Should I accept a counter-offer from my employer?
December 12, 2016 4:18 PM   Subscribe

I have been at my current company for 5 years and really enjoy it. During that time I've been promoted twice and have held my current job title/remit for 2.5 years. I wasn't looking for a new job but recently I was approached by a recruiter for a job fairly similar to mine but with a slightly wider remit and 20% increase in salary. I went through the gruelling interview process (2 interviews, a presentation and a week-long salary negotiation) and ended up being offered the job at a salary I was happy with. I was over the moon. However, when I approached my boss he counter-offered which I absolutely hadn't been expecting because the new salary is over the top of my pay grade - but he offered to match the new salary and give me a wider remit, which is better than I would be receiving at the new job. However, I've read that counter-offers are almost always a bad idea. Should I take it?

People claim that counter-offers are a bad idea because:
a) if your current employer values you then why didn't they pay you more to begin with
b) If you accept a counter, you burn your bridges with two organisations (the current one because they know you're looking at the door and the new one because you've turned them down).

Given that the salary is the same, here are the pros and cons as I see them:

Pros of accepting the counter:
1. I really like my current set-up in terms of office location, colleagues, familiarity (yes, there are frustrations but isn't that the same anywhere?).
2. Increased remit - I'd be looking after contracts by 2 funders instead of 1 so would spread my risk if one of the funders stops giving us money
3. I want to have a baby in the next couple of years and it would probably be easier/more accepted in the current job where I have been for 5 years. Maternity pay/leave is equal in both however.
4. Fear of the unknown - what if this new company is a nightmare to work for? There are niggles with all jobs and on the whole i'm pretty lucky with the current employer.
5. New company involves a longer commute and significantly more travel.
6. The new company is more risky - it only deals with 1 funder, so if they pull out I'm more at risk.

Cons of accepting the counter-offer:
1. I'm interested in seeing how the new company works, and generally doing something new. I think I would learn a lot and add to my CV
2. I'd have another company on my CV and not look like I was stuck in one place for 7 plus years.
3. I have already accepted it verbally and don't want to irritate the new company, especially as I work in a small industry and I have to continue working with them in another capacity (however I am their client in that capacity so it's still in their interest to keep a good relationship with me).
4. I know my current MD hates counter-offering. He will do it to avoid a recruitment headache, but it irritates him and he may always see me as a flight risk (I don't know how much to care about this because although he has to authorise the counter-offer, he is retiring in 18 months and my career progression isn't really in his hands - it's in the hands of my boss who I know values me and has always fought for promotions/pay increases for me)
5. The current employer only offered me this stuff because I'm threatening to leave - however I admit that although I asked about the possibility of more pay/wider remit before interviewing for the new place, I didn't push hard.
posted by Britchick35 to Work & Money (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Never accept a counter offer.

There is no way to know if any of those pros will apply to you in a year or a month or ever, now that you've announced your intention to leave. If they genuinely like you and miss you, and you hate your new job, you can always come back as a boomerang with no hard feelings.
posted by juniperesque at 4:28 PM on December 12, 2016 [16 favorites]

I'd stay. The fact that they promoted you twice shows they already value you, they have just been trying to get away with paying each employee as little as possible, like any company does.
A shorter commute is also a valuable thing, particularly if you are going to have kids.
posted by w0mbat at 4:49 PM on December 12, 2016 [4 favorites]

Just something to take into consideration: Your current employer offered to match the salary *this* time. There's no guarantee that they're willing to keep increasing you from there over the coming years. You might end up stalled out salary-wise for awhile, esp since you'd be above the top of your pay grade.
posted by bluesky78987 at 4:53 PM on December 12, 2016 [25 favorites]

You might end up stalled out salary-wise for awhile, esp since you'd be above the top of your pay grade.

This is an excellent point. It would be worth clarifying with your current employer whether the counter-offer in fact involves moving you up to a new pay grade/classification--which it might, since it sounds like it will involve more responsibility--or just keeping you as an anomaly at your current level.

