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Feb 21
Counter-Offers: Cautionary Tale or Cause for Celebration?

Author: Georgina


Working in recruitment means that I’ve handled a lot of counter offers over the years. And yet, this is the first time that I’ve really written about them.

In truth, I write about issues that touch or affect me all of the time and, while counter offers undoubtably touch me and my business, I’ve shied away from sharing my thoughts before.
The reason is simple. It’s mostly because almost every Recruiter seems to have posted about this thorny issue before – which, I think, can create the impression that we’re warning our candidates more for our benefit than theirs.
Which isn’t the case - hence my discomfort.

It’s true that, in a tougher economic climate, candidates are often swayed by money – whether it be from their existing, or a potential new, employer. As Recruiters, our job is to help them to navigate what can be a minefield and make a rational decision, based on all (positive and negative) factors that could influence their career. 
With this in mind, I think that it’s time to look at both sides of the counter offer story…

If you google ‘Counter Offer’, the search results pages are littered with cautionary tales - ‘#SayNo To Counter Offers’; ‘Beware of Counter Offers’; ‘Should You Say No to a Counter Offer?’. 
The consensus, often borne from years of (painful) experience, is that accepting a counter offer is a bad idea.  

Yet, they remain a fact of life. And, while accepting a counter offer can (undoubtedly) be what I call a ‘CLM’ (‘Career Limiting Move’), there are also circumstances where staying where you are can be a good thing. The secret is in being able to tell the difference...

In my experience, you can make accepting a counter-offer work for you if you feel undervalued – but your employer isn’t aware of your issues…
Sometimes, good performers get overlooked. If you’re showing up and doing a good job each day, your contribution may go unmentioned – particularly if you work in an environment where the management team is always busy putting out fires. 

Your resignation could serve to highlight your value to your boss and reopen channels of communication, leading to better opportunities and more responsibility than you currently have. It may also give your company the chance to make changes to the environment, which could improve your overall working conditions and reinvigorate how you feel about your job. Counter offers sometimes include a move into a new role or project that may serve to address some of the reasons you considered leaving in the first place. Accepting a new opportunity with your current employer can mean working on something new, within the security of an environment that you know.
However, if your only reason for looking for a new job is because you need to earn more money, agreeing to stay won’t really change the status quo. The reasons that pushed you to start looking at alternatives in the first place won’t magically disappear overnight. If you were unhappy and unfulfilled before, you’re likely to feel the same once the initial glow (and the salary increase) wear off.

Accepting a counter offer from your current employer can lead to diminished trust and questioned loyalty. 80% of the senior executives who took part in a recent Heidrich & Struggles survey cited diminished trust and compromised reputations as major negative repercussions of counter offer acceptance. Many highlighted that the consequences can extend to colleagues, who may view the increased salary or new projects you’ve been offered as special treatment, leading to a change in the dynamics of your team. On the flipside, in close-knit or niche industries (and, let’s face it - in South Africa, that’s almost all of them), you may suffer reputational damage as a result of accepting, and then reneging, on an offer. Recruiters will tell you to look at the statistics.Only 5% - 25% of counter offers that we deal with work out well in the end. 

This leads to what I call ‘counter offer casualties’ – which occur when the counter offer acceptor re-enters the job market within 6 to 12 months of declining a job in favour of staying with his current employer. In these circumstances, a counter offer can be just another version of the long goodbye.

As a Recruiter who has lived through many, many counter offer situations, I can tell you that no two situations are alike. Sadly, the outcome often is.
My advice, therefore, would be to not let your work issues/ discontent get as far as resignation. 
Rather, spend time understanding and mapping out why you’re unhappy in your current job.
Then, use this knowledge to engage with your boss and explore how you can resolve the issues – almost like giving him or her the ‘right of first refusal’. Do this a long time before you start your recruitment process and raise expectations with a potential new employer. 
You’ll get peace of mind and can look at outside opportunities, knowing that you’ve done everything possible to make your current job situation workable.
And, it’ll make the decision around whether to accept or reject any counter offers a no-brainer.
Good luck!

Georgina Barrick, MD of Cassel&Co and The Working Earth, all divisions of ADvTECH Resourcing (Pty) Ltd. Georgina has over 20 years of recruitment and executive search experience.


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