You've been approached by another company and offered a
position with growth potential and a moderate increase in compensation. You've
analyzed and agonized over the decision to leave a good (or bad) job for what
could be a better one, and have accepted (or decided to accept) the offer.
However, upon resigning, your current boss asks you to stay. This appeal is
known as a counteroffer or buyback.
In recent years, counteroffers have practically become
the norm. "It's almost like a part of the accepted divorce proceedings, and
allows the boss to save face with his boss," explains one departing
Texas-based executive of a major airline. "And it sometimes has to take its
But while buyback offers can be tempting, take care not
to fall into the trap or be blindsided to your own detriment. Career changes
are tough enough as it is, and anxieties about leaving a comfortable job,
friends and location and having to reprove yourself again in an unknown
opportunity can cloud the best of logic. But just because the new position is
a little scary doesn't mean it's not a positive move.
Since buyback gestures can create confusion and buyer's
remorse, you should understand what's being cast upon you. Counteroffers are
typically made in conjunction with some form of flattery. For example:
* You're too valuable, we need you.
* You can't desert the team/your friends and leave them hanging.
* We were just about to give you a promotion/raise, and it was confidential
* What did they offer, why are you leaving, and what do you need to stay?
* Why would you work for that company?
The President/CEO wants to meet with you before you make
your final decision.Counters usually take the form of:
1) more money
2) a promotion/more responsibility
3) a modified reporting structure
4) promises or future considerations
5) disparaging remarks about the new company or job, and/or
6) guilt trips.
Of course, since we all prefer to think we're MVPs, it's
natural to want to believe these manipulative appeals, but beware! Accepting a
counteroffer often is the wrong choice to make. Think about it: If you were
worth "X" yesterday, why are they suddenly willing to pay you "X + Y" today,
when you weren't expecting a raise for some time?
Also consider how you've felt when someone resigned from
your staff, The reality is that employers don't like to be "fired." Your boss
is likely concerned that he'll look bad, and that his career may suffer.
Bosses are judged by their ability to retain staff. When a contributor quits,
morale suffers. Further, your leaving might jeopardize an important project,
increase staffers' workload or even foul up a vacation schedule. It's never a
good time for someone to quit, and it may prove time-consuming and costly to
replace you, especially considering recruitment and relocation expenses. It's
much cheaper to keep you, even at a slightly higher salary. And it would be
better to fire you later, on the company's time frame.
"We've made counteroffers on occasion, if a good person
approaches the issue professionally," says a former senior partner of a Big
Six accounting and consulting firm. "But usually it was a stopgap measure
because we couldn't afford a defection at that point in time. We didn't count
on those people long term, and usually they'd burned bridges two or three
levels up, if not with their immediate manager. It definitely put them in a
career holding pattern."
The senior partner cites a long conference he once
attended with his boss and two subordinate managers, in which they approved a
counteroffer and raise to an employee two levels down. "Immediately after that
meeting, my boss called me and said, 'We can't afford to lose him now, but our
No. 1 priority is to find a replacement, ASAP!' " he says. "And we replaced
him within a few months."
Another senior executive from a major Dallas-based bank
says, "If it's a real 'hitter,' I'll try to get him to stay. But to be honest,
any additional compensation is 'stealing' from his future earnings, and I'll
always question his convictions, knowing he can be bought. Further, I'll
wonder if I can really count on him (which equates to limited future
opportunities). In other words, the damage is done."
While your employer may truly consider you an asset and
genuinely care about you personally, you can be sure that your interests are
secondary to your boss's career and your company's profit or survival. Thus,
flattering offers and comments are attempts to manipulate you to act in your
employer's best interests-which aren't necessarily your own. In other words,
they're not about you.
Accepting a counteroffer can have numerous negative
* Where did the additional money or responsibility you'd
get come from? Was it your next raise or promotion-just given early? Will you
be limited in the future? Will you have to threaten to quit to get your next
raise? Might a (cheaper) replacement be sought out?
* You've demonstrated your unhappiness (or lack of blind
loyalty), and will be perceived as having committed blackmail to gain a raise.
You won't ever be considered a team player again. Many employers will hold a
grudge at the next review period, and you may be placed at the top of the next
reduction-in-force "hit list." As one executive who requested anonymity says,
"Like an adulterous affair that's been discovered, the broken trust is never
* Apart from a short-term, band-aid treatment, nothing
will change within the company. After the dust settles from this upheaval,
you'll be in the same old rut. A rule of thumb among recruiters is that more
that 80% of those accepting counteroffers leave, or are terminated, within six
to twelve months anyway. Half of those who do succumb reinitiate their job
searches within 90 days, recruiters say.
"They butter you up, give you more money, but nothing
really changes. In fact, they can get worse," says one insurance executive in
Utah who accepted a counteroffer. "My immediate boss was really agitated,
since his boss interceded. At raise time, he told me that none had been
budgeted (since I had already gotten a raise), and that if I wanted, I could
negotiate with the president as before." This executive, by the way, left the
company within months.
To be sure, recruiters have a vested interest in
candidates not accepting counteroffers, since they can't complete their search
assignments without willing candidates.
* Attempted buybacks can demonstrate disrespect for your
well-thought-out decision and commitment to the new company. Should your
current employer decide to eliminate your position or pass you over for
promotion, successfully countering their decision is unlikely. Besides, you've
analyzed, accepted and committed to the new company, which has sure made plans
and accommodations around you and counting on you.
Finally, when making your decision, look at your current
job and the new position as if you were unemployed. Which opportunity holds
the most real potential? Probably the new one, or you wouldn't have accepted
it in the first place.
*Mr. Baty is president of R. Gaines Baty Associates
Inc., a Dallas based executive search and outplacement firm.