Is it possible to hold on to good employees?

A good employee is a valuable asset for any company but if they want to leave, should you persuade them to stay or is it best to let them go? Barry Whelan reports



12 April 2012

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Even in this most challenging of climates, good people are good people and more often than not when a valuable employee is leaving a business, their original employer will try to convince them to stay. This is done via a counter offer.
Traditionally we think of a counter offer as an improvement of terms or matching of packages on offer to keep an employee, but counter offers can be more complex than this. Savvy employers will try to ‘counter’ the reason for leaving, so will look at what they can do outside of monetary motivation to keep an employee in their employment. What was the real reason they completed their CV and sent it off to apply for a role? It takes a lot of time and money for a company to find and replace valuable staff, so unless the decision is mutual, the company will want to do what it can to retain the employee. 

Problems with counter offers

When an employee resigns, it’s common for the employer to counter with another offer in order to convince the employee to stay. Given today’s tough job market, who wouldn’t want to be in a situation where two companies want you? Yet the counter offer can often create more problems than it can solve.

Is it ever a good idea to accept a counter offer?

As recruiters, it is essential for us to get to the root of the reason for leaving; understanding why a candidate wants to leave a company is central to finding the right role to put them in. It is important not to take explanations such as “I just fancy a change” or “I want to see what is out there” at face value. If a person is motivated enough to do up a CV and take valuable time out of their day to meet with recruiters, then they must be pretty motivated to leave.
Keeping all this in mind, it can be surprising how many candidates accept a counter offer. I always feel that in life it is easier to sit still sometimes than to move into the unknown and this fear of ‘better the devil you know’ is a primary reason people have cold feet and stay put, but is this the right decision? I can confidently answer that – no it is not.
For instance, chances are extra money may not change your narcissist boss into a wonderful manager. Your reason for leaving will still be the same. All a counter offer will do is sweeten your pain.

A fundamental change

What if the company promises fundamental change, not just money? Time after time I find candidates, who accept counter offers coming back to us, because these sorts of promises are undeliverable, and the reason the candidate was motivated to leave in the first place usually remains.
We analysed our own data and found that 85% of candidates who accepted counter offers had left their employment within a year.
Apart from not changing your reason for moving in the first place, accepting a counter offer can be even more destructive and indeed sinister when you consider the following:

Your loyalty perception: 

By telling your employer you’ve either been offered or accepted another position, you’re essentially saying you’ve been unhappy. So even if your company does counter, how can they trust that you won’t eventually stray again?
The bond of trust has been broken, you will leave the company at some stage, but perhaps now you have shown your cards it will be on their terms not yours. When you are no longer perceived as part of the long-term future, you may find yourself passed up for promotion.

Burning bridges:

By accepting a counter offer you will have burnt a bridge with the company looking to employ you. Some companies view this very dimly and if you find your circumstances changing they will not entertain your application again.

Using a counter offer as a bargaining tool:

It’s rarely ever a good idea to look for a new job for the sole purpose of using it as a bargaining tool with your current company. Not only does that send the wrong message, but it shouldn’t take you threatening to leave for your employer to see your value. What does it say about your current employer if you have to basically blackmail them to get a fair salary, recognition and/or opportunities for advancement? Why would you want to stay?
While the answer to whether or not you should accept a counter offer isn’t black and white, perhaps the best approach is to address the issues you’re having at your current company before they get so bad they drive you to leave. If you tell your manager and nothing improves, then you’ll never wonder whether things would’ve gotten better. You can move on to your next opportunity without looking back. 


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