The dangerous lure of counter offers and why you shouldn't accept one

Submitted on Sat 04 Sep 2021

You've applied for a role, been through the interview process, you've been offered the job and everything is great. You've negotiated yourself a good deal and finally, you muster the courage to resign.  Then suddenly your boss throws a curve ball and gives you an offer you can’t refuse, if you'll stay - what a dilemma.

 Counteroffers are tricky.

You were motivated to move but the new role, although it ticks all the boxes, is new and that means uncertainty.  Your old role, although it had its faults, is safe, comfortable and stable. The counter offer clears up a lot of the things that you were previously dissatisfied with. 

Before we dive into the reasons why you shouldn’t accept a counter offer (whether you applied via a recruitment agency or directly), let’s look at your bosses thought process.

Hiring people is tough. 

Its time consuming, soul destroying and expensive. When faced with a resignation, the employee who ‘yesterday’  wasn’t worth an extra 10K pay rise, suddenly looks more valuable when you consider 2 months of interviewing, 6 months of training and a 15K recruiter fee.  So the short term fix is to offer the 10k/training/job title/new office.  But it’s simply that, a short term fix. The employee wasn’t worth the extra 10k yesterday and they aren't worth it today, you (meaning your boss)  has just been forced to pay it to prevent the more expensive pain of the employee  leaving.

Maybe your Manager is genuine when he or she tells you that they are sorry they overlooked you for a pay rise/promotion/new office, in fact they probably are. Managing people is hard. There is never enough time, things get missed and overlooked. Processes  don’t always work and people slip through the cracks.  The pay rise may be genuine - BUT, the manager will revert to type. The things that were overlooked will be overlooked again, the processes that let you slip through the cracks will occur again. Perhaps not straight away, maybe not for 3 months (or 6 months if you’re lucky), but once the scare of your resignation has worn off, things will revert to how they were and the things that drove you to leave will surface again.   Unfortunately, your dream new job probably won’t.

We also need to consider what will happen, (in your head), once you accept a counter offer. You may assume that finally getting the  pay rise/promotion that you feel you deserve will motivate you and make you more satisfied with your job.  However research shows that this  isn’t the case.

Hertzberg's Two Factor Theory of Motivation tells us that the opposite of dissatisfaction, is not satisfaction, it is
no-dissatisfaction. Hertzberg's research found that there are two factors that make us satisfied or dissatisfied with our work, one of these is what he calls hygiene factors. These are factors in our role we assume should be there (safety, fair pay, comfortable office etc). The lack of these makes us dissatisfied but having them does not make us satisfied.  So getting a pay rise that you assume is only fair, will not make you happy, it will only make you less unhappy.  So very quickly after accepting a counter offer you may find yourself feeling surprisingly flat.

You can find out more about this and other motivation theories in our masterclass here (why not subscribe to our YouTube channel while you're there).


So, that’s the science, but what are the main reasons why you shouldn't accept counter offers?  Here are the top 6:

  1. Statistics show that if you accept a counter offer, the probability of voluntarily leaving within six months or being let go within one year is extremely high.
  2. Think about where the money is coming from. Is it from your next pay rise? Consider that most companies have a strict wage and salary guideline which must be followed. You are now above their banding; will they be able to give you another pay rise?
  3. You have now made your employer aware that you are unhappy. From this day on, your loyalty will always be questioned. Maybe they say it won’t be (of course they'll say that they don’t want to have to replace you) but you have shown disloyalty. Even if you had a valid reason for looking elsewhere, they will always know that you would rather go external than talking directly to them first.
  4. When promotion time comes around, your employer will remember who was loyal and who wasn’t. Do you think they will give more responsibility to the person who is most likely to jump ship?
  5. When times get tough, it's likely that your employer will begin the cut-back process with you. It's not guaranteed but if they have to make tough decisions about who they want to fight to keep, will it be you?
  6. The same circumstances that now cause you to consider a change will repeat themselves in the future, even if you accept a counteroffer. In our experience, the reasons someone looks for a new role will always remain, even after a successful counteroffer. The company is still the same company, the manager is still the same manager.

So, what do you do if you are given a counter offer?  It’s a tough conversation and it can feel awkward.  The best approach is to limit the information you give out. When resigning you don't need to give reasons. Giving reasons implies that if problems are solved then you will stay and this can lead to very awkward conversations. 

If you are given a counter offer it is always best to be polite, but firm. "Thank you for this, I really appreciate it, however I have made my decision and I'd like you to respect that decision. I'll do everything I can to make my exit as pain free as possible for you but my decision has been made." That’s it, no further reasons, no justifications, just an appeal for them to respect a decision that has been made.  Repeat that every time they come back with a rebuttal.  Its awkward but it works .

Good luck, it’s a horrible discussion to have but remember, your new role awaits you!




Thinking of changing jobs or aiming to expand your career then let’s start with a chat. Call us today on (02) 8346 6700 and speak to a recruitment agency that knows your market.

The Recruitment Company – Making people enjoy the recruitment experience again

Specialist Recruitment Agency within Information Technology, Project Services, IT Infrastructure, Software Development, SAP, Data and Analytics, Devops, Cloud and the Public Sector.

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