Resigning? Never Accept a Counter Offer!

This is a strategy that fails not only the company but also, more importantly for you, the employee.

Why People Resign

People leave their jobs all of the time, it’s nothing new. And neither is it as frowned upon as it would be in generations past when often jobs were considered as jobs “for life” and people would say that “you’re lucky to have one and you should be grateful.”

Fortunately, the onus has changed somewhat with the happiness and fulfilment of the employee now taking more focus in the workplace. The responsibility for this now, at least partly, falls on the employer — by offering more appropriate pay and amenable conditions in order to retain employees.

There are, of course, many different reasons why people decide to move on. I’m going to list a few of the ones that stick out in my memory below, either from personal experience or from people I’ve spoken to. More often it’s a combination of items which ultimately lead to the decision to resign.

  • Boredom
    The job is no longer challenging you enough to captive interest and work time has become mundane, dreary, and you feel you’re wasting your valuable time.
  • Money
    It just doesn’t pay enough to make ends meet or you feel that you deserve more compensation for your skills.
  • Toxicity
    The workplace, management, or combination of both has become intolerable and is taking a toll on you mentally.
  • Commuting
    The travel to and from the workplace either takes an unacceptable amount of time and cuts into your personal too much or has become just too expensive to sustain.
  • Stress
    Induced by a combination of one or more of the above.

Company Failure

As a software engineer in a technical discipline most people I’ve encountered have either left to pursue other opportunities as a result of boredom with their work or because they feel they weren’t being compensated enough for their qualifications, skills, or experience.

I lie the blame of insufficient compensation right at the feet of the employer. When an engineer becomes more skilled and capable their compensation should rise in equal measure. To me, that’s just common sense. Good management. Call it what you will.

Many times I’ve heard stories of management either relying on the reputation of a company or on the nature of the work being done to retain employees whilst paying no attention at all to compensating them sufficiently.

Keeping up with market rates through adequate research and subsequently paying employees their value for gained qualifications and experience is basic due diligence on being a decent employer. At least in my book.

Depending solely upon reputation or nature of the work performed to retain poorly compensated employees is a death knell for your engineering teams.

Project Failure

Inside a company at the project level, employees can easily become disillusioned and bored with their positions if project management and resource allocation isn’t carried out sufficiently well.

Firstly, an employee can be sold on a role at interview which wasn’t exactly as described when they turned up at their desk. Often the employee feels obliged to stay, at least for a time, and resentment sets in.

This is primarily a failure of the company either though communication difficulties between the hiring manager and the people involved in the interview process (or even the hiring manager not understanding the role), or sometimes deliberate misrepresentation to make the job sound more appealing to get people in the door. I’ve seen both, really, especially in the contract world. But that’s another article altogether.

In this situation my advice would be to escalate immediately, but of course this isn’t always so easy to do — especially if you’re just starting out on your career. A more experienced employee may instead just choose to walk and chalk it down to experience.

As the old adage goes, a job seeker here is advised to interview the company just as well as the company is interviewing them.

Secondly, a job may proceed well for a while but after a successful first project or so the employee may be reassigned to a project which is unsuitable for their qualifications and experience.

Of course, this can sometimes be justified by the employer (especially in smaller companies) as a result of their being insufficient opportunities to move between or projects to work on — but the employee should ideally consider moving on at this point and not staying put and becoming increasingly disillusioned.

Either way, bad reassignment or bad fit is a very popular reason for resignations — whether in the short term or longer term.

And, longer term, it becomes more toxic for everyone involved.

The Counter Offer

Counter offers aren’t common, I’ll give you that, but they usually occur for one of the following reasons.

  • Criticality
    The employee is critical to the business and difficult to replace technically
  • Low Pay
    The company is already paying below market rates and can afford a rise in order to avoid the costs of interviewing a replacement
  • Mundanity
    The employee is performing a task that would be difficult to hire for because either it’s uninteresting, repetitive, or simply mundane
  • The Wager
    The employee considers themselves irreplaceable and is wagering on a counter offer to leverage more money

Let’s consider each case from the view of both the employer and employee and their reasons for leaving.

Criticality

From an employer’s point of view, no single employee should be allowed to become critical to the business of a company. As a software engineer myself good practice is to insist on extensive documentation, the sharing of tasks, and the ‘cross-pollination’ of experience between team members. Though, in the real world, this isn’t as common as it should be.

