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Cold Realities of the Counter-Offer Print

By Scott Cadwalader, Managing Partner, Diligent Partners LLC

See if this scenario sounds familiar.  For any number of reasons - underappreciated, overworked, underpaid, whatever - you reach the conclusion that your career potential will never be realized at your employer.  After a diligent job search, you accept an offer from a new employer.  You are excited that you will start your new job in just a couple of weeks.  You give notice to your company, and you are startled to learn that they don't want you to leave.  Suddenly, they have great plans for you!  Executives or board members are calling you at work and at home with great concern and interest!  "If only we'd known!" they say.  Earnest promises are made.  Your boss tells you - coincidentally - that he had just filed your raise with HR.  Retention bonuses are now offered, and even a promotion is hinted at, sometime next quarter.  Pet peeves you have raised time and time again in the past, suddenly are being taken seriously.  You are enormously flattered.  You feel terrific, and wish this could happen to everyone.  You can't help but think, Maybe I was premature in my decision. Perhaps I should have shaken their cages, years ago.

Snap out of it

Ask yourself this sobering question: "If I was worth X dollars yesterday, why am I suddenly worth X+Y dollars today?  Why are they so accommodating to my needs, now?"

Consider this: While there are always exceptions to any rule, your present employer is probably buying time until they can locate your replacement.

The reason you were extended a counter-offer is because they need you, at least for the short term.  When someone with any talent serves notice, it never is convenient for the employer.  It is painful.  It is disruptive.  It is expensive. It takes time to locate and recruit a replacement.  Major initiatives can be endangered.  There may be others who report to you that they can't risk losing.  At the very least, the person you report to will likely be the person to carry your load until they secure your replacement.  If any pivotal direct report ever resigned from under your management, you know precisely how you were impacted.  Longer hours.  More meetings.  More stress.  Maybe for months.  Who needs that?

Other considerations that can run through an employer's mind include:

  • This resignation could wreak havoc with my department's morale.
  • Coming on the heels of some other resignations, this will make me look ineffective as a leader.
  • I don't have anyone else right now who can fill this person's shoes.
  • How am I going to replace this person during a hiring freeze?

Bottom line: If you have any value at all, no employer will ever want you to leave on your terms.  Just theirs.

Still tempted to accept?  Consider this: Statistics cited by BusinessWeek, the National Business Employment Weekly and others have shown that between 75-90% of people who accept counter-offers no longer will hold those jobs after 6 months.  Why?  For one thing, the core issues that inspire people to leave in the first place rarely ever change.  Or their promotions do not really materialize.  Or that new plum assignment doesn't turn out to be so "plum," after all.  Or they find themselves no longer being included in meetings or discussions about the company's future.  Executives and managers treat them differently.  Eventually these people come to the conclusion that they really do have to leave.  Fast.

And for these individuals, what are their chances of rekindling relations with that other employer whose offer they at first accepted and then backed away from?  Slim to none.  That door is now closed to them, forever.  Just as the door to their old employer will also be closed.  Leaving on a high note?  Probably not.  Enthusiastic references from the old boss?  Probably dampened now because he is less likely to respect them as he once did.  After all, he found he could buy them off.  And since their responsibilities have gradually been shifted to others over the last several months, they are less likely to be remembered for the significant accomplishments for which they previously were known.  Others now carry the major responsibilities.  In the end, once they do leave, these poor souls will discover they have burned bridges with two employers, never to return.

Before you explore your options elsewhere, you owe it to yourself to document the reasons you should leave.  Prepare a T chart and list all the positives of your job, and all the negatives.  Of those negatives, which, if any, have you really tried to change?  Have you exhausted all reasonable efforts?  If your superior values you as an employee, you owe it to yourself to voice your concerns one last time, before you click on that internal switch that turns on your job-seeker mentality.  Because once ‘on,' your priorities and perspective regarding your company will be changed forever.

Once you do make that decision to accept another position elsewhere, commit to it.  Be firm, embrace your new opportunity, and make the most of it.  It will save you a world of grief, and keep your image and career path on the high road.

Scott Cadwalader is Co-Founder and Partner at Diligent Partners LLC, a retained search firm headquartered in Long Beach, California. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .





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