Taylor is facing a dilemma that shouldn't be one. After recently accepting a position with another company that offered him more money, a better title and greater responsibility, he has informed his boss of his decision. In an effort to keep him, Taylor's supervisor has presented him with a counteroffer: a $7,000 raise and an extra week of vacation.
"You are so valuable to us, we really just can't afford to lose you," she explains. Taylor is a little surprised. "I've asked about career advancement in the past, but nothing ever came of it," he thinks to himself. "I wouldn't have looked for another job in the first place if I thought they valued my contributions so much." That thought alone should have been his first indication that the counteroffer might not be all that it appears.
Counteroffers may seem attractive on the surface but should never be accepted. Here's why:
A short-term strategy: Is that what you want?
Consider what may have prompted your boss to move so quickly to try to keep you. In most cases, employers extend counteroffers not because they suddenly realize an employee's value to the company but instead because they fear the immediate disruption his or her departure will have on productivity.
When an employee tenders an unexpected resignation, the manager is typically thrown into a quandary. Unless you are an underperformer whom the boss was considering firing at some point, her immediate thought is of key projects, deadlines and client relationships that may now be in jeopardy. She realizes that the cost of hiring a replacement on short notice would be far higher than the raise she is offering you. In addition, there is a self-preservation instinct: Employee retention is one of the factors on which managers are evaluated at performance review time, so your departure has the potential of hurting your boss's reputation.
Consider, too, your relationship with your current colleagues. Interactions could become awkward, especially if you've already announced to them that you are planning to leave. They may resent you if they put two and two together and realize the boss probably offered you additional compensation to stay. Fair or not, in their view, your good fortune may be seen not an advantage you gained by being a top performer but by threatening to quit.
Also reflect on what your future job security will be like if you stay. Once you have indicated your willingness to quit, your employer may no longer trust you completely. With your dedication to the organization in doubt, you may be viewed less favorably when future promotions are decided than your co-workers, who might be perceived as more loyal. And it stands to reason that you'll be more vulnerable to downsizings and layoffs. Worse, there is no guarantee you'll be kept on board even in the absence of layoffs. More often than not, companies use counteroffers as simply a delaying mechanism. No longer seeing you as a loyal employee, they may be merely stalling in order to keep projects on track while looking for your replacement.
The bottom line: A counteroffer represents a short-term fix for a problem that has unexpectedly arisen, not a change of heart on the part of the company as to your ultimate value or potential.
Window dressing: Counteroffers rarely address primary concerns
You must also think about the reason you decided to look for a new job in the first place. The working environment isn't likely to change just because you have been offered more money. You may be content for a few months, but many professionals who accept counteroffers end up leaving eventually anyway because the issues that caused their earlier dissatisfaction were left unresolved.
Moving on will entail a potentially stressful period of adjustment to new people and a new environment. Yet change is often necessary for professional advancement, particularly if you are looking for a new challenge or increased job satisfaction. You've already determined that you'll have greater career potential and be a better fit with the culture at the new organization or you wouldn't have accepted the position. The counteroffer you received doesn't change these facts.
A betrayal of confidence
But there is something else at stake when evaluating a counteroffer -- your reputation. If you decide to accept, chances are you'll not only lose some of the trust your current employer had in you before you accepted another job, but you'll also lose credibility with the employer who offered you the job that you accepted then later turned down.
The company may incorrectly assume that you were using them as a leveraging tool to extract a raise from your current employer. Even if this is not their assumption, your backing out will still cause them difficulties.
Your professional reputation is the most important business attribute you can possess. It is the foundation for your future marketability and career success. No matter how large the raise or promotion you're promised, no one should put a price on his or her reputation.
Look before leaping
Most people who are faced with a counteroffer dilemma have not first exhausted other avenues for remedying their current dissatisfaction. Try first talking to your manager about your situation. If what you seek primarily is a raise, be prepared to discuss the value you think you bring to the organization and benchmark what you're paid against similar positions in other companies. If there are deeper concerns about job satisfaction, talk through the possibility of receiving more challenging assignments or moving into a new area of the company.
If you're repeatedly met with resistance, it may be time to look seriously for a new job. When you do land another position, you'll believe you've done all you can to assess your potential at your current firm. If your boss presents you with a counteroffer, instead of being tempted you will now find it easier to decide to move on to a new opportunity.
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