“We’ll match what they’re offering.” It’s a moment that can catch you off guard. You’ve done the difficult bit, after all. You’ve survived marathon interview rounds, had your experience and expertise challenged, and come out on top – success, you’ve been offered the job! The only thing left to do was to rip off the band-aid and hand in your resignation. Unfortunately, your employer has thrown a wrench in the works and given you a strong counter offer that's given you pause for thought.
No matter how unlikely you think the above scenario is, it’s best to prepare your response in advance, which should always be a resolute, “No, thank you.” While accepting a counter offer might sound appealing in the short term, it’s worth thinking through your current employer’s motivations for asking you to stay and why you wanted to leave in the first place.
Why do companies make counter offers?
In a candidate-led market, where competition for talent is fierce, counter offers are becoming increasingly common. In many cases, however, the counter offer benefits the company more than the employee or is simply a knee-jerk reaction from your boss who might immediately be concerned how they will get by without you or go through the effort of finding a replacement.
Accepting a counter offer can seem appealing if it means a higher salary at your current firm, but be aware that 70-80% of people who accept either leave or are let go within a year. Why is this the case? Usually for one of two reasons: employer distrust and continued employee dissatisfaction.
Like any relationship, how long can it last after you’ve told the other party you had not one but both feet out the door? Once you’ve made your intention to resign clear, you’ve eroded trust with your current employer even if you decide to stay. They’ll make a counter offer only because it’s cheaper and more convenient to keep you in the short term while they source a replacement. A report from Oxford Economics found that it costs more than £30,000 on average to replace an employee when taking into account job advertising costs, hiring temps if necessary, and the loss of productivity while getting a new recruit up to speed.
Meanwhile, if you accept a counter offer for financial reasons, you’re likely to continue feeling dissatisfied at work and leave eventually anyway. While it helps in the short term, money, as the adage goes, can’t buy happiness. For most of our candidates, once their basic needs are met, salary only goes so far to motivate them to pursue a role. Only 12% of employees quit because of financial reasons; poor work-life balance, lack of career development opportunities and few benefits are increasingly motivating factors to leave. In fact, 37% of employees say they would quit just to take a new job that allowed them to work remotely part time. Employers make the same mistake; 89% of bosses think that money, rather than corporate culture, behaviours and values, drive their people to quit.
Ask yourself what really drove you to go through the effort of the hiring process. Do you want a new challenge? A kinder boss? More meaningful work? A shorter commute? Unless a counter offer sincerely addresses the reasons why you wanted to leave, it’s best to decline.
How to turn down a counter offer without burning bridges
If you’ve decided it’s in your best interest to decline a counter offer, you should be polite to avoid burning bridges. After all, your current employer might feel particularly spurned if they’ve gone out of their way to convince you to stay. You never know when you might work together again, or if they’re chummy with your future boss, so ensure they feel appreciated and that you can leave on good terms.
Thank your boss sincerely for the counter offer and say, “I really appreciate your offer, but I’ve already committed to this new role and I can’t go back on my word. I know my leaving may put you at a disadvantage, so I have prepared a thorough handover and am willing to help you with the hiring process for my replacement."
When the dust has settled, if you have a good relationship with your boss, you might find it useful to have an honest conversation with them about why you are leaving so they can feed that back into their hiring and retention strategy. Above all else, make sure to thank them and your team for the lessons that you learned while you were at the company.