Evaluating a Counter Offer From Your Current Employer

By Joe Stein

Giving notice can often be both exciting and very nerve wrecking. You are excited about your new opportunity, but nervous about delivering the bad news. What happens, however, if the transaction of you giving notice and departing the company has an additional step to it…an attempt to keep you?
 
A counter offer is when an employer faced with a departing employee decides to offer something in an attempt to entice the person to stay with the organization. The first step may be for the Manager to ask, “What will it take to keep you?”   Studies have generally shown that over ½ of Managers are open to making a counter offer if they truly value the employee and their performance, although the number that actually do it is probably much less. A savvy Job Seeker will have anticipated that a counter offer might happen and will be prepared with an answer. 
 
There is no requirement that you consider a counter offer, so the answer may be a polite and professional statement that you are not open to this negotiation. If you do want to entertain a counter offer, then be ready to provide some guidance regarding what you are looking for if you were to decide to stay.
 
Several years ago, I wrote in this column some overall guidance regarding the value and the danger of a counter offer. That article can be found in the archive section of our website at www.wnyjobs.com. This time let’s specifically focus on how to evaluate the counter offer received from the employer, and what should be your decision-making process prior to accepting or moving on to your new job.
 
·         Compensation/Benefits – How does the counter offer compare with what you have been offered? Not just today, but in your future earnings potential. If it is possible, try to get an understanding of where you will be in the pay grade range for both your current and potential position. Differentiate between base salary and what will be “at risk” (i.e., bonus). Try to learn as much as you can about any “at risk” dollars from your prospective employer.   Compare the total cost and value of each benefit program.  With all of these items to be evaluated, you will need to determine just how much you value this category.
 
·         Company Culture – This can be a tricky one, especially if you do feel loyalty towards your current employer. On one side, you have a company that wants you to join them and on the other, you have one trying to keep you. The big question to ask yourself is why did your current employer wait until you are leaving to make this move? It may be as simple as they were completely blindsided by your departure announcement, but generally a Manager has some inkling regarding the satisfaction of their employees. So, whatever was causing you to try to leave (whether it was pay, benefits, work assignments, etc.), why did it have to get this far? Whatever your answer is to this question will probably help to determine for yourself how reflective it is of the overall company culture.
 
·         Compare Your Emotions – How do you feel now about leaving compared to when you decided to give notice? Has your feelings changed at all and if so, why? Think back to your original reasons for leaving. Time can help stabilize the emotions you were feeling when you decided to leave, whether it is from the flattery that someone else wants you, or the dissatisfaction you were feeling about your current job.  On the other hand, if you are still feeling like you did at that time, it may reconfirm for you the decision to leave.
 
·         Are You Burning Bridges – This really goes for each company involved. Is the company pursuing you, a leader in its field/area and one that you may want to work for in the future? If so, you need to ask yourself, are you closing the door on any future opportunities if you don’t move forward and join them? On the flip side, with your current employer are they going to be able to sustain this warm feeling that they are feeling for you right now. Over time, the doubts about your loyalty or commitment may start creeping into their minds. How much to do you trust the leadership of your current organization that you will not be negatively impacted by the counter offer? Are you fully confident that your relationship with your Manager will not be affected?
 
·         Do They Want You Long-Term – One of the darker parts of a counter offer is the situation where it is seen as a short-term solution. I am certainly not an advocate of this type of behavior, but there are some companies that will make a counter offer because they can’t afford to lose this person at the moment - perhaps because of a skill they possess or a project they are leading. These types of counter offers are sometimes done knowing they don’t plan to keep the person once the project is over, or someone else can be trained. If you have any thoughts that this may be your situation, then run away from the counter, unless it is so lucrative that you are willing to take the chance.
 
If you do plan to evaluate a counter offer, then do so quickly and quietly. Prospective employers generally don’t like to find out that you were thinking of staying with your current company. I don’t recommend telling them or delaying them during this process. It is extremely risky to go back to your prospective employer for upgrades using your current company as leverage. 
 
In general, I am not an advocate of counter offers. I have done very few as a HR leader in my career, whether it is to keep someone from leaving or even to sweeten the deal for someone coming in. In my experience, they usually don’t work out successfully for either party. If you do receive a counter offer, be sure to give it a full evaluation prior to making any decision, so you can be sure to have made the right one for you.
As always, best of luck in your job search!