If it is the latter, you could end up stalled and topping out. If it is the former, it is effectively a promotion, and given everything you value at your current job, it might be worth staying.
posted by rpfields at 5:05 PM on December 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Don't take it. The thing about the counter offer is, they didn't offer you that higher offer because they didn't think they would have to/you were worth it - and may resent you even if you do stay. I've known people to accept the counter offer only to find that it comes with higher product expectations or higher job responsibilities - basically the employers trying to justify it to themselves.
posted by corb at 5:17 PM on December 12, 2016 [4 favorites]

Like a lot of "common wisdom" about jobs and careers, truisms like 'never accept a counter offer' fail to account for any particulars or acknowledge that any situation is different. I have accepted counter offers in my corporate career, as has my wife. Both of us have rewarding careers and no regrets.

I come to this from the perspective of a parent of two young children, and I would tell you to take the counter offer. There are multiple reasons for this:

1. Knowing the system - all that embedded knowledge you have will be so, so useful once you have a baby and go back to work. Many people, when they return to work with a baby or toddler at home, are sleep-deprived (even brain dead, you might say!) and knowing short cuts and having craftiness to work the system with minimal resource is so, so valuable when you're tired as shit.

2. Having an established "brand" in the company, and a boss that supports and appreciates you is super valuable when you have a kid because needing leeway is inescapable and can make your life significantly easier. Being able to work from home, or arrive late, or leave early, or look after kid when kid is sick, or a million things. Having the flexibility and the trust is so valuable because for most people in corporate jobs, for the first few years after having a kid there is an element of cashing your chips in - you may struggle or fail to be a top performer in those years; your previous good work will stand you in good stead.

3. A long commute sucks when you have kids, and that's not even getting into the daycare situation if you have one. For me, I have to pick my kids up at six, that's a hard stop and not negotiable. A long commute would render this unmanageable and extremely stressful.

4. This is personal, but you may find your appetite for risk decreases and desire for job security increases once you have a kid. My partner and I both work in corporate jobs, and she's more blase about this than me, but stability and permanence is a bigger factor in my job decisions now. I have a family to consider, a mortgage, and a need to make sure I can cover any unexpected surprises.

My only advice to you is - if you get a counter offer - get it signed, in writing, before you go back to the other people. I have seen people screwed over with verbal offers that never materialised after they had rejected a job offer because "the dept doesn't have the budget this year" or some shit. Make sure it's real.

Best of luck with your decision.
posted by smoke at 5:18 PM on December 12, 2016 [26 favorites]

Yes, get it in writing if you want to accept the counter offer.

I'm leaning towards taking the new offer for a million reasons. You're not pregnant yet. That's down the road. Meanwhile, 18 months is a long time for the MD to eff with your career. If this person is uncool like that, maybe it's not worth the risk?Plus, there's no guarantee your boss that values and protects you will be at your current place of employment throughout your entire time there if you stay on. Maybe your boss gets head hunted sometime soon, too!

If you are young enough to take on the new travel and commute - do it! You're right, it looks better for your career. That's what counts. Worry about being risk-averse later, when that's a actually something you need to plan around. Right now if you can successfully navigate this new option, do so!
posted by jbenben at 5:33 PM on December 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

The (a) reason for not accepting counter offers doesn't make sense to me. Employers don't pay you "what you're worth". They pay you "what they need to keep you from leaving". Counter-offers are a natural part of that, if you prove to them they need to up their game to keep you and they do that means they DO want you.

This may vary by industry I guess. I'm in tech and its quite common for people to go find other offers so they can get a counter-offer from their current employer, and I've never seen this hold the people back at their employer if they take the counter-offer. A different industry might have more cultural prejudice against this though.

