Why you should never accept a counter offer

Author Samantha Fong
November 13, 2017

So you’ve made up your mind to move on from your current employer. After going through a hiring process over the last couple of weeks or even months and after careful consideration and discussions with your family, you happily accept their offer and finally tender your resignation. All is well until your boss, out of surprise or desperation, tries to retain you by giving you a counter offer which may or may not involve an immediate promotion, out of nowhere (although this may be long overdue anyway).

So what do you do now? Do you graciously turn down the ‘too little, too late’ gesture, or naively accept it thinking, ‘I’m finally being appreciated! Everything will be fine from now on.’ If your reaction is the latter, you might want to think twice. Here’s why.

1.     It does not address the deal breakers and you will leave again soon, except with fewer options the next time round.

In my experience, most candidates’ decisions to move on from their current jobs usually aren’t just centred on remuneration. Their reasons often involve factors such as the work environment, their relationships with their managers or colleagues, company culture, level of responsibility, more challenging/ variety of work, a promotion, work-life balance, or even the long commutes to work. More often than not, you have asked your employer to adjust at least one of these factors without success, before you start looking for a new job. So what makes you think that your employer will suddenly change these things for you after you’ve resigned? Does it always have to take a resignation to get what you deserve?

Of course, I have seen situations where candidates have accepted counter offers. However, over 80% of these people leave their current jobs within the next 6-12 months anyway because they realize sooner or later that nothing has really changed except their pay cheques. Once they realize this, they start looking again, except with fewer options the next time round because obviously they have already burned their bridge with the other employer who agreed to hire them, only to have them breaking their promise and backing out after signing the papers.

2.     The counter offer is just a cost-saving response.

As flattering as it may be for your employer to shower you with compliments, praise and new promises along with the counter offer, it does not mean that they are counter-offering you purely out of appreciation for your efforts, or you being you.

Let’s face it; hiring, training and experimenting with a new staff member can be far more costly and riskier compared to losing you, not to mention the amount of time and resources your firm needs to invest into the search for this replacement, especially where senior positions are concerned. The brutal truth may simply be that your employer wants to avoid the inconvenience of looking for your replacement and it has nothing to do with how much they appreciate you or whether they perceive you as a valued future leader of their firm. If this is the case, why would you want to hamper your own career development when there is no real benefit in staying?

3.     Your relationship with your employer will never be the same.

Once you’ve tendered your resignation, you’ve already broken their trust and your relationship with your employer will never be the same. Indeed, most hiring managers I have come across don’t like being placed in a situation where they are forced to make counter offers or create new opportunities for employees who have resigned. They may perceive this as blackmail and think that you can no longer be trusted to the same degree as you were before. Worse yet, if you accept the counter offer, your employer will likely suspect that you’re still looking for new opportunities because your loyalty has been questioned before, and likelier still, you may be passed over for the next round of promotions or pay rises. Your colleagues may well lose some respect for you if you can be persuaded to stay so easily. All of this combined means that your reputation will likely suffer and your future with the firm will also be adversely affected.

4.     Just be honest with yourself. Why were you looking in the first place?

After working at your firm for a length of time, you’ll have the good sense to predict how things will go after accepting a counter offer. You know in the bottom of your heart that nothing will really change. Even if salary was your main concern, the risks of staying often outweigh the benefits.

5.     It’s your decision. Only you know best.

At the end of the day, just remember that the ball is in your court and it would be foolish to let anyone pressure you into making a decision that deviates from your long-term career goals as well as the list of push factors that led you to look in the first place. Of course, there are always exceptions to every rule and regardless of whether you decide to accept a counter offer; you should always be honest with yourself and your employer.

In conclusion, my advice is a counter offer is always best avoided. Be grateful for your experience at your firm, leave on good terms and be professional about it. Sometimes growth requires taking chances, and who knows? You may be able to return later as long as you continue to develop your skills and experience, and more importantly, if you truly understand your worth.