The Risks of Accepting a Counteroffer
You’ve been unhappy in your current job and started looking. Now, you are lucky enough to get an offer for a role you like, at a company you respect. In addition, the salary and benefits are a step up from where you are now. This is all great news, and you want to take the offer. But first, you need to inform your current employer and handle the exit professionally.
To your surprise, when you tell your boss about the offer, she asks you for some time to make a counteroffer. Within 24 hours, your current company gets back to you offering a raise and more vacation time. Their counteroffer is actually better than the one you were about to leave for. What do you do?
Accepting a counteroffer can be a risky move that you need to consider carefully. We’ve been in the recruiting industry for 20+ years helping clients find jobs in HVAC, Facilities Management, Mechanical Engineering, Building Automation and Energy Conservation. We’ve seen candidates unknowingly damage their career prospects by accepting a counteroffer. In this post, we discuss how to evaluate a counteroffer, recognize the risks, and handle the situation professionally.
Remember Why You Were Looking for a New Job
Although it’s great to feel in-demand and valued by your current employer, you must be unhappy in your current role or you wouldn’t be looking for a new job. When employees decide to leave a job, it is usually about more than just the compensation and benefits. Think about which of your needs are not being met in your current role. Whether those gaps include low salary, company culture, turnover, or changes in management, there are problems that drove you to interview for a new position.
Even if you weren’t actively looking, but just responded to a recruiter, something drove you to inquire more about the new opportunity. Take some time to get to the root of the “something” in order to see the risks associated with accepting a counteroffer. Avoid getting trapped in an unfavorable situation, stuck at a company you have fundamental issues with, simply for a short-term increase in salary.
A Target on your Back
Although you’ve taken the offer back to your employer and haven’t accepted without speaking with them first, the simple act of presenting an offer to your current employer alerts them to the fact that you’re willing to look. It can be unnerving to an employer, raising questions of loyalty, to discover that you have been seeking other opportunities. Everyone’s situation is unique, but for some managers, this is perceived as a lack of commitment, casting a shadow over your future career prospects. Are you willing to take that risk, or is it better to just leave on good terms?
Also, consider this. Once you discuss an outside offer with your current employer, they may extend you a counteroffer for the sole purpose of buying themselves time to find your replacement. For your employer, it may be worth it to increase your compensation over a short period of time while they look for someone to take over your job. Someone who they trust to be more committed than you.
As a talented professional with HVAC or MEP skills, you are hard to replace. Sometimes an employer will counter your offer simply because of the time and money it takes to find and train another employee. According to an article by Robert Half, 37% of employers extend a counteroffer to a current employee to avoid losing an employee with hard to find skills. It’s possible that once a more skilled or less expensive employee comes along, your employer may let you go.
A Temporary Fix
As we mentioned, most highly-satisfied employees aren’t actively looking for new jobs, or even calling back the recruiters who are always reaching out to present opportunities. If you are looking, it’s highly probable that there are many factors influencing your decision to make a change.
Remember why you were looking in the first place. Perhaps you had concerns about work conditions, salary, benefits, colleagues, job responsibilities, etc. Maybe you even proactively brought these concerns to your employer – advocating for yourself. Maybe you need more PTO or flexibility to work from home once a week. As they say, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease”. But, presumably, your concerns were not addressed, or else you would not have been looking. And if your employer didn’t take your concerns seriously in the first place, what does it say that they are suddenly willing to offer you a more attractive package now? Do they really value you as part of the team, or are they just struggling to keep your position filled in a tight labor market? Do you have any reason to believe that your concerns – outside of compensation – will be addressed? If you can trust your employer and feel comfortable with the working relationship, wouldn’t these issues have been addressed before you announced you were leaving?
The Root of the Problem
During the time between receiving an offer and discussing your departure with your current company, we suggest getting to the root of your job dissatisfaction. This will help you understand if you are even willing to consider a counteroffer. Some of the common reasons people are unhappy in their jobs include:
- Below-market salary: are other people in your field with similar titles/roles being garnering higher wages?