The longer commute and more travel with a baby maybe on the way seems like a pretty strong argument for staying put (even without a baby, longer commute is a huge negative factor IMO, one that gets worse every year you stay at the new job --- initially it may seem worth it for the newness, but eventually you'll get sick of the extra wasted time every day).
posted by thefoxgod at 6:20 PM on December 12, 2016 [8 favorites]

Never accept a counter offer. You will be forever marked, no matter what they say or what you think. You will also still be unhappy unless it was *only* money that had you looking, which is pretty unlikely.

Also who knows maybe your boss will turn out to be a lying scumbag and will never actually pay you and you'll have to find another new job and sue your old job! Seriously, you never know.
posted by so fucking future at 6:26 PM on December 12, 2016

there are a lot of negative health effects with long commutes, I would be very reluctant to take on a longer one just because there is some sort of conventional "wisdom" saying that one should never accept a counter offer.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 6:27 PM on December 12, 2016 [10 favorites]

Huh, I'm actually stunned that the consensus seems to be against counter-offers. My experience with counter-offers, both as a person getting one, and as a manger, has been great. When I got a counter-offer, I took it and got to stay with an organization I loved, doing work I believe in, with more pay and a promotion. I never got the sense from anyone that they resented me - if anything, they seemed to value me more because they had external proof of my value.

As a manager, I really appreciated the person who stayed and, again, it was an external validation of their worth. I mean, as a manager I would never expect an employee to stay forever - I pretty much assume someone who's been there for a while might at least think about applying for other jobs.

As for the "if they really valued you, they'd be paying you more even without an offer": meh, I think that's a neat idea in theory, but the reality is that it just doesn't always work that way. Managers are people and are just as susceptible to human factors as anyone else. Inertia is a real thing, as is "this is the way we've always done it" as is not fully recognizing someone's value until someone else does. In the case where I got the counter-offer, I think I might have eventually gotten that promotion but 1. my boss was notorious for dragging his feet on hiring and promotions and 2. the offer I got from the other organization gave him the ammo he needed with HR to get me as much of a raise as I deserved. It had nothing to do with how I, as a person, was valued and everything to do with my boss's flaws (everyone has em!) and the nature of our HR department.

I say: do what you really want to do. It sounds like you are valuable on the job market, so even if the thing you go with doesn't work out in the long run, now you know what you can expect.
posted by lunasol at 6:31 PM on December 12, 2016 [15 favorites]

Get it in writing if you can, but I still wouldn't do it. I accepted a counter offer in the past. Turned out that my boss (she was the big boss, so I had no reason to doubt her) wasn't really in a position to negotiate. The union fought it and I lost my raise a month later. I ended up with nothing except a burned bridge with the other organization and a lot of drama with coworkers.
posted by checkitnice at 7:17 PM on December 12, 2016

one option no-one has mentioned (i think) is to take the counter-offer for the short term, but start actively looking for a new job. that could get you more experience with another pay rise, and without the long commute or risk.
posted by andrewcooke at 1:11 AM on December 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

I want to have a baby in the next couple of years and it would probably be easier/more accepted in the current job where I have been for 5 years. Maternity pay/leave is equal in both however.

This makes me think you should stay, and use some of the pay increase to save for maternity leave, to allow you to take more time off (if that's how it works, not familiar with the US maternity leave - or alternatively, use the savings to allow your partner to take time off too).

New company involves a longer commute and significantly more travel.

A long commute will also be a logistical headache when you have a baby at childcare (getting stuck in traffic and being late to collect them, leaving the house super-early to get them to childcare so you can get to work on time, feeling guilty because you the kid spends a really long day in childcare, having to rush back a long way to collect the kid if they're ill, etc). Having childcare closer to work makes things much easier. And if by "more travel" you mean you'll be away from home a lot for work, this will suck with a small kid at home.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:02 AM on December 13, 2016

My employer never makes counter-offers, but once they did for me, by accident. I'd verbally accepted another offer, but was still in negotiation about the details of the package. Completely unexpectedly, while that was still going on, my then-boss offered me a 15% rise. I took it, and blew off the other party. Could be wrong, but I don't think my then-boss had any idea that I'd been looking elsewhere.

