Beware The Lure Of The Counter-Offer

From photo walk in ATL

If you have ever worked with a recruiter to find your next job, then you already know this. If you had a good recruiter anyway.  One that understood all about your motivation to go to a new role and your commitment to making the change. One like the one that coached me the one time I was in a situation like this. He threatened me, in a good way. “If you’re not ready to walk away,” he told me, “then don’t take this job. But if you take it and then respond to a counter, we won’t ever work together again.”

As an HR leader, I have had to respond several times to the call of a frantic leader when he has been given a resignation by one of his employees. And suddenly I learn that the previous OK performer is an irreplaceable star. I have never encouraged the process of counter-offers, and I’ve never made one.

I look at it this way. Most professionals are paid to make decisions and solve problems in the areas of their expertise. And a career choice is a highly personal decision. If a company is surprised by an employee’s decision to leave, then that employee has a bad manager or the employee is not acting in a manner consistent with his behavior. Either way, for the employer to react at that point sends a message to the employee that is too late, and a message to other employees that if you really want our attention, tell us your are leaving. When my leaders started the process of countering, I told them I was not interested. Then they asked me to think about it for a day or so while they worked on an option. I had been telling them for six months that I was not satisfied, why did this decision change their determination to do something about it? I asked them to respect my decision. They respected my decisions in the workplace, I needed them to respect this one as well.

There are lots of other perspectives on this point. The company is buying time and will no longer trust the employee anyway. The employee may stay a while longer, but the counter offer only bought time, not a renewed sense of loyalty. And there are probably those occasions where an employee’s resignation led to a re-alignment of compensation to market, which can be a good thing too. But for the most part, making or accepting counter offers is the wrong way to negotiate change.


One Response to Beware The Lure Of The Counter-Offer

  1. A refreshing look at the counteroffer from a HR perspective. Much better to spend the time and energy finding a replacement, and hope that the manager is going to do a better job of keeping hold of them this time, than wasting time over what is probably a short-term solution anyway. This is a good post looking at it from the candidate’s view (but many of the points are cross-transferable) –

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