Contemplating a Counter Offer: Should I Stay or Should I Go?

December 2, 2016

You’ve gone out and interviewed for the perfect position. You receive an offer! You’re elated. You give verbal notice to your boss, who looks crestfallen. She really needs you because of this Super Important Project you’re leading. Wouldn’t you consider staying? She comes back at you with a counter offer that is 10% more than the offer you have from the other company. Should you take it?

Using another job as leverage with your current one is generally a bad idea, and most counter offers don’t work out well for either party. The fact is that up to 80% of people who accept counter offers leave those positions within the year. If you find yourself in the position of being offered a counter to stay with your current company, consider the following:

Management usually makes counter offers in moments of crises. You’re in the middle of a huge, high stakes, high visibility project. If you leave now, who will take the lead? When you catch your management off guard and put them in what they perceive as a vulnerable position, they make the emotional decision to counter your offer. After that Super Important Project is done? They’re going to remember that you were the one who was ready to leave in the middle of it.

Accepting a counter offer changes relationships with your team. Your management may see you as less trustworthy (which is not valid) and less loyal (which is valid). Your colleagues and teammates will undoubtedly find out via the gossip mill that you accepted a counter offer. When they receive the usual 2-3% annual raises, the knowledge that you were able to negotiate more for yourself simply by leveraging a competing offer will sting. This will breed contempt.

The issues that caused you to look outside your current employer will still be there. It is unlikely that your job search was motivated only by money. You were probably also seeking a culture of innovation, a better mentor, a new challenge, or an exciting new product. Accepting the counter offer results in more money, but also more of the same.

Your job may be in jeopardy if you stay. They know you wanted to leave, so when it comes time to add names to the RIF list, yours could easily find its way there. Plus, you’re more of a budgetary risk now that they’ve increased your salary.

It violates trust. All business decisions are rooted in trust. If your company previously valued you at $X, but once you said you were going to leave they suddenly valued you at $X+$Y, can you really trust them? Do they suddenly value you more now, or are they motivated strictly by the current crisis in the business?

It creates ill will with the new company. You went through multiple rounds of interviews, endured a background check, and accepted their offer of employment. Reneging on that is an act of bad faith, and one that damages your brand. It says that your word is not valid. You will be hard pressed to get another shot at a job with a company whose offer you initially accepted but then subsequently declined.

The fact is that up to 80% of people who accept counter offers leave those positions within the year.

The Bottom Line

Before accepting an offer from a new company, make sure that it has all the components you need to make a move. Evaluate it within the context of your current position, and make your decision. If you decide to accept it, make that your final decision. If your boss begs you to say, simply state that you’ve enjoyed your time with your current employer and have learned much, but that it is time for you to move on and that your decision is firm. If you take a counter offer, you may very well be setting yourself up for both disappointment and failure.

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