GUEST COMMENT: How to cope with counter offers

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The counter offer can be a nightmare for everyone concerned: candidates, recruiters and employers. So how should you decide if you should stay or go?

The counter offer is reactive

If you strip off the emotions and set aside the tangible components of the counter offer, it becomes plain that it is a defensive strategy by the bank. Only after you resign does your employer swing into action by 'looking into your case'. It's a natural behavioral reaction, something that is 'supposed' to happen, more so if you are a key talent. But consider this: why do you have to resign to get what you are worth? In other words, why only counter offer you now, at the eleventh hour?

It is not about you

A counter offer is not about what is best for you, it is about what is best for the company. In industries where talent is a premium (especially in banking), counter offers are widely used retention tools. Your employer may appear to lose out by increasing wage costs, but these rises are minimal compared with the loss of momentum in amassing sales for the quarter, or the costs to recruit your replacement.

And it is not just about the money. The time taken to source, interview, offer/negotiate and onboard new hires to the point when they function optimally is usually underestimated. Meanwhile, the clock continues ticking for budgets to be met and client relationships to be maintained, let alone deepened.

Thus, you need to proactively take charge of your own career and consider if the counter offer really adds value to your CV, propels you in the right direction and assist in your career growth. If your company is genuinely interested in your progression, you should know it in the first place, and certainly before you decide to resign.

It is never the same again

It is naive to think that your relationship with your bosses and peers will remain the same after you accept a counter offer. Essentially, the trust is broken and your bosses are never quite sure if you will pull the stunt again because you have done it before.

I typically like to use this analogy: one party of a dating couple wants to end the relationship, but they eventually reconcile and get back together. The other party will not feel totally secure moving forward as the subject has been broached before. The heart is no longer perceived to be in its original place and suspicion inevitably sets in.

Your bosses now think you will leave in the near future and may begin contingency planning for your position. You may also lose the respect of your peers as you have just 'threatened' to resign in order to obtain your promotion or more money. Your internal reputation is at stake. In many instances, being successful in a new role in the same company hinges on how you are perceived and respected among your co-workers.

Back to basics

Think about what made you decide to explore external opportunities in the first place. By accepting the counter offer, will your reasons for initially considering a change repeat themselves? Will the offer nip those issues in the bud so that you look forward to work everyday? For example, it is naïve to think that a 40-year culture of a 100,000-employee bank will change for any one person in the next six months. So if culture is an issue, accepting the counter offer may not be wise.

Furthermore, you need to think about how plausible the counter-offer option is, i.e. will the promises be realised? The increase in money or promotion can be arranged at short notice, but if it involves a change in role, change of boss, change of department etc, these can be potentially tricky HR issues that may be out of your bosses' hands. If we view the counter-offer as a sales pitch, then you as the customer will need to consider the probability of the deliverables being met.

So what should you do?

Let us backtrack a little. My advice is not to accept the job offer if you are not sure you can go through with the resignation and subsequent counter offer process with your current employer. You should speak to your current bosses if there are issues and work through those issues, before you decide to tender. Once you accept the offer and tender your resignation, you should follow through with your decision.

Submit a courteous and professional resignation letter and try your best to not allow a counter offer discussion to occur. Make it clear to your current bosses that you have made up your mind. If you are countered, give your bosses the time, hear them out, do not reject them there and then. Politely say you will think about it and ask for a day or two to consider, after which you will advise them of your final decision.

By keeping a steady course, you can leave amiably without burning bridges and have the option to be re-employed or join an ex-boss in the future. You can look forward to starting afresh in a new role, with new challenges and an expanded network in the industry. Most importantly, you close off a career chapter and open another with an untainted reputation and a clear conscience. And that is what really matters.

Checklist: questions to ask yourself before you accept a counter offer

1. From a purely career progression perspective, which role is better for me?

2. To what extent will the promises of the counter offer be delivered?

3. Will the relationships with my bosses and peers (and to a lesser extent, subordinates) be negatively affected if I do decide to stay?

4. What is next for me after two or three years in this counter-offered role? Think two steps ahead.

5. Will the reasons for considering a change in the first place repeat themselves, even if I stay?

Angela Kuek, manager, banking & financial services, Hudson

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