Contemplating the ethics of using a job prospect as leverage with my current employer
February 17, 2011 2:59 AM   Subscribe

Is it bad form or unethical to use a new job prospect as leverage for a raise/promotion at the existing job?

What makes this tricky for me is that I'm not even job hunting and not particularly interested in changing jobs. I actually really like my current job. I certainly wouldn't mind a raise... but I'm reasonably content and honestly grateful to be employed at all.

I've been getting emails and phone calls for almost two months from a direct competitor to my current employer. Three different recruiters have contacted me now about, as far as I can tell, the same job. At first it was somewhat amusing and then became slightly annoying, but their persistence made me think maybe there was something to be gained from this.

I went ahead and did a phone interview to try to get an idea of what it might be like on the other side. The questions were all so vague and open-ended that I didn't really learn much. I'm not sure if I really want to continue down that path anyway, since I think I prefer the culture of my current employer. No job is perfect, but at this point in my life I think I prefer the devil I know over the devil I don't.

I am curious, however, if the other folks would be willing to pay me more for what I think is a very similar job. Is it unethical to continue going along with their recruitment process if I'm not particularly interested? Is it unethical to turn down a potential offer and use it as a bargaining chip with my current employer as a way of asking for a raise?
posted by bigtex to Work & Money (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
No, its not unethical. In my sector (UK academia) leveraging job offers is probably the most common way to get promoted. Is it any less ethical than a current employer not adjusting your pay to reflect the market? It is typically much more difficult to get a big jump from a current employer because they think you won't move.

What you need to be careful of is whether you will move if your current employer don't give you a better offer and how you phrase your appeal to your current employer about what you will do if they don't improve your pay.
posted by biffa at 3:06 AM on February 17, 2011

Unethical? It depends on your intentions, but I'd generally say no. It's perfectly legitimate to pursue the recruitment process to learn more about a job (it's as much the recruiter's interview as it is yours), and it's perfectly fair game to (politely, professionally) use your career path as leverage in negotiations with your present employer. Obviously, "I'm quitting if you don't give me a pay rise" is not the optimal way to approach that conversation. But employers generally want to retain good workers and avoid having to replace them, so they would welcome the opportunity to discuss your career goals and aspirations. The only word of caution: don't make demands and don't set ultimatums if you're not prepared to see them through.
posted by londonmark at 3:09 AM on February 17, 2011

Not unethical, but if the gambit fails, and, since you like your job, you choose to stay, you'll lose a great deal of credibility in future salary negotiations. So you either have to mean it when you say you'll leave for X amount at X place, or find a way to phrase it so you're not saying that (but, all of the other phrasing I can think of off the top of my head are either pretty weak or still end you up back in that really weakened-credibility position should it fail and you stay there.)
posted by atomicstone at 3:48 AM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

What everyone else has said about meaning it, but also:

I have no problem when my staff does this (it's just business), but you get to do it once. I'll do what I can to get you market value, but if I do and you come back in a year with the same message about another offer I will be much more likely to say "good luck, you should take it".
posted by true at 4:00 AM on February 17, 2011 [7 favorites]

I don't think it's unethical, but you have to be prepared for the possibility that it could backfire a bit. If you're not willing to take the other, higher-paying job should your negotiations fall though, you're going to be seen as a weak negotiator, which will carry through any future salary discussions.
posted by xingcat at 4:40 AM on February 17, 2011

As others have said, it's not unethical, but it can be a surprise litmus test to find out what your employer really thinks about you.

If you go about the "Tom, I wanted to talk to you because I've got a big decision to make and I'm hoping you can help me make the right one. X company has offered me X dollars to go do X job---but I really don't want to work there. The thing is I've really been thinking about my upward mobility and my family, and that really is a lot more money and a good step up in responsibility. I really enjoy the team I work with here and the work I do, would it be possible to negotiate some changes here so I can continue to work with you guys?" And you don't mention it to your teammates or your underlings, it can work.

"Pay me X or I'm going Y"...yea, I wouldn't do that.
posted by TomMelee at 5:25 AM on February 17, 2011 [4 favorites]

There's a lot of good advice already, so I'm mostly repeating here.

People have done this to me in the past. Even if the other job offer had come out of the blue, there was always another thing. Otherwise they would have just stayed and I would have not known about the other offer. I learned to always try and find find out what this was, since resolving that was key to keeping them. The ones that stayed never stayed too long. That other thing always drove them to leave. And in the meantime, they got sidelined from important, career-progressing projects since they were a risk.

So your boss will be thinking what's the other thing?. You're taking a risk here, with your employer and also with the other company. It can look like you've not got the balls to go, but you've not had the balls simply to ask for a rise based on your merits. So you could lose credibility. And you could shut the door on a position at the other place some time in the future.

So is there another thing? If there is, go for the other job. If there's not, keep your job, and if you want a raise, man up and ask for it.

Or be happy, which it sounds like you are.
posted by dowcrag at 5:30 AM on February 17, 2011 [5 favorites]

I do think it's bad form to use a bluff as leverage, yes. Also unwise - what happens if they call your bluff?
posted by J. Wilson at 5:57 AM on February 17, 2011

Ethical? yes. Your employer will not hesitate to allow market forces to cause you to lose your job, or to accept no raise, or even reduced wages.