Although on the surface a counter offer in this case may seem appropriate to retain the employee, whatever their reason for them wanting to leave, what’s most likely to happen is that the employer will begin the (longer) process of replacement. In effect, by raising compensation the employer is buying time to find a replacement.

In the worst case when a replacement is found the employer may edge out the retained employee by delaying, minimising, or outright refusing further rises or, perhaps in some cases, reassign them to a less demanding role and hope the employee then decides to move on out from their own volition.

Of course, by temporarily retaining the employee the company could right its previous wrongs by redistributing work amongst a wider circle, having the employee write everything up, or simply train others in their work — in all cases losing their criticality in the process and subsequently being let go.

A scrupulous employee will maintain an interesting niche but distribute their knowledge accordingly playing a to and fro game with an equally scrupulous employer. That’s a good match.

An accepted counter offer in this case is continuing in the job knowing that the employer has been forced into making a pay rise and will most likely act so that the situation doesn’t occur again — in one of the ways detailed previously.

This only solves the compensation problem for the employee, for a period of time, and does nothing to address any others — and may actually make them worse.

Low Pay

A company that is knowingly paying below market rates for an employee is failing in their duty to that employee and as such isn’t looking after them as it should be.

Ideally the employee should be aware of this and have brought it up during previous performance reviews and evaluations. If they had, then it would had been ignored or overlooked and they have subsequently chosen to leave primarily because of the ignoring by the employer of their lower standard of pay.

It may be seen as a good move by the employer in this case to “make things right” but the onus should have been on the employer to not let this situation occur in the first place.

A good employer looks after their employees through both sufficient compensation but also interesting and appropriate work.

By accepting a counter offer in this instance the employee is, in effect, pushing the employer to do what they should have done anyway. Some employers may not have realised this, but I think personally they’d be in a minority.

Taking a counter offer in this case is disasterous. Not only has the employer been paying below market rates but they also haven’t addressed that via performance reviews or evaluations and have let it get to the stage where the employee has resigned.

As the employee isn’t technically critical in order to make a counter offer then either the employer is raising compensation, but still below market rates, or is simply buying time in order to find a replacement. Which, of course in this case, wouldn’t be long at all compared with a critical employee.

Mundanity

A company should try to avoid the situation where a single employee is performing a mundane task either by switching employees between roles, distributing such work between more employees, or simply offering more compensation for such tasks.

Engaging with all employees on their happiness and motivation is crucial in a successful business and by ignoring this they’re going to lose people.

Accepting a counter offer to maintain a mundane role addresses the symptoms and not the cause. The work remains the same, but the money taken home improves.

A counter offer in this case is just buying time for the employer to find a replacement or to reassign the work to another employee. There is no reason to even entertain a counter offer as an employee in this case. Move on.

The Wager

Should an employee take the step of deliberately resigning in order to gamble that a counter offer will be made then they’d really have to be prepared to walk — either right now or at some point in the near future.

Of course if the employee isn’t critical to the business then they’ll just be let go. However, if they are critical but are resigning not out of dissatisfaction, boredom, or any of the previous reasons outlined above — and are solely doing it for the compensation — then that’s a different category.

This is a completely partisan case and will most definitely sow the seeds of discontent with the employer who has been forced into the situation. Knowing that it’s solely monetary will definitely have a detrimental effect and the employee here is buying some time at the expense of burning an amount goodwill, and the end result is inevitable.

Summary

If, for any reason, you resign always think carefully if you receive a counter offer from your employer to stay. Think of the motivations for resignation on your part, and if they will be addressed. Most importantly consider why it took your resignation for your employer to respond.

Photo by Guillaume Issaly on Unsplash

From an employer’s point of view the only reason I would personally make a counter offer would be to retain a technically valued employee admitting my own culpability in process having failed their expectations up to that point. A hard lesson.

From an employee’s point of view I cannot surmise any valid reason why I would even consider a counter offer after I’d already decided things had gone so far that I’d already decided to leave and handed in my resignation.

Accepting a counter offer is holding a company, temporarily, to ransom while they find a replacement for you. It never, ever, ends well.

Note: In this article I’m talking primarily about permanent employees, but this can also apply to contractor or freelance employees too. Though, being naturally more partisan, I’d expect contractors to adhere to a slightly different code of conduct having been one myself for many years in the past!

Way too involved with software, likes maths, loves . Prefers to be in academia. SpaceX, Twitter, and Overwatch fan. Coffee? https://ko-fi.com/fractaldoctor

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