


BTW, he was right about the first company, it was a dot.com and the role went from HR Manager to Office Manager. I would have been recruiting, handling ee relations, and been responsible for facilities, mail room, office moves, etc. I dodged a bullet and the company went under as well.

Comment by bill josephson on December 7, 2012 at 10:15am

I believe the reality in this economy are employees afraid to ask their bosses for anything without an offer in hand in fear of being laid off, and employers trying to pad the bottom line giving as little as possible knowing there are few job opportunities in most disciplines.

If it's an employee they want to retain, they do something for them to stay. 

If not, they accept their notice or keep them around till they can be replaced.

Every employee is now a business decision and they're willing to lose the supplemental or auxiliary staff, but not the core star performers driving the business.

Just my five cents......

Comment by Robert Fanshawe on December 10, 2012 at 7:25pm

@Tiffany Branch There are ALWAYs exceptions to the rule but as advisors its our job to give the facts and 1 in 10 chance of it going well are not good odds. I am glad it did for you. Also there is a huge difference to accepting a counter offer from a good boss who knows the role you have on your plate is no good to one (and this is most) who don't know and don't care what the other role is they are just trying to get you to stay for their own gain

@bill josephson Im afraid I disagree. There is nothing to fear when you are not "asking" for something but actually building a process where the Result is either more training or a promotion. The whole point about this article is to make you and your boss understand your worth BEFORE resigning not at the point when you are most vulnerable and needing a back up offer. What if the other company pulls out etc etc? There is no need to go through resigning to do this (reference to my advice and planning section)

Comment by Sean Wilkes on January 4, 2013 at 7:14am

If the main reason anybody wants to leave is money then most switched on Recruiters would consider not progressing an application in the first place?  If you think that using an external offer to engineer a raise is a good example of an exception, then I think you are missing the point a little bit.  It's a sad state of affairs if you can't have this kind of conversation with your current manager before wasting a lot of people's time (including your own) going through a hiring process.  Part of the point of this article is that the only outcome from accepting a counter offer is damage to your personal brand.  With your current employer primarily (which is why so many people eventually leave any way), but more importantly externally.  Nobody likes a time waster :)


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