Should you accept a job counter offer?

Author: Peter Hogg
Posting date: 23/06/2015

After the initial joy of receiving an offer for a new job, a counter offer from your current employer can throw you into a state of doubt and confusion. You might have spent weeks or months mentally preparing yourself for a change of job and allaying any doubts about leaving, then suddenly it's all up in the air again. Whether to stay or go is a big decision, so here’s some advice and key facts to help you. 

What is a counter offer?

A counter offer is an offer or proposal made to offset or substitute for an earlier offer made by another party. Usually, an employer will make a counter offer to an employee at the point that the individual hands in their resignation, or during their notice period. Employers will usually try to counter balance the individual’s reason for wanting to leave by providing either financial, progressional or locational incentives to stay, such as a pay rise, bonus, promotion, new project, qualifications, relocation or the option for home working.

Companies will often make a counter offer in an attempt to retain employees in situations when it might be difficult or costly to replace them. This is common in senior roles in the pharmaceutical industry, where professionals are highly qualified with unique skill-sets and are highly knowledgeable about the individual projects that they are working on.

Whether you interpret that your resignation was a wake-up call to your employer, or that the counter offer is a desperate attempt to keep you after they have undervalued you for so long, really depends on your individual circumstance and mindset.

Should you accept a job counter offer?

There are many blogs on other websites that will tell you never to accept a counter offer based on the 'fact' that 80% of people who accept them will end up leaving anyway within 6 months. This statistic has been around for a long time (originating in the Wall Street Journal several decades ago) so it is not valid in today's market. A more recent article in The Guardian reports that the figure is 60% – not quite as compelling but a majority nonetheless. While you can never say never, there is certainly enough evidence that you should approach counter offers with caution.

Of course all circumstances are different, but many of the issues that present themselves after counter offers have been accepted are relatively common. If you are thinking of accepting a counter offer, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is your employer trying to appeal to your ego or sense of loyalty or to make you feel guilty about leaving?
  • Are the underlying reasons that caused you to consider a change likely to repeat themselves in the future?
  • Could your salary increase just be an advance on your next rise?
  • Could your employer fail to make good on their promises for future career development, department restructuring, training or qualifications?
  • After handing in your notice, could your loyalty or commitment be in question and lead to resentment or lack of trust from your line manager or colleagues in the future? 
  • Will a perceived lack of loyalty or an inflated salary make you vulnerable to cutbacks when times get tough?  

Once you have carefully considered these points, you might still decide that remaining with your current employer is the best option for your long-term career prospects. However, if the answer to any of the questions is yes, it might be time to move on because there is a high probability that you will be back on the job market again before long and could have missed out on a great opportunity had you gone with the original offer. 

Own your decision 

It might be difficult but it is very important to try to take your emotions out of the decision process. There are various techniques that you can use to help you to make logical decisions, including making a list of the pros and cons of each position and analysing the likely outcomes – positive, negative, short-term and long-term – for each option to help you to find clarity and direction.

Whatever process you use to arrive at your decision, your satisfaction will depend largely on whether you claim ownership of your choices. Take advice from other people but do not allow yourself to be manipulated into making a decision that is not right for you or your career. 

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