If you've received a counter offer from your current employer, find out what you need to do to handle the situation positively.

How to handle a counter offer

You’ve done all the hard work. Spruced up your CV, applied for jobs, passed the interview, been offered your dream job and told your current employer that you’re leaving. Then, the unexpected happens. Your boss tries to persuade you to stay. For some this might be a welcome relief. You finally get the recognition you wanted and maybe the pay rise you deserve too. Now you don’t have to go through the upheaval of moving somewhere new and trying to prove yourself all over again. Others might feel confused and frustrated. It was tough deciding to make the move in the first place and now you’re questioning if you’re making the right choice. There’s a lot to consider with a counter offer – from pay and benefits to training and career prospects. Is it better the devil you know or were there other reasons you wanted to go in the first place?

Others still might be angry that your boss has waited till now to act. If they had recognised your skills and hard work sooner, you wouldn’t have had to go through this whole process at all. It could be too little too late and help make up your mind that it’s time to move on.

Whatever your initial response to a counteroffer, it’s a good idea to think it through. Weigh up the offer from your current employer alongside the potential new one. That way you can be sure that whatever you decide, you made an informed choice.

Here’s some of the things to think about when considering a counteroffer:

1. Why does your boss want you to stay?

Sometimes an employer will be genuinely shocked when they receive your notice of resignation. It could be they had absolutely no idea that you were unhappy and really wish they had. Now they do know, they’ve made a leap to show you how valued you are, which might not have been the easiest thing to do.

Receiving a resignation from a valued employee can make your employer question how committed you are. By refusing to accept your resignation and doing everything in their power to keep you, must mean they think you’re worth fighting for.

On the other hand, if you’re pretty sure your boss already knew you were weighing up your options and left it until the 11th hour to do something about it, they probably don’t have your best interests at heart. Maybe they know you’ll be hard to replace. They could think the easiest option is to persuade you to stay in the short-term to buy some time whilst they fill your shoes.

Try to ask yourself (or them!) why your employer wants you to stay. Ask questions about the counteroffer to see how much thought they’ve really given it. Have an open conversation to gauge how committed they are to making the changes you need.

2. What’s on offer?

Think about why you accepted the new job offer. Chances are it wasn’t just about the salary. There’s usually more to it than that.

Most people start looking for a new job because they’re unhappy with their current one. It could be down to a poor relationship with your boss, difficulties getting along with co-workers, work that’s no longer challenging or simply for a fresh start.

Take a look at what your boss is offering you to stay and the terms of the counter offer. If it’s just a pay rise (to match or exceed your new job offer), it might sound tempting but it’s unlikely to fix the core problem in the long-term. 

If you’re offered more training or responsibility, that could be a more compelling reason to stay. Make sure you ask about the longer-term prospects within the company and how your new skills or expected performance will be developed as part of a structured career plan. 

Don’t be put off if your boss doesn’t have the answer straight away. It could be a throw-away counter offer that doesn’t have much thought behind it. But it could also be a genuine opportunity for them to put you to good use. In which case your boss may need a day or two to sort out the logistics of how this will work in practice.

3. Can you negotiate?

If your counteroffer is a good one, it might be an opportunity to negotiate. Whether your preference is to stay or go, either employer might be willing to up the offer if they think you’re worth fighting for.

Be careful though. Playing hard ball could leave your new employer feeling like they’ve been stung or worse still one or both offers could end up being withdrawn. 

Figure out what you’re worth in the market by researching the salaries of similar jobs in the same field. If you’ve not had a pay rise in a while, or you’re being paid less than the market rate, you might have good grounds to be asking for more.

Equally, if your skills or experience are in short supply, it might be more cost-effective for the company to pay you a bit extra compared to the cost of having an empty desk for a few months whilst they search for a replacement. 

4. Do you really want to stay?

If you’ve asked the right questions and been given honest answers, hopefully your decision will be an easy one. But sometimes it can be hard to think objectively if your heart just isn’t in it. Ultimately it comes down to what you think will make you happy and feels right.

Accepting a counteroffer and staying put will mean accepting more responsibility and working harder to live up to those expectations. If that’s the choice you make, you should feel as excited and energised by the prospect as you did when you got offered the job elsewhere.

If you’re not enthralled now and raring to go, the novelty will probably wear off quickly and you’ll be back to where you started. 

Equally, if you decide not to stick with your current employer, make sure you thank them for the counter offer and be firm. It’s a compliment to have been in such demand and you never know when your paths might cross again.

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