Tech & Work

Weigh these factors before you accept a counteroffer

You're ready to walk out the door and leave your days as an unhappy employee behind. Then, your boss makes an offer you can't refuse. Or can you? Here are some points to keep in mind as you decide whether to accept a counteroffer.


By Ruby Bayan

"I hate my job!" "I need a raise!" "I'm going nowhere!"

If thoughts like these have recently compelled you to update your resume, visit job sites, reconnect with your favorite professional search consultant, and make yourself available for job interviews, you should expect a possible face-off with the boss in the immediate future. But rather than a handshake and a toast to your new endeavor, your manager may make a "what can we do to make you stay" appeal—and you'll want to evaluate the situation carefully before deciding how to respond.

According to research conducted by Christian & Timbers, employees who accept counteroffers typically end up leaving six to 12 months after the acceptance. So it's especially important to determine whether accepting a counteroffer is a true solution for your job dissatisfaction or merely a temporary fix. As you maneuver through your Benjamin Franklin pros vs. cons decision-making process, consider these insights on whether to accept or reject a counteroffer.

The flip side
Do you need advice for creating counteroffers to retain top employees? Check out "Successful counteroffers require groundwork and careful handling."

Understand what's driving the offer and why you're leaving
Companies in the tech sector often invest in specialized staff training and employee retention programs to ensure high job satisfaction; so theoretically, they should have low turnover rates. In reality, however, because these firms do invest heavily in their workforce, they not only make their employees their most valuable assets, but they also make the individuals increasingly marketable and prime targets for recruiters. So when a key employee resigns, management doesn't throw a send-off party, it prepares a counteroffer.

"The company's motive for a counteroffer is usually to protect itself, the stability of the function or group, and the project(s) that the unhappy employee is currently working on," said Seth O. Harris, Jr., technology and venture search specialist and partner atChristian & Timbers. Therefore, you need to fully understand the reasons why you're leaving and be prepared to stick by them.

Jim Slattery, system administrator of Visicu, expressed his position on quitting: "I know personally that if I've decided to leave, it's going to have to be a seriously good offer to make me even consider changing my mind."

He said that if the things that make him happy at work—"great people, great tech, and a very large amount of responsibility"—are available, he probably won't be looking elsewhere.

"If I'm looking and find something I like—which is something that blows my current job away—then I'm leaving."

Determine what you really want
Edwin Kinkito, systems engineer of Currency Systems International, didn't have problems with his work environment; he wanted to be closer to his family.

"I couldn't stand being away from my wife, who was having a baby," Kinkito said. "The anxiety and loneliness made me look for better conditions."

He wanted a solution, which a counteroffer could sufficiently provide.

It helps to have an open mind when confronted with a counteroffer, Kinkito said. He listed some tips to keep in mind when negotiating for conditions that will make you change your mind about leaving:
  • Ask for a resolution to your discontent. Tell your boss what your problem really is. Your employer may have a solution you don't know about.
  • Ask about conditions you've always wanted. Other than a raise or a promotion, there may be some benefits like new technology, special projects, career training, extended vacations, flexible hours, or different hierarchies that can be applied to your career path.
  • Be fair. Your company could truly suffer if it loses you; but that doesn’t mean you should be overconfident and aggressive in your demands. Ask for what you want but consider the company's goals and needs, too.

"Even if you don't get everything you've asked for in the counteroffer, it will probably be significantly more than what you had," Harris said.

In Kinkito's case, he was able to negotiate a counteroffer that allowed him to be closer to his family while continuing to work at a company that fed his interest in state-of-the-art technologies.

He pointed out that some counteroffers may include a retention timeframe. "The company may want to protect itself by setting a contract-type duration, for example, six months or one year, which binds you to the company," he said. "It works both ways. In that period of time, you can do your best to prove your worth and then be asked to stay under much better conditions."

You can also regard it as sufficient time to determine whether it would be better to part ways, he said.

Anticipate the repercussions
If you turn down a counteroffer and leave, the only consequences you'll face are those that relate to the challenge of a new job. But if you accept a counteroffer, you may face a backlash that stems from your intention to ditch your team.

"Since you have been considering another opportunity," Harris said, "this calls into question your loyalty to the company."

He said if you accept a counteroffer, you will have branded yourself as an employee who is susceptible to leaving the company and will probably not be given serious consideration for future promotions. Further, you may not be given the opportunity to work on the best assignments because management feels that it risks losing you after a specified time.

Slattery characterized the situation as "bad blood" and said, "Someone will be pissed off at you for having the audacity to look for work somewhere else. You will be considered disloyal even though they were the ones that were underpaying you."

Slattery gave another reason you shouldn't make an about-face when you're already moving out the door.

"If they're willing to give you a big offer just to keep you around, they're probably only going to keep you until you've finished training your replacement," he said.

Either route requires professionalism
Harris suggested that if you accept a counteroffer, you should make sure that things are well documented with your employer and that you establish quarterly reviews with your manager post-acceptance.

And if you decline the counteroffer, he advises taking the high road. "Make sure you properly complete the work you've been assigned and that you act as professional as possible in transitioning your responsibilities to a new employee. You absolutely don't want to burn bridges with the company or the management as you leave because it's the last thing people will remember about you."

It is best not to take the situation personally or lash out at your employer, he added. Simply explain to others the reasons why joining a new company is a better career opportunity for you.

The upshot
Determining whether a counteroffer will address your concerns—without creating even bigger ones—is not a trivial undertaking. But ultimately, you will need to decide whether you want to give your employee-employer relationship another chance or pack up and ride off into the sunset.

Kinkito suggested you use this benchmark when weighing your options: "Be sure you will be happy with your decision and everything that comes with it."

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