Resignations are uncomfortable, awkward, and an experience we would otherwise prefer to avoid. Still, if and when the time comes, we hope that they go as smoothly and quickly as possible. But while you may have prepared what you would say to your employer and how they might react to your resignation, you may not be ready for a different kind of response: your employer counter-offers with a higher salary, and asks you to stay with the company and forgo your new opportunity.

Is it Me or is it You?

Receiving a counter-offer upon resignation is a topic not new to recruitment consultants. At ZSA, our own consultants have noticed a rise in counter-offers extended by employers to employees attempting to resign.

“Employers facing multiple resignations may fear the fall-out of yet another, and may extend a counter-offer as a last attempt to retain the employee,” says Warren Bongard, President and Co-Founder of ZSA. “Additionally, employers know that there is a significant cost (both in time and money) when it comes to replacing people, including the interviewing process and the initial learning curve.”

Mike Race, Client Partner at ZSA, agrees and adds that the employer may be looking to protect their interests. “As emotional as it may be to tender a resignation, extending a counter-offer, from the employer’s point of view, is simply a matter of protecting their business from disruption.”

More specifically, counter-offers are common when one of two things happen, says Bongard: “First, the employer feels that they are losing a future or current star and they feel that they cannot be replaced. Also, counter-offers are extended when there is a real shortage of capable people to back-fill the departure. A good current example of this is a real estate associate leaving a law firm, and the firm knows that it will be very difficult to find a suitable replacement in a timely manner.”

Should I Take It?

While it may be tempting to take the counter-offer, there are a number of reasons why employees should think twice before doing so.

“The most obvious risk of accepting a counter-offer is that you (the employee) have demonstrated to your employer that you are prepared to leave,” says Bongard.  “Although in the short term a counter-offer shows you more love, your employer now knows that you could still have one foot out of the door. Additionally, you now also know that your employer needed to be threatened in order to treat you appropriately. This may not feel good later on.”

Travis Usher, a Recruitment Consultant with ZSA, also suggests remembering why you began looking at other opportunities in the first place. “If your main motivation was a feeling that you were under-remunerated, then a counter-offer with a higher salary may address that issue. However, if you began your job search because of other factors, such as a lack of opportunity, an oppressive work environment, lack of challenge in day-to-day work, then a counter-offer with better pay won’t solve any of those issues, at least not in the long-term.”

Indeed, both Bongard and Race state that there are rarely circumstances that would support accepting a counter-offer in the long-term.

Even more questionable is the attempt to use a new employment offer as a negotiation strategy.

“As a negotiation strategy, it’s akin to threatening to break-up with your partner to get them to change their behavior,” says Race. “It may work in the short term, but it won’t last. The vast majority of employees who accept counter-offers end up leaving that employer within 6-12 months. A counter-offer of increased salary or a better title is something that you’ll adapt to within a few months. All the rest of the real, deep-seated problems will still be there and you’ll be as unhappy as ever.”

Moreover, the legal profession in every Canadian city is tight, and people talk. “Accepting a counter-offer will, at best, burn your bridges with the company who extended you the original offer of employment, and, at worst, cause significant damage to your reputation in the market,” says Race.

Prepare for Your Resignation

If you are getting ready to submit your resignation, you should also be prepared for the potential of a counter-offer. Being prepared from the start will allow you to respond to the situation confidently and in your best interests. Bongard notes that opening yourself up for reconsideration by the employer may make you vulnerable and weak.

“My suggestion would be to walk in with your resignation and not to accept an invitation to reconsider, nor time for the employer to respond,” advises Bongard. “Make it clear to the employer that you are not resigning to get more money or better your position within the company. You are resigning because you feel it is time to move on, and you have made your decision.”

Think Long-Term

Tempting as a counter-offer of a higher salary or more senior title may be, think about your long-term interests. “Ask yourself why you had to get to the point of resigning in order to get what you wanted,” suggests Race. “The fact that your employer did not do more earlier to keep you, or even realized that you were dissatisfied, is a red flag. Further, if you felt unable to approach your employer honestly about the fact that you were unhappy, is that really the place you want to grow you career?”