Should you stay or should you go?

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You’ve been offered a new job – but now your current employer has come in with a counter offer. So should you stay or should you go?

First things first – congratulations! You now have not one but two companies chomping at the bit to have you. Take a moment to give yourself a pat on the back, toast your success or do a celebratory dance. Enjoy those feelings of being flattered, appreciated and valued.

Now take a few more moments to think about what to do next.

We don’t want to burst your bubble, but that counter offer might have everything to do with your current employer and nothing to do with you. Once they’ve factored in the expense hiring a replacement, onboarding and training, your leaving is going to cost your employer dear, so it makes financial sense for them to hold onto you. When a counter offer comes with a nice pay rise, it would be wise to think about who gains most from you accepting it.

It’s usually a matter of salary, and of course if your main reason for seeking a new job was to earn more, then a counter offer that gives you the figure you were looking for seems a good bet. However, there are no guarantees that you’ll end up financially better off in the long run as you could find that your new package is more generous when it comes to bonuses or it could be that you’re subject to a salary freeze down the line. One lawyer who worked in a large American bank stayed and accepted a counter offer with a significantly increased salary only to find their workload significantly increased too. He left within six months.

Often counter offers are not all about the pay. You may have been promised that promotion you were after, or more flexibility to work from home, or that you will have the opportunity to grow a team. But these aren’t always elements that employers can just pull out of the bag, they often take a long time to materialise. If they are going to promote you for instance, they may need to create a job, restructure, or also interview others for the role. More work flexibility may require moving regular meetings and providing equipment and growing a team requires budget and a need. And with all these, employers also need to deal with the risk of upsetting people around you, and this is why so often we hear of these promises not being kept.

Chances are, if you’ve been looking to leave for a while, you have already had these conversations with your boss. And you have to ask yourself, how much do they really value you if you’ve had to go as far as resigning to get them to listen? What does it say about the organisation, its management and culture? And what happens when you need to have these conversations further down the line? Wouldn’t it be nice if they rewarded your contribution and commitment without having to resign?

It’s not always the wrong decision however. Sometimes employers are unaware of how important that request was to you until you resign. Sometimes employees assume that there is a glass ceiling or no chance of a pay rise so they don’t even ask. And sometimes the counter offer is so unexpectedly good that it is worth sticking it out for a year or so more regardless. I worked with one lawyer recently who accepted a counter offer with a significant salary raise and promotion. It was always coming but the frustration of how long it was taking made him think it was never going to happen. He is now very happy, managing a large team on a healthy package.

However, this is rare. And a high percentage of people who take a counter offer are back on the job market within a year. And I was one of them. I was lured into staying with my company with the offer of a promotion which never happened because I required flexible working and the company structure didn’t allow it. I don’t blame my boss. Looking back, I can see that my resignation caused a knee-jerk reaction where I was made a counter offer without it being properly thought through. And in my naivety I grabbed the offer without thinking it through either.

That’s why I always advise candidates in this position to hold fire before accepting a counter offer. Remind yourself of why you were looking to leave in the first place. Take some time to look at what you really want out of your job. Is it all about the salary, or is it career progression, a better relationship with your team, less commuting time, more travel, increased responsibility or just a change? Ask yourself why your current company is suddenly counter offering you now if it’s something you flagged with them months ago. Do you really want to work for a company that only acts when they’re forced into a corner? And now that you’ve got it, is that counter offer really, honestly, all it’s cracked up to be?

March 2020

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