For more recent advice on counteroffers from the Staffing Advisors team, read our 2022 post, “How to Think Critically About a Counteroffer.”
Once you have resigned from a job, you need to leave.
Accepting a counter-offer is almost always a really bad idea – in my experience more than 90% of people who accept a counter-offer end up leaving the company within a year. There is a reason for that – the issues that caused you to look for a new job are almost never resolved by a counteroffer. “Oh you don’t like our toxic work environment? Your career is stalled? How about a $10k raise and a new title, how does that sound?”
So if it is so illogical, why does anyone ever take a counter-offer?
I blame evolution. Our brain is not wired to be very logical when our emotions are running high. In his book “Emotional Intelligence” Daniel Goleman coined the phrase amygdala hijack to describe when your “fight or flight” fear response overtakes your logic. Most people decide to look for new jobs using their logical brain, and then decide to accept counter-offers using their emotions.
So to help you prepare for the possibility of a counteroffer, let’s outline what most people go through when they resign.
Quitting your current job and starting a new job usually causes an acute case of the FUDs – Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. (The more you expect from yourself, the more you suffer. So high achievers actually suffer more from FUDs than than low performers). Just thinking about quitting raises your anxiety level, it makes you feel disloyal – like you are leaving your tribe. You want to avoid the conflict with your boss. Your emotions start to short circuit your logical thinking (see amygdala highjack above). Your brain “helpfully” starts sharing long-buried chestnuts of conventional wisdom like: “better the devil that you know, than the devil you don’t know.” In short, how you are feeling makes you doubt your rational judgment.
Now … right in the middle of your maelstrom of emotion, right when you are experiencing maximum fear and divided loyalties, your boss extends a counter-offer. Your primitive (reptile) brain screams “accept the counter-offer and go back into the safety of the cave” your impulse toward belonging and loyalty says “stay with the tribe, don’t leave, it’s dangerous out there all on your own.” And while these primal impulses probably protected your ancestors from being eaten by tigers, they are disastrous for your career.
Because you can never go back to the safety of the cave. You quit, you gave notice. That changed everything. Your boss will never trust you in the same way they did before you quit. While it may feel safer to stay put in your current job, it is actually very risky to stay once you’ve given notice. There will be a subtle tendency to trust you less, to not share confidential information, to not give you choice projects. Your boss will probably feel like you “held a gun to their head” by quitting and might grow to resent making the counter-offer (I doubt you made them look good by quitting). Your boss might be thinking about how to replace you before you quit again. No, you may not get fired for giving notice, but the odds are pretty good that you’ll regret staying. The very act of giving notice “poisoned the well” and your relationship with your boss is forever altered.
So before it happens, prepare yourself for what you will say if you get a counter-offer. It’s always best to be gracious when you decline it. Don’t say “You are too late Bucko, where were you 6 months ago?” No, this is the time to prove that you have evolved beyond your ancestors. I recommend a simple “Thank you, that’s very kind of you to offer, but I’ve made up my mind to move on.”