The Perils of a Counteroffer

The Perils of a Counteroffer

You’re trying not to grin like an idiot, but the truth is, you’re feeling pretty full of yourself. In this rotten, stinky, abysmal economy — you’ve been offered a job when you aren’t even unemployed!

OK, so now comes the time to decide: Do you accept the new job or try and get a counteroffer from your current employer? The truth is, your current job feels safe, and you’re not 100 percent sure the new employer can offer you the same job security.

But still. It is more money and a better title, and it is really flattering to be wooed by a new company.

Well, maybe there’s a compromise, you think. All you have to do is tell the boss that you’ve been offered a new job at a better salary and title, and see if he’ll counter.

Hope you like snake pits, because once you’ve made that decision, you’ve just jumped into a big one.

“Most of the time, accepting a counteroffer is short-term fix for both the employer and employee,” says DeLynn Senna. “More than 90 percent of those who accept a counteroffer end up leaving the job less than a year after they accept it – either because the company lets them go or they leave on their own.”

Senna is executive director of permanent placement services for Robert Half International in Pleasanton, Calif., and I recently interviewed her for my Gannett News Service/USAToday.com column.

Senna says that while your boss may indeed offer you more money or better title to hang onto you, the truth is, he or she may only be doing this to buy time.

“An employer wants to minimize disruptions or lost productivity in this economy, so they make a counteroffer to keep the person,” Senna says. “But the trust has already been broken with the manager and the employee’s colleagues.”

Oh, yeah, your co-workers who may resent you nabbing more for yourself when they’re likely to get a frozen turkey as a holiday bonus this year.

“These colleagues are going to know that you’re now making more money, and there is now a lack of rapport,” Senna says.

And as for your manager? Well, that chill in the air may have nothing to do with the office thermostat turned down to save energy.

“It’s always in the back of a manager’s mind that the employee has been disloyal” by even talking to another employer, Senna says.

“When it comes time for a promotion, the manager may give it to someone else, because he or she may be considered a more ‘loyal’ worker,” she says.

Ouch.

So, what to do when times are tough and you don’t want to play this touchy situation the wrong way?

Senna says that you should first begin by thinking about why you thought about leaving your employer in the first place. Accepting a counteroffer, she says, may not fix the reason you were considering the exit in the first place.

“Getting a pay raise doesn’t change the fact that maybe you’re not getting a chance to work on certain projects or can’t get along with the boss. Those problems still exist,” she says.

That’s why Senna says it’s critical that anyone considering a counteroffer from an employer should think about:

• Trying to make it work. “Make sure you do everything possible to improve your current situation before you think about leaving. Try and get the raise on your own, address the poor communication with your manager, try and get those good project assignments, etc. If you can change the one thing that makes you want to leave, then try and work it out.” While a new job offer may be exciting, consider that in this economy, it’s difficult to know who is financially solvent and who is not. You may be jumping ship to a company in trouble. Further, you will be leaving “goodwill that has built up” in your current job, Senna says. “It’s much more risky to leave.”

• Standing firm. If you do your research and believe that the job offer is worth taking, then tell your employer and don’t waffle when a counteroffer is made. Senna suggests saying something like: “I appreciate it, but I’ve made a commitment. I’ll do what I can to tie up loose ends here before I leave.” Senna adds that employers may try change your mind while you’re still on the job, but you must be polite but firm about declining a counteroffer.

“Think about it: Why do you have to threaten to leave before being heard? That’s a real red flag right there,” she says.

• Keeping your word. “You’re running a real risk of damaging your professional reputation is you renege on your agreement with a new employer to accept a counteroffer from your current employer,” Senna says. “Remember: Your reputation is the most important asset you have.”

In this economy, is it foolhardy to accept a counteroffer? Are there ways to make it work?

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