- Work/life balance: a more flexible schedule is sometimes worth more to an employee than an increase in salary. For example, do you prefer being in the field or making site visits vs. being stuck in an office all day?
- Lack of PTO (paid time off): does your company not offer adequate vacation and sick time?
- A lack-luster relationship with direct management: is an incompatibility with your direct manager adding stress to your day-to-day workload?
- Reorganization: are company-wide lay-offs causing you to absorb an additional workload without being properly compensated?
- No upward mobility: you are feeling stuck in your current role and see no opportunity for advancement in the company.
- More challenging work: have things become repetitive and mundane in your day-to-day work environment? Maybe you’re feeling stagnant in your current role.
- Opportunities for learning new skills: do you want to augment your skill set by learning new technologies or management skills?
Use this analysis to decide whether the new position you’ve been offered is a long-term improvement over your current situation. If you feel confident in your decision to accept the new role, having a counteroffer conversation can be uncomfortable. Doing this exercise beforehand can help you navigate the difficult questions when resigning from your current position. These can be challenging conversations to have with your current employer and being prepared can help you walk the fine line expressing gratitude for your current job, but being firm that you have decided to leave.
Maybe your new role will allow you to work with your hands more, managee a larger team, or grow your skill set. Whatever your reasons, be ready to explain your decision in a way that avoids offending your current employer. Be sure to end the relationship on a positive note. You never know when you may need a professional reference, so you’ll want to handle your resignation as professionally as possible even if you’re leaving with negative feelings.
If you go through this analysis and decide that the new offer is still exciting and you want to make the move, then reject the counteroffer with confidence. Thank your employer, but politely explain that you simply want to try something new. Leave the door open by saying something like, “If it doesn’t work out, I will let you know, but I feel like at this stage in my career, I need to give this a shot.”
On the other hand, if you decide that your primary unhappiness with your current employer is compensation and benefits, maybe the counteroffer solves all your problems, and you would like to stay. In this situation, you can accept the counteroffer but be aware that there are still risks.
When the Honeymoon Phase Ends
Shortly after accepting a counteroffer, you may find yourself in a worse position. Over time, the charm of your boost in salary (and ego) will fade. As it fades, you may find that the same problems resurface and you’re on the job hunt again – much sooner than you planned.
At this point, you might not be able to go back to the company that made you the offer. Your rejection may have put a strain on the relationship with that prospective employer, or the job may simply have been filled by someone else. Furthermore, in a tight-knit industry like HVAC, MEP, and Facilities Management, you need to preserve your reputation. You don’t want to be known as a person who uses other job offers to negotiate raises at their current firm. Not only can your reputation in the job market suffer, but there’s a possibility that you will end up being perceived as a disloyal employee within your current company. Avoid a lose-lose scenario at all costs by weighing your options and discussing your decision open and honestly with both your prospective employer and recruiter. It’s important in this situation to be fully transparent with everyone. If you do accept the counteroffer and stay with your current employer, talk with your recruiter about how to handle the offer on the table. Listen to their advice about how to manage the situation professionally. And be sure to personally thank the company for the offer and let them know you would like to stay in touch.
Pro Tip: If you’ve signed a non-compete agreement at your current employer, make sure to discuss the terms with your recruiter. Even though you may think they aren’t enforceable, don’t put your new prospective employer in a compromising position by withholding this information.
It can be very gratifying to receive a counteroffer from your current employer. It makes you feel needed and valued, but can cloud your judgment when contemplating a career move. Especially in a hot job market, employers are willing to do more to keep a good employee. And while it may seem desirable at the time, there are many risks associated with accepting a counteroffer. In a field like HVAC/MEP where your talents and skills are highly specialized, know your value. If your current employer offers to compensate you properly only at the prospect of you leaving, it may not be worth the time and risk to stay.
At HVACExec.com Recruiters, we specialize in the sourcing and recruitment of HVAC, Facilities Management, Mechanical Engineering, Building Automation, and Energy Conservation Professionals. We offer candidates insight to help them navigate the intricacies of today’s job market. We build long-lasting relationships with both our clients and our candidates, using knowledge from years of extensive research to help place people in the most suitable roles.