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Counter Offers – Epic Fail!

I recently read a blog post from one of my favourite bloggers, Rayanne Thorn. Her post, “Counter offers are counterproductive” focused on a specific example of how/when a counter offer situation didn’t work out. (surprise!) Rayanne focused a bit on the recruiter(s) role(s) in the scenario and also delved into the feelings that it left the employee when they resigned and the counter offer was made. I strongly encourage you to read the post as Rayanne provides some great content.
Her post inspired me though to go a step further and expand on counter offers and the impact that they can have – to both the person being countered, but just as importantly to the staff that still remain. I have chosen to take a stronger stance on counter offers and to move beyond them being counterproductive to simply being CRAP. Or as my daughter likes to day to me, “Epic Fail Dad!”
Think about it – an employee makes the difficult decision to resign. For the employee, these processes for them started months ago when they first decided to apply for jobs, or were approached by a recruiter or a network colleague. They made the stressful decision to submit their resume, go through rounds of interviews, testing and having references checked. They evaluated their current situation and the potential new situation and made that tough decision to resign. Maybe it was based on the fact that their pay was low or they hadn’t received a raise in 3 years. Maybe their boss is a budding sociopath. Perhaps their work life balance wasn’t so balanced or their career had hit the proverbial glass ceiling. Regardless, it was time for a change.
The employee goes to their manager to resign and lo and behold, they get offered more money, more vacation, a new role, an expanded role, a new title or new exciting projects suddenly materialize! Now, while the money might appear immediately (if they accept the counter offer), they may never get to take the increased vacation, especially if the problem was work life balance! It also begs the question, if they weren’t receiving raises or the proper pay increases before, why is there money now? Where did it come from? What message does that send? Is it that the employee’s true value only shows when the manager is faced with the prospect of losing them? Does that mean the manager takes his/her employee’s for granted? What do YOU think the odds are that the promises of an expanded role, promotion, etc. will actually be realized? I say slim to none – it is a stop gap measure by the manager to get their ducks in a row, make sure they have appropriate resources in place to cover your potential departure and then the manager will inflect their feelings of betrayal towards you until you resign again. Now, I realize this may seem a bit harsh, drastic or draconian – perhaps…but I have seen this version play out more often than not.
The message it sends to the employees who are not resigning is simple – you are only valuable to us if you resign and put us in an awkward spot. Or perhaps, the only way to get a decent pay increase is to resign? Better yet, we are only interested in your career development if you resign – and then, only because we have to, we will placate the situation. Nice huh? I compare it to a trail of bodies being left behind. The feelings of negativity, neglect and resentment that build with the current employees (regardless of whether the employee accepts the counter or not) are damaging to their own levels of engagement and the company culture. In fact, what does this type of management approach say about the workplace culture and employment brand anyway!

My advice to managers, if/when an employee resigns, is simple – congratulate the employee, accept the resignation, wish them all the best in their new role, encourage them to complete a confidential exit survey, because their opinion is important (and so that your company can see if there are underlying themes as to why your folks may be leaving) and treat them with respect as they wrap up their final two weeks of work. Even if there are some key reasons why they left that may have been within your control to address during their tenure, the simple fact is that you couldn’t/didn’t address these and now is not the time to make false promises and make feeble attempts to spread sunshine. As my grandfather used to say, “What’s done is done.” If you follow this simple advice, the employee may still leave your organization with a good taste in their mouth and who knows, they may ultimately become an informal ambassador for your employment brand. If the reasons for the employee leaving (i.e. culture, pay practices, environment, etc.) change/improve over time, perhaps this employee alumnus may rejoin the ranks. It is also important to realize this simple truth as well – there are many times when employees will leave simply because they feel the grass is greener on the other side. It doesn’t matter what you do or what you have done, it is time for them to move on. In either case, please refer to my advice at the beginning of this paragraph.
What do you think? What are your thoughts on counter offers? What has been your success rate/track record? As always, I welcome your thoughts and feedback.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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