Entire sections of recruiter training guides are committed to the evils of counter offers. Recruiters and companies are constantly encouraged to sell the horrors of accepting counter offers. Are counter offers really that bad and do any of the statistics quoted make any sense? Counter offers are tools that employees and employers can use positively.

After years of telling companies, job seekers and trainee recruiters to sell hard against accepting or even considering a counter offer, I now find much of what I believed to be true is actually grounded in misinformation and industry self-interest rather than the best interests of the job seekers and employers themselves.

What is a Counter Offer?

Evil! Or so we are lead to believe. Pretty much every resource available to job seekers highlights the evils of counter offers. “It's a sign that the company never really cared about you and if they did they would have offered you before you resigned!” “Don’t take that counter offer! You are going to leave anyway.”

A counter offer is an attempt by your employer to keep you in the company. This can be in the form of a formal offer of salary, role, benefits or bonus. It can be emotional or simply a sincere request to delay your change in exchange for something.

In the purest form, a counteroffer is a request for help by your present company. That request can be sincere or not.

What’s Missing?

Most articles miss or avoid the reality that most employees work in. Employees and companies often play a strange game of pretend (the charades of work). Employers attempt to appreciate the work of employees yet are worried about giving too much. As one HR I worked with for many years mentioned “whatever we ‘give’, we cannot take away, so we have to be extra careful what we do give.”

Employees also struggle with how much to communicate, demand or disagree with. “What if someone decides I’ve said too much and uses that to fire me or exclude me?” is a common comment I get from many job seekers facing problems internally. I went into more detail on this dynamic the article don’t “talk it out” with your management.

This leaves frustrated employees with only one safe choice to address issues internally - find another job, then resign. We shouldn’t be a surprise that across the developed world most employees are disengaged at work.

If employers don’t offer employees security, autonomy and ownership (see: “trust”), employees will only have one option when it comes to addressing workplace issues - resign. As many managers comment “They were amazing. Always in on time. Exceptional work. And then they just resigned. What happened? Why didn’t we know?”

Counter Offers are a Useful Tool

Given the broken employment communication, counter offers are a powerful tool to overcome these challenges and get regular meaningful feedback. This is especially important for organisations that are so large it is almost impossible to give employees the kind of autonomy, security or trust that those employees want.

A Tool for Employers

As an employer, I strongly recommend having a way to actively counter offer every employee who wants to resign. Discuss among the management on how to approach each case.

Approach the resignation of an employee as a positive event and an opportunity to get insight on what isn’t working internally and how to turn it around, and give that person another chance (and the company another chance) to make it work.

I once met a senior researcher in a chemical firm. I couldn’t figure out why he was so happy to talk with me. After we chatted for a while, he admitted that he loved his job and didn’t have any reason for leaving. He wanted to go through the interview process to get an offer. He would then be able to turn around and negotiate a counter offer with his present firm. He did this every few years. He mentioned that he is always open with recruiters who ask him, but most don’t.

A Tool for Employees

As an employee, counter offers are a safe way to get an equal, safe seat at the table to negotiate openly with your employer.

Once you are secure with another offer in a role that you are comfortable switching to, you can trigger a counter offer discussion with your employer.

Call a meeting with your manager (if the manager is the issue meet with their boss or HR) and discuss that you have another offer and wanted to discuss with them before formally designing. If the company is interested in having a recovery discussion, they will make it clear during that discussion.

It also gives you a platform to be open about your concerns, frustrations and issues with the job. This is one of those chances to really work it out and decide whether it can work long(er).
Make Counter Offers Work, Long-term
A consistent concern about employers and employees is that after the counter offer is agreed, things will change internally or the company will take any opportunity they can to fire them.

These concerns, if present, should be discussed and addressed seriously as part of the counter offer discussion. The employer should be willing to include clauses that provide for longer notice periods or salary guarantees and the employee should be willing to commit to new targets and structures.

Why the Counter Offers Data Smells Funny

A lot of articles about the negative impact of counter offers quote stats about how “75% of employees who accept counter offers still leave within 12 months” or “60% of counter offers aren’t fulfilled by employers” or “I just went outside and thought of a number and that became the number of people who accept dumb counter offers. Are you dumb? No! So don’t accept counter offers!”

There are multiple issues with these statistics -

  • No 3rd party authority tracks counter offer statistics, so we are relying on self-reported and survey data.
  • Who is most likely to respond to a survey about counter offers? The people who had a bad experience about them. There is no way to verify whether that survey is representative.
  • Many of the authors of counter offer articles are recruitment companies or affiliated with recruitment companies which gives them a direct conflict of interest.
  • While not a good metric for validity, counter offers continue to be common in the market and organisations are willing to make them and individuals willing to accept them. The statistics go counter to observed behavior.