The Counter Offer: Blessing or Curse?


It’s that moment right before the fight begins, when the two contestants are circling around each other, staring into their opponents eyes, trying to psyche each other out. You and your boss feel the tension, but have been skirting around each other for months now, avoiding the problem. But then you make the first move… you throw a left swing at your boss by telling him you’ve received another job offer. You take momentary pleasure from seeing your boss scramble back onto his feet after the blow. A time out is called and the air is still, but the suspense is palpable. Thoughts of manipulation and mind games run through both your heads. Then your boss fakes a move, leading you to think that his stomach is wide open for your next swing. This is the counter offer. But then right as you start your swing, his knee comes up nailing you (in a very sensitive area) and knocking the wind out of you. You’re down, and unable to get back on your feet. This is the result of falling for the counter offer. While counter offers should be approached as simple business deals, it is often hard to avoid the emotional manipulation they present. They have a certain lure to them and come rife with guilt, greed, fear and hurt pride. In a world where money has become the primary motivation behind so many undertakings, can you truly afford the counter offer?

On the outside, a counter offer looks like a shiny new toy under the Christmas tree. Especially in this market full of doubt and insecurity, more people might be apt to accept the counter offer. The risk of starting all over again with a new company may not seem worth it. It is easier to remain in your comfort zone and avoid change-including the pain of packing up and moving all of your belongings. There’s an emotional aspect to the situation as well. Seeing your boss beg for you to stay and offer you a raise is bound to touch upon your pride. Your boss may tell you that this was a raise/promotion he was planning to give you soon anyways, or that he can’t afford to lose such a valuable member of his team. Therefore, you should be prepared for the counter offer upon resignation. This will allow you to think clearly and avoid making a decision complicated by emotions. Consider why you were searching for another position in the first place. If your motivation wasn’t purely money but instead lack of advancement, or even just an ill-fitted environment, don’t be fooled into thinking these things will magically disappear with a raise of your salary. Really think… will more money fix the problem?

Really think… will more money fix the problem?

However, there is a good chance that your boss isn’t thinking about you when making his counter offer. Your boss is probably thinking about how his performance and next raise will be harmed by your resignation. How he may not have time to find and train a replacement before the end of tax season, or even how finding a replacement might jeopardize his much anticipated Hawaii vacation. Now that he knows that you are not loyal to the company his intent will only be to keep you short term. Buying your time now means that he can let you go according to his time table and not yours. In a few months after the busy season is over, or after he’s found a suitable replacement, he may let you go with little or no notice. 85% of employees who accept counter offers are gone within eighteen months. Your boss now understands that money is your primary motivation and that you can be bought at the last minute. You’re perceived as a risk, but also you’ll be expected to justify your raise and work harder.

Hal Reiter, journalist for Forbes says that

“in [his] 25 years of experience, [he] has learned that accepting a counter offer is usually career suicide.”

Once your boss learns of your disloyalty you will most likely no longer be considered for career growth or advancement. And when it comes time to scale back, you may be the first to go. Emotionally it is an insult to your pride and honor. It can affect the way your coworkers view you, and hurt your relationships with them. And honestly, if you have to threaten to leave in order to get a promotion or a raise, it may be time to rethink the company you’re working for anyways. Also, where is all this money coming from all of a sudden? How come one day you’re worth $40,000 and the next you’re worth $52,000 without doing anything but threatening to resign? In reality, the raise is only temporary until your company is ready to fire you. By accepting a counter offer you’re burning many bridges. You’re no longer on good terms with your boss, but also with the company who made you an offer. So when your current boss lays you off (most likely in the near future) there is no chance of you finding a job at the other company.

Many recruiters also keep a blacklist of employers who have accepted counter-offers in the past. This information can be an obstacle to getting any job in the future.

“Remember: Recruiters never forget a buy back.” (Reiter, Forbes).

Accepting a job counter offer can haunt you for the rest of your career. I would suggest talking to your boss openly BEFORE you accept any other offers. Let him know you have issues with your current position. Clearly lay your problems out in front of him. Let him know that you are considering looking elsewhere if you can’t find solutions to your concerns. Your boss won’t feel threatened and may be much more flexible in helping you. If you find that your list of cons about your current job is much longer than the pros, it is probably time to find a new position and resign. But, BEWARE: don’t let the wrath of the counter offer ensnare you!