When To Accept A Counter Offer From Your Employer

Should I stay or should I go now?

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Last updated: November 19th, 2023

accepting a counter offer

Last updated: November 19th, 2023

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Receiving a counteroffer is a good problem to have, but it often brings a fair share of uncertainty. You’ve already decided to spread your wings and get a new job – except your current employer has proposed an attractive counteroffer.

Doubt creeps in, and pressure to stay makes the decision more difficult.

  • Get it wrong, and you could be settling for a bad deal.
  • Get it right, and you could land a substantial pay rise or a better job.

Flexing your negotiation muscles could significantly impact your potential earnings for years to come.

Stick with me to learn best practices for handling counter offers and know when to accept them.

(Related: How To Tap Into Australia’s Hidden Job Market).

What Is A Counter Offer?

Employers often make counter offers when an employee receives a job offer from an external company.

It’s your current employer’s way of regaining some leverage.

counter offers

They do so for the following reasons:

  • To prevent “brain drain” from the company.
  • To eliminate the cost of hiring and training a replacement.
  • To prevent overloading other team members with your workload.
  • To maintain strong employee morale.
  • To stop you from joining a competitor. 

Flattering as a counter offer may seem, it can also feel frustrating.

Why the heck didn’t they pay you that amount in the first place? Then you wouldn’t have needed to go looking for a higher salary.

Sound familiar, right?

Don’t get hung up on that. It’s nothing personal.

The quicker you realise and accept that, the quicker you can focus and plot your next move.

You’re in a labour market, a market just like any other – and your value is determined by the price that someone else is willing to pay.

Salaries are a game of both competence and leverage, and an external job offer gives you a healthy dose of the latter.

(Related: How To Turn Down A Job Offer Gracefully).

What To Do After Receiving A Counter Offer?

Your initial reason for resigning shouldn’t be the sole deciding factor when accepting or rejecting a counter offer.

You need to take some time to reassess your options in light of the moving pieces. Below are some useful tips on how to respond to a counter offer.

1. Reevaluate Your Reasons For Wanting To Leave.

Before deciding on whether to reject or accept an offer, reconsider the reasons you chose to leave the job in the first place.

Was money the sole motive?

Most often, it’s not. But even if it was, perhaps this new company has surprised you and tempted you with its vision.

Other common reasons employees choose to leave include:

  • Poor work culture.
  • No opportunity for personal growth.
  • Lack of meaningful vision.
  • No interest in the job.
  • Feeling undervalued by leaders.
  • Toxic managers.
  • Unfulfilling nature of the work.

Take some time to think about your motive for leaving. Does a pay rise address that? Will you suddenly find the work fulfilling? Will the work culture suddenly change if you stay?

Important!

Accepting a counter offer under such circumstances is a temporary sweetener, but it won’t change the fundamental push factors that compelled you to look elsewhere.

2. Consider Your Work Life After The Pay Rise.

First, by accepting a counter offer and staying with your current employer, you may indicate to your managers that you have one foot out of the door, and they’ll stop considering you for long-term promotion opportunities.

Second, don’t be surprised if your manager begins to push you harder after the salary increase.

The idea of “you’re getting paid more, so I expect you to work harder and longer” is all too common in the workplace, and the employer may ask you to pick up additional duties.

Expert Tip.

If you want a peaceful life, never divulge your salary with colleagues – even those you consider friends. It can be tempting to share that information, but very little good will ever come of it for you, and it often breeds resentment and jealousy.

3. Create The Infamous Pros and Cons List.

Ah, yes! The ol’ trusty pros and cons list. It’s likely to bring clarity to the situation.

Certain things will stand out, such as distance to work, future promotion opportunities, and company culture.

For example, this might be the state of affairs for your new job offer:

ProsCons
Career advancement and developmentJob security is problematic as the job is a fixed-term contract for twelve months
New challenge at an exciting company spearheading changeWork-life balance is likely to take a hit since the commute is an additional 45 minutes per day
Increased salary (kerching!)Starting out all over again is daunting when building relationships
Greater sense of autonomy and worthIt’s likely to be more stressful due to the nature of a new job title

Expert Tip.

