Here's the story:
A recent candidate who I had helped secure a new job was really excited about their new company and was going to be starting in a week. Five days before they were about to start the new insurance job...their old boss called them into his office and offered:
- A significant raise
- A change in duties
- A new job title.
The company pleaded with the candidate to stay, promising that there would be big changes and that they couldn’t bear to lose them. After careful consideration the candidate accepted the counteroffer and informed the new employer that they would not be joining them after all.
As an insurance recruiter in the trenches I see this situation frequently enough that I shudder whenever a company makes a counteroffer. I do my best to prepare candidates for these and let them know that only 25% of them typically work out in the long term. When this happens I will question their reasoning and make them aware of why counters don’t typically work out. However, I usually bite my tongue and avoid telling them how I really feel about counters – at that point they are not in a position to hear what I’m saying. Ultimately I end up congratulating them on their promotion and tell them to keep in touch. Full disclosure – What I want to say is “Why are you being so stupid? This has a low probability of working out and you will be screwed!”
Back to the story from above...
After my candidate accepted the counteroffer, I sent them an email congratulating them on their new position. Three weeks later I received a response asking to talk. The same boss that called the candidate in and talked them out of leaving had called them back into his office on Monday. He was really sorry. The company didn’t have the funds to come through on their promise. Nothing was going to change – but the candidate was still valued as an employee…. Let that sink in. That company not only broke a promise but prevented the candidate from bettering their situation. The worst part? Oh yes, there is more. The candidate's potential new company just hired someone else the week before. They were now back at square one in a job they hate even more than before and with fewer options.
What is the moral of the story?
This is the norm! I’m sure I will hear from some of you about the time you accepted a counter and it worked out. That’s great – you are nothing but lucky! I can even tell you a story of another candidates who accepted a counteroffer and ended up winning a major award. Just remember that for every one of these that does work out to the positive, there are four times as many that leave a trail of broken dreams, broken promises and ugly exits. They just don’t work.
But why don’t counteroffers work? Here are 5 reasons why they don't work:
1. The Company is Just Buying Time
Of all reasons this is quite possibly the most wicked. Sometimes companies make a counter offer and have no intention of following through. Essentially they make the offer out of spite because they are angry that someone is leaving or so they can get their ducks in a row and not have their business interrupted by you leaving. Either way it is cold hearted and inconsiderate. This probably has something to do with why you are trying to leave in the first place.
2. Money Doesn’t Solve All Problems
Blah, blah, blah. Money doesn’t buy happiness. Mo Money Mo Problems. I get it. This is a pretty tired argument when you put it that way coming from some moral high ground. Let me be the first to tell you – Money is important. Very important! However, there is a diminishing return to the value of money when you have a boss that screams, a horrible culture, you are working 80 hours a week, etc. When companies make counters usually the first step is to throw a ton of money at the employee and beg them to stay. While an extra $5K - $20K annually will make you happy in the short term – eventually you will get tired of the crap again. On top of that many companies will hold up the money they gave you as a reason to treat you terrible saying things like – “We gave you all of that money and you’re complaining again?”
3. The Feeling of Trust is Irreparably Broken
This is one of the biggest reasons that things eventually fall apart. Even though they won’t say it a company will never forget that you tried to quit. Never. When you make a mistake they will maybe be less forgiving. When you decide to dress a little nicer for work – just because – they will wonder if you have an interview scheduled over your lunch. Eventually this will damage the relationship enough that one of you decides to move on.
4. People (Specifically Managers) Can’t Change, Same with Culture
All of you people out there that are married (or were married) should appreciate this. My wife is fond of telling me when we fight, “You know who you married!” What she means by this is that there are certain core personality traits that can’t be changed about a person and by marrying that person you need to accept them and lose your right to get mad about them. The same goes for companies and managers. I don’t care how valuable of an employee you are. Your resignation is not the epiphany that is going to stop your boss from being an a@#$#$! These types of personality changes typically only occur in Dickens novels after a visit by three spirits on Christmas or after a severe brain injury. A company might be sincere in wanting you to stay but you need to be realistic, try as they may companies and managers can’t make radical changes about who they are. If that is why you are leaving then you should just go.
5. Job Searches Open Up Wounds that Don’t Heal
Do you remember how it feels to have a mosquito bite? It starts as a small itch – but the more that you itch it the worse it gets. Eventually it gets big and red and it really hurts. This is what a job search does to all of the little gripes you have about your current employer. However, unlike a mosquito bite – it doesn’t completely go away when you take a counter offer. All of those gripes that you thought of sit in the back of your head and weigh you down. The problem is that you rarely are able to put the genie back in the bottle and it just stays with you. Eventually you will get fed up and decide to look again.