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Avoiding the Counterproductive Counteroffer

February 10, 2016

By: Crystal Spraggins

An executive once said to me that he never counters when employees announce their resignations, because if employees are ready to move on that’s what they should do.

At the time, I thought the executive sounded a little smug and a bit condescending, as though lowering himself to counteroffer just wasn’t something a man of his stature does.

But it’s probably a good thing. If someone doesn’t believe in countering he shouldn’t do it. There are already enough managers out there making embarrassingly lame counteroffers. No need to add to it.

The Uninspiring Counteroffer (Don’t Let This Be You)

The problem with many counteroffers is that they come too late to do any real good. They also tend to be kind of lame (see above), because they’re unplanned and often lack heart.

Let’s be honest. Counteroffers are usually necessary because somebody hasn’t been paying attention and now realizes he’s about to be in a bind. So this somebody thinks to himself, “Rather than go through all the hassle of finding and hiring a new employee who’ll have to be trained before getting up to speed, why not offer Marty a little more money to stay?”

But it’s no good, because money issues are usually the tipping factor in a decision to split, not the cause. In many cases, by the time an employee receives an acceptable and credible job offer psychologically she’s long since checked out. A little bit of money and some lukewarm talk about how much she’s valued ain’t gonna cut it.

Work Is a Relationship

Career and life coach Helen Richardson says work is a relationship, and it would do managers well to remember that.

A manager shouldn’t ignore her employee’s concerns or otherwise neglect the employee’s professional and personal development for months (or years) and then expect the employee to care about the manager’s desire to avoid the unpleasant consequences of the employee’s departure.

The Better Counteroffer

So …  is it ever a good idea to counteroffer, and if so, is there a way to do it right?

Yes, and of course!

Counteroffer when:

It really is all about the money. Once in a while, an employee who loves just about everything the job has to offer except the money accepts another position because it pays better, period. If that’s your employee and now you have some leverage to convince the higher ups to increase this worker’s wages, a counteroffer might make sense. (Warning: If your employee has been sharing with you for a while now that he wants and is deserving of more money, but his words had fallen on your deaf ears, your counteroffer may be accepted but have limited long-term impact as your employee ponders what took you so long and why.)

It’s the fitting end to a victorious advocacy. On the other hand, if you’ve been going to bat for your employee, and now you’ve finally got the green light to up the ante, you’ve earned your employee’s loyalty and the right to happily present a counteroffer. Congratulations!

You’re prepared to change your own behavior. If you’re willing to take your employee’s notice as a wake-up call and are prepared to humbly approach him or her with an apology and a sincere attempt to be a more attentive manager in the future, go ahead and give your counter a shot. Again, work is a relationship, and your employee will likely appreciate your genuineness, humility, and humanity.

Your offer is too darn awesome to refuse. If you’ve got an offer to knock your employee’s socks off, go for it. That kind of offer could cover a multitude of past sins. Just saying.

If a resignation notice from a good employee has caught you unawares, and you think there’s still a chance to re-engage him or her, go ahead and counter. So long as your offer is sincere and the money right, there’s a decent chance your offer will be accepted and provide more than a temporary benefit. Otherwise, save yourself the embarrassment of the lame counteroffer!

Crystal Spraggins

Freelance Writer, Editor, and HR Consultant in Philly. You can find more of Crystal's work at:

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