Consider using a pros and cons tool which you can use to calculate the best option overall based on a set of predetermined factors (such as salary, work-life balance, job security). You can assign a weight to each factor based on its importance to you.

4. Have An Open Discussion With Your Boss.

During this discussion, you may sense that your boss is being insincere and is keeping you around while he looks for a cheaper new employee.

Again, don’t take this personally.

Probe deeper to see if your boss sees you as a long-term part of the team. Don’t be afraid to ask if the pay rise will come with realistic opportunities for career progression.

Important!

There can be no guarantees, of course. But you have to place your faith in someone: either your current employer or a new employer.

5. Negotiate In Good Faith, But Don’t Be Greedy.

If your boss is genuinely interested in keeping you around, he may be open and willing to offer more than just money.

Counter offers are just that – offers. They are up for negotiation.

You can ask for more money or better benefits, such as career progression – if you feel your expertise warrants better compensation.

(Related: How To Respond To Recruiters On LinkedIn).

But be careful.

There’s a fine line between getting paid what you’re worth and acting entitled.

Important!

Personal greed goes against most company values, especially in early-stage startups and SMBs. Cross that line, and there’s no way back. Your personal brand will suffer, and you’ll forever sever your long-term career prospects at the company.

When negotiating, follow these tips for success: 

  • Know your price floor and ceiling, that is, the minimum you’d accept and the maximum you can gain (also known as reservation point and aspiration point, respectively).
  • Be professional and courteous if you are going to play both employers off against one another. Remember, “He who makes the most enemies has the least to gain.” (I just made that up, but it sounds like some Sun Tzu kinda wisdom, doesn’t it…?)
  • Ask open-ended questions to better understand your current employer’s position; they may be keeping their cards close to their chest.

It’s not uncommon to have a few rounds of back and forth with your current company and your potential new employer.

But let me reiterate. Tread carefully.

Expert Tip.

Resist the temptation to “see how far I can push it”, – especially if you’re not a rainmaker, directly responsible for bringing revenue into the business.

6. Sleep On It.

When you are armed with all the details, take a few days to mull your options over. This is a career-changing decision, and you need to get it right.

When deliberating over the decision:

  • Visualise yourself in both scenarios and consider the arguments for each option.
  • Talk to someone you trust about your options. Don’t listen to career coaches or recruiters (especially the recruiter who is trying to fill your potential new job). Ask people who are more senior than you and who rose rapidly through the ranks, preferably in your industry).
  • Avoid taking advice from well-meaning family members who don’t have domain expertise.

When Should You Accept A Counter Offer?

The grass isn’t always greener, so if money was your only motive for leaving, consider staying with your current company.

But before you accept, take the total length of your tenure into account.

Ideally, you don’t want to spend more than 10 years with a single employer.

Long tenures signal to recruiters that you’re “institutionalised”, risk-averse and lacking the courage to face new challenges.

If you’re nearing the 10-year mark, it could be a good idea to jump ship – even if you’re comfortable and the pay bump is attractive.

Nuance is important, as always.

Consider your career progression during this 10-year period. Have you risen through the ranks at a rapid and consistent pace or got stuck at roughly the same level for 10 years?

Rapid ProgressionSlow Progression
Financial Accountant, 2012-2014Financial Accountant, 2012-2018
Finance Manager, 2014-2016Finance Manager, 2018-onwards
Director Of Finance, 2016-2020
Group Financial Controller, 2020-onwards

The two 10-year tenures above paint very different pictures.

If you belong in the “Slow Progression” category, you may close the door on future opportunities outside the company by accepting the counter offer.

Important!

Think twice before choosing short-term comfort over long-term career growth.

Final Words On How To Deal With A Counter Offer.

Every situation is different, but before getting carried away with the new deal, you must remember why you wanted to leave in the first place – and determine if this counter offer is worth changing your mind over. 

Whichever offer you decline, thank the employer for the opportunity.

Let them know that after careful consideration, you’re seeking employment elsewhere. Don’t burn bridges, but be firm and don’t succumb to pressure!

Last, let me say this.

Most people who accept a counter offer leave within a year.

They tend to walk away after realising little has changed since they first decided to seek employment elsewhere – which tells you that, more often than not, money is only part of the equation and not the deciding factor.

Tommy

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