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The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Counter Offers

Counter offers often seem like a dream situation. You’re ready to jump ship but when you tell the boss you’ll be leaving the company in a few weeks, he offers you better incentives — like a raise or a job promotion or both — to keep you.

It’s hard to say “no” to an enticing counter offer, but here’s the caveat: While it’s flattering to be so sought-after, it doesn’t always end in a ‘happily ever after’ situation you’d hope for. Like every important decision in your career, taking or refusing a counter offer can impact your job as well as personal life in a lot of different ways. To make things simpler, I’ll discuss the possible after-effects of counter offers under three neat categories — the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The Good

You accept the counter offer and life is great for the foreseeable future. You’re enjoying the exciting new position, the bump in pay is helping your current situation, and the recognition your boss and peers are giving you is making you feel rewarded and motivated. You feel like it was just the right decision you made and it couldn’t have been any better!

In the real world though, counter offers rarely end so happily; which takes us to…

The Bad

Even before your initial excitement about the promises of the counter offer has settled down, you’re faced with the tough reality — the management now expects more hours and more work out of you.  You are making more money, but your hours have increased and every new project that comes up has your name on it. Plus, your co-workers may look at you differently and harbor feelings of resentment. The extra money is great, but now your work-life balance is awful and your life isn’t as comfortable as you thought it will be with all that extra money. That’s the other side of the shiny gold coin that counter offer seems like at first.

But wait, this situation is not so bad when you compare it with what comes next.

The Ugly

While working with a candidate last year, we had the discussion before his final interview about counter offers and he seemed to be interested in accepting one if the raise was high enough — something he didn’t think his current employer would do. I always like to get this out on the table before a potential offer comes in, because, let’s face it — it’s best to assess the candidate’s interest in moving on to a new company early in the interviewing cycle. And honestly, in my 13 years of experience in the staffing industry, I’ve rarely ever seen a counter offer situation take a positive turn.

As it turned out, the candidate we interviewed did indeed receive a counter offer and he decided to stay with his current employer. Three weeks later, the company did a reduction in force and not surprisingly, he was the first to be let go.

When a company is looking to downsize, an employee on a counter offer is often the first to be laid off. Firstly, because he or she wanted to leave anyway. Moreover, an increased pay may be difficult to maintain for a company that’s losing revenue and so they are the first to hit the chopping block.

Not just that, by accepting a counter offer, you burn two bridges at once. The trust between you and your current employer is severed forever and you are no longer seen as loyal. On the other hand, your relationship with potential employers and your recruiters may sour, so when you’re out looking for opportunities again, you may find yourself in a tough spot.

Job Dissatisfaction Goes Deeper than a Pay Raise  

Happy employees don’t look for a change. There’s a reason you “put your feelers out” in the first place. While more money is always a motivator, factor(s) that drove you to look outside of your current company — personality fit, dislike of your boss, boredom with the work, lack of recognition or career growth, insane deadlines — aren’t going change, and will likely start bothering you again as soon as the glow from your raise wears off.

Therefore, weigh your choices and be very sure of what you are signing up for before making an important decision to accept or turn down the counter offer. One wrong move could be a career killer.