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Counteroffers.....Career Suicide?

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Matthew Henry, the 17th century writer said: "Many a dangerous temptation comes to us in fine gay colours that are but skin deep." The same can be said for counteroffers, those magnetic enticements designed to lure you back into the nest after you've decided it's time to fly away.

The litany of horror stories I have come across in my many years as an executive recruiter, consultant and publisher, provides a litmus test that clearly indicates counteroffers should never be accepted, EVER!.

I define a counteroffer simply as an inducement from your current employer to get you to stay after you've announced your intention to take another job. We're not talking about those instances where you've received an offer but don't tell your boss. Nor are we discussing offers that you never intended to take, yet tell your employer anyway as a "they want me but I'm staying with you" ploy.

These are merely astute positioning tactics you may choose to use to reinforce your worth by letting your boss know you have other options. Mention of a true counteroffer, however, carries an actual threat to quit.

Interviews with employers who make counteroffers, and employees who accept them, have shown that as tempting as they may be, acceptance may cause career suicide. During the past 20 years, I have seen only isolated incidents in which an accepted counteroffer has benefitted the employee. Consider the problem in it's proper perspective.

What really goes through a boss's mind when someone quits?

  • "This couldn't be happening at a worse time."
  • "This is one of my best people. If I let them quit now, it'll wreak havoc on the moral of the department."
  • "I've already got several openings in my department. I don't need another one right now."
  • "This will probably screw up the entire vacation schedule."
  • "I'm working as hard as I can, and I don't need to do all their work too."
  • "If I lose another good employee, the company might decide to 'lose' me too."
  • "My review is coming up and this could make me look bad."
  • "Maybe I can keep them on until I can find a suitable replacement."

What will the boss say to keep you in the nest?

  • "I'm really shocked. I thought you were as happy with us as we were with you. Let's discuss it before you make your final decision."
  • "Aw gee, I've been meaning to tell you about the great plans we have for you, but it's been confidential until now."
  • "The VP has you in mind for some exciting and expanding responsibilities."
  • " Well, your raise wasn't scheduled to go into effect until next quarter, but we'll make it effective immediately."
  • "You're going to work for who?"

Let's face it. When someone quits, it's a direct reflection on the boss. Unless you're really incompetent or a destructive thorn in his side, the boss might look bad by 'allowing' you to go. His gut reaction is to do what has to be done to keep you from leaving until he's ready. That's human nature.

Unfortunately, it's also human nature to want to stay unless your work life is abject misery. Career changes, like all ventures into the unknown, is tough. That's why bosses know they can usually keep you around by pressing the right buttons.

Before you succumb to a tempting counteroffer, consider these universal truths:

  • Any situation in which an employee is forced to get an outside offer before the present employer will suggest a raise, promotion or better working conditions, is suspect.
  • No matter what the company says when making it's counteroffer, you will always be considered 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.
  • Counteroffers are often nothing more than stalls to give your employer time to replace you.
  • Your reasons for wanting to leave still exist. Conditons are just made a bit more tolerable in the short term because of the raise, promotion or promises made to keep you.
  • Counteroffers 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?
  • Decent and well-managed companies don't make counteroffers...EVER! Their policies are fair and equitable. They will not be subjected to 'counteroffer coercion' or what they perceive as blackmail.
  • If the urge to accept a counteroffer hits you, keep on cleaning out your desk as you count your blessings.

(This article was written by Mr. Paul Hawkinson. he is publisher of the Fordyce letter, a monthly Missouri-based publication for the personnel, executive search and employment counseling fields. He was a former executive recruiter and consultant. This article appeared in the National Business Employment Weekly.)

10 Reasons for Not Accepting a Counteroffer

  1. What type of company do you work for if you have to threaten to resign before they give you what your worth?
  2. Where is the money for the counteroffer coming from? Is it your next raise early? All companies have strict wage and salary guidelines which must be followed.
  3. Your company will start looking for a new person at a cheaper price.
  4. You have now made your employer aware that you are unhappy. From this day on, your loyalty will always be in question.
  5. When promotion time comes around, will your employer remember who was loyal and who wasn't?
  6. When times get tough, and they always do, will your employer begin cutbacks with you?
  7. The same circumstances that now cause you to consider a change will repeat themselves in the future; even if you accept a counteroffer.
  8. Statistics show that in counteroffer acceptances, there is a 70% chance of you voluntarily leaving within the first 6 months. 90% within the first year.
  9. Accepting a counteroffer should be an insult to your intelligence and a blow to your personal pride to know you were paid-off.
  10. Once the word gets out, the relationship that you now enjoy with your co-workers may never be the same. You may lose the personal satisfaction of peer-group acceptance.

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