The Counter-Offer - Accept or Walk Away?

By Chapple

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Everywhere you look at the moment, there are stories about talent shortages and how it is only going to get worse in the future. Employers are falling over themselves to attract and retain the best talent so, in a candidate-led market, looking for that next career move should be easy. Say, for example, you come across a great job opportunity, and brilliantly get the job; you just need to go back to your boss and hand in your notice. So far so easy. Then your boss looks at your letter and sighs,

“This is such a coincidence!” they exclaim, “We were going to offer you a promotion and pay rise next week!” He/She then proceeds to offer you an incentive to stay where you are and turn down the new job offer. What to do? Accept or walk away?

Before you accept either offer, you need to consider the possible reasons behind the counter-offer. It isn’t always because they love you too much to lose you.

  • It is cheaper for the company to keep you than replace you, even with a pay rise
  • By getting you to accept the offer, it buys the company more time to find a replacement for you

It could well be that you’re the best thing since sliced bread and they will do anything to keep you, but will they ever trust you again? You have to go to a dentist appointment the following week and you get some funny looks and a few comments and you find that you no longer seem to be part of that trusted inner circle.

You should be aware also that recent research shows that more than half of all employees who accept counter-offers will change companies within the following 24 months anyway. So, if your employer doesn’t find a good reason to let you go in the meantime, you will probably move on after all.

One of the worst things about accepting a counter-offer is that you will let down your prospective employer, breaking your verbal or written agreement with them. You risk gaining a reputation for time wasting and behaving unprofessionally. Burning bridges in this way can continue to haunt you throughout your career especially if you work in a niche industry where everyone knows everyone else.

Counter-offers are only made in response to a threat - your threat to leave. Do you have to threaten to quit every time you deserve better working conditions or a pay rise? If you don’t actually have a job offer and are just trying to get a better working deal, beware of the backfire!

Is it always wrong to accept a counter-offer? It would seem so, if you believe the research, but clearly some personal circumstances might create an exception. A delayed counter-offer some months after an employee has started their new job may suit some if, for example the location of the old job was preferable for personal reasons or the new one didn’t live up to expectations.

Preventing employees defecting to rival companies and therefore avoiding the need to make counter-offers is simply a matter of good internal communication and employee engagement. Regular and effective performance reviews should identify the key performers who may need greater challenges or improved working conditions. If an employee is happy where they are, they won’t start looking around for something better.

If you have been headhunted for a role or are working with a recruitment agency, then they will often alert you to the fact that a counter-offer is likely and how best to approach it. They have experience of such tactics, and will know how best to manage them.

If you do decide to refuse a counter-offer, it is important to take charge of the situation. It helps to stay in control by delivering your resignation in person and making it clear from the start that you’re not looking for a counter-offer and although you would be happy to consider one, it is unlikely you will accept it. Leaving your current employer on good terms is important and handling this final stage well, will pay off in the future.

A reputable business will rarely make counter-offers, instead accepting your resignation with regret and wishing you every success for the future, knowing that at some point in every career there comes a time to take on a new challenge and leave a business, however well managed the company. You can reduce the potential career damage and stress levels associated with this transition by having the confidence to stick with your decision to move on and not look back.

To summarise, here are a few Do's and Don'ts of counter-offers:

Do        expect and prepare for a counter-offer

Do        ask for the offer in writing

Do        check it extends beyond a one-off pay rise and get agreement on career                prospects

Do        remember you are probably getting your next few years’ salary increase                in advance


Don’t    be too flattered by the offer to question the reasons behind it

Don’t    forget why you wanted to leave in the first place

Don’t    accept the offer on the spot but ask for time to consider it

Don’t    trust a commitment that was never offered to you before

Don’t    believe in promises of change if they weren’t there before


At Chapple we specialize in sourcing candidates in external and internal communications, employee engagement, change and business transformation roles.
Contact us on 020 7734 8209 for more information about how we can help you find your next opportunity


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