Strategically, you should always document your successful projects and excellent work, and make sure your employer knows how lucky they are to employ you. So if you want to ask for a raise, you do it by showing your employer what a terrific job you do, how much value you add to the company, and you can show the market value of your work by explaining that you have had a competitive offer, when you were not looking for offers.
posted by theora55 at 6:18 AM on February 17, 2011

When was your last raise, when is your next review? I would only use what the other guy is paying in the context of a negotiation during regular review/raise . You can say that you've been doing some research on similar positions in same sized companies etc. ( that is unless you have a bonafide offer in your hands.)
posted by Gungho at 6:19 AM on February 17, 2011

Just as a data point, my wife was in this situation. She was made an offer that was a pretty significant increase in pay and position, and she went to her bosses saying "look, I like it here but I also have to consider what's best for me." (essentially, TomMelee's first scenario).

They matched the offer.
posted by adamrice at 7:33 AM on February 17, 2011

I did it and worked pretty well for me. I actually went through the whole recruiting process (I was not interested but wanted to get information about what is out there) I got the offer; then I met with my boss and had a very honest conversation about it, explaining how I didn’t want to leave but the offer was hard to resist. He countered offer me on the spot and we both got deal; he kept me and I got a decent raise.
I don’t see anything unethical on it.
posted by 3dd at 9:18 AM on February 17, 2011

If I read your question correctly, you don't actually have a job offer. You have some people poking around the edges of an offer. I would not use this as anything other that an ego stroke. Two things can happen. Your boss may say for you to go ahead and take the "offer" only for you to find that they just hired someone else, or word gets back to the boss that you are out looking when all you were doing was listening.

I would go to the boss and say, "I just wanted to let you know that XYZ company has been contacting me about coming to work for them. I didn't want you to hear it through the rumor mill. I'm not actively pursuing their interest and I am happy here because I think you will keep rewarding my skills and my faithfulness." Then quietly go back to work. The time to ask for a raise is when XYZ actually makes an offer.
posted by Old Geezer at 10:04 AM on February 17, 2011

Just wanted to chime in that this worked out really well for me too. I had been at the same job for 7 years, and was getting only 3% annual raises, so my salary started to lag behind market value. I was happy, but when recruiters started calling I went on a couple of interviews just to see what else was out there, and ended up getting a offer that was 20% higher than my currently salary. I went to my boss with an approach of "I really love my job here, and I wasn't looking, but this other offer that came my way is really tempting. Can we work something out?". They matched the offer pretty quickly to keep me. Good luck!
posted by bobafet at 10:10 AM on February 17, 2011

As people have suggested, it's a very reasonably conversation to have with your boss... and its all about the tone, relating that you enjoy your current job, etc.

But it may not get to that point; meanwhile, no loss in learning more about what the other folks have to say.
posted by ambient2 at 10:11 AM on February 17, 2011

It's not unethical in the least. In fact, sometimes it's the only way to get a raise or promotion - especially in this economy.

It doesn't have to be a threat and don't bluff if you're not prepared for the consequences. But "hey, these other offers are around. I like working here, but I want to have a conversation before I turn them down out of hand. Can we take some time to evaluate where I am and where you see my future here?"

No threat of leaving - and you'll get a sense of how they regard and value you. The additional benefit of saving face if you stay. "The offer was attractive, but I'd just rather be here." A conversation doesn't have to be an ultimatum.

There's also a chance you won't like what you hear and you'll have a leg up on finding a place that values you more.

I can't stress this enough - business is business. Your current employer could sack you tomorrow without a second thought. Lies, deception and ultimatums are unethical, but keeping your options open isn't.
posted by crankyrogalsky at 10:46 AM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's not unethical. We live in a market economy.
posted by LonnieK at 12:11 PM on February 17, 2011

Is it unethical to continue going along with their recruitment process if I'm not particularly interested?
You're wasting the time of anyone who's involved in the recruiting process. Only you can decide if that's ethical or not.

Is it unethical to turn down a potential offer and use it as a bargaining chip with my current employer as a way of asking for a raise?
If you lie about having an offer when you've turned it down then yes, I'd say that's unethical.

If you believe you're entitled to a raise, do some homework on what the market pays folks of your position and expertise. Then, present your case to your manager with your supporting information.
posted by DWRoelands at 1:58 PM on February 17, 2011

I just did this. I don't regret it at all. Do what you can to take care of yourself - BUT, the best way to make sure it goes well is to get something in writing from the other company and take it to your most trusted supervisor. At the same time, you might want to show payscale comparisons for your position in the area and provide a short list of accomplishments and goals, then talk about what you'd like to do for the company if you stay, and say that you WANT to stay.

Knowing you have a job offer to respond to will make responses quick so if they tell you to take it, well - you have a job offer in hand. Sign it and be done, and move along... unless you think you'll be insufferably miserable. Then stop interviewing now.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 8:21 PM on February 17, 2011

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