The bridge-burning that I inevitably did turned out to be a great move. I regularly deal with the organisation that I'd nearly joined, and each time I do, I'm very glad that I never joined such a difficult, inflexible & bureaucratic PITA.

So based on that, I'd take the counter-offer. But I'm an outlier - that was 6 years ago, and I'm at a total of 19 years in my current job. It's certainly true that if you want to create step-changes in your career or salary, you have to move. I'm lucky - I can live on my salary, and I still like the work.
posted by rd45 at 3:19 AM on December 13, 2016

I've taken a counter offer and I'm surprised at the idea that there's a hard and fast rule not to. In my case, I was unhappy in my role and actively looking to leave, and the offer I was considering accepting from another organization was decent, but not great. I also had concerns about the culture at the new organization and the work/life balance. There also would have been a longer/more difficult commute out to the suburbs instead of downtown.

In my case my counter offer included not just a raise but a new/expanded position that was more in line with the kind of work I wanted to do. It showed me that my company really valued me. This position allowed me to develop an entire career path that I'm really happy to be on.

There have only been a few downsides: I am towards the top of my pay grade so additional raises have been relatively small. But I remain competitively compensated for my role so I can't really be too upset that I reached my salary level sooner than I would have otherwise, right? The counter offer was several years ago, and I have now been here 13 years and I worry about getting too entrenched. Sometimes I'm either bored or tired of the same old personality conflicts (we have lots of long-time employees here) and want to move on. But because I'm well compensated, a lot of opportunities out there are either a pay cut or trading a relatively easy work/life balance for longer hours. Some people are driven to take risks and do the new, interesting, exciting thing, but for me the benefits of leaving what I know is a fairly good gig would have to be quite obvious.

I'd think long and hard about the commute, too. I've had a 30 minute commute on a single bus line or via bike ride, and I've had a 1hr+ commute that involved train/bus transfers, and I've had a car commute that could range from 40 mins to an hour depending on traffic. The difference in quality of life with the shorter commute is very real.
posted by misskaz at 6:42 AM on December 13, 2016 [4 favorites]

In your shoes I'd take the counter-offer, if baby-making is on the near-future agenda.

A few years ago I left a decent job for another that looked even more promising with better pay... and when I got there, it was a real surprise that I didn't quite "fit in" and was laid off within 3 months... unemployed for another 5 or so. We didn't start trying until I was past the probation period in my latest job (3 months). So that was a full year delay in starting to try for getting pregnant. We also lost a late-term pregnancy last year, so it's taken us nearly 2.5 years to finally have our babybunny (now 3 months old!).
posted by lizbunny at 8:08 AM on December 13, 2016

Count me in with those surprised that people are pushing so hard for the "never take a counteroffer" position. I took a counteroffer awhile back. I was unhappy with how things were going in my career and started looking elsewhere. Went through an interview, and was offered a job I wanted with more pay and benefits at another firm. When I tried to resign, my then boss surprised me by counteroffering to match the pay raise and to give me more responsibility. After thinking on it awhile, I decided to take it. No one made me feel bad about it, and I got along with my team very well for years afterwards. I even have connections at the company I was going to work with, and there are no burned bridges there either. I don't know, maybe this is just how my field is, but I think the advice to never take counter offers is just wrong. There are situations where it works and my career is doing just fine. In your shoes, I'd take the counteroffer for all the good reasons people listed above.
posted by FireFountain at 1:33 PM on December 13, 2016

Oh yeah, that reminds me. When that job (or a similar job to the one I turned down) has come up at other company, they've reached out to me on LinkedIn and asked if I was interested in applying. Twice. So I obviously didn't burn bridges there either, despite turning their offer down.
posted by misskaz at 4:14 PM on December 13, 2016

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