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Handling Counter Offers

Before resigning you should be totally clear on the reasons behind wishing to leave.  If these reasons are things that are potentially reconcilable, and more importantly you want them to be reconciled, explore them with whoever you need to speak to about it ahead of resigning.  Using a resignation as a bargaining tool is tempting but is rarely a good idea as the generally accepted numbers are that between 70-80% of people of people who accept counter offers either leave or are let go within a year. The rationale behind this is that the trust has gone on both sides irrespective of the new terms.

Handing in your resignation is seldom an easy task, especially where you have a strong relationship with your boss or the wider people within the business.  This pressure may increase further if a counter offer is put to you.   It is normal for an employer to want to try to keep you within the business for a number of reasons including

They do not want the business disruption of you leaving (or at least not when you want to).Your leaving sends a message to other staff that there may be better opportunities for them elsewhereIt may be more cost effective to try to bribe you to stay than hire your replacement, recruitment fees, advertising, management time etc.

Because of the reasons above some tactics may be used to attempt to keep (or stall) you:

  • They may refuse to accept your resignation.  We see this time and again, which is surprising as under a normal contract of employment in the UK no employer can refuse to accept your resignation.
  • You may be invited to an immediate meeting with the Directors or even the CEO. The objective here is often to flatter you out of leaving as well as making you feel valued and important.  If you are not that senior be honest with yourself, how many one to one career meetings have you had with the CEO before? 
  • You will certainly be high profile but perhaps not for the reasons that you would want to be.
  • They may come back to you with a revised financial offer. This may be an immediate salary rise or more probably a time-scaled rise linked to an increase in your performance.
  • They may talk about increasing your responsibilities, even possibly offering you an immediate and unexpected promotion.
  • They may ask you not to speak to anyone else internally or externally about your resignation. This is often used to stall for time. 
  • You have resigned so you do not have to follow such an instruction, but use some discretion.
  • They may appeal to your loyalty and try to make you feel guilty for resigning due to the impact on the business /them / your team etc.  Just remember this is business and not personal and this approach really is emotional blackmail.

You are hit with one or more of the counter offer tactics, what now?

At this point you need to be totally honest with yourself in relation to why you decided you wanted to leave the organisation in the first place.  Assuming you had raised these concerns already, why have you got to resign in order to suddenly be offered the salary or position, or both, that you felt you were worth or desired?   Be a realist. If you are offered a substantial salary rise or promotion to stay, in the cold light of day you know that this is not in the budget / plans, or if it was, why were you held back?

Still tempted? Be aware of the dangers that lurk ahead that lead 3 quarters of people to leave within 12 months anyway:

  • Resentment at the cost of retaining you either from your direct manager or from your colleagues due to the method used to gain pay rise, promotion etc.
  • Further progression or future pay awards are often stifled for a number of years whilst you are gradually brought back into line with others. When you raise this, expect to be reminded of the “very substantial rise we gave you only two years ago”
  • Finally be aware that your new employer is highly unlikely to consider you again. If you go all the way through their hiring process only to accept a counteroffer from your current employer, then they have already invested a significant amount of time in you and are going to be wary of considering you in the future. If it's a company you'd like to work with, you might be shutting a door you'd rather keep open.