Even the best of job opportunities have their downside, and the decision to change jobs should never be made lightly.

You've been offered a position by another company with growth potential and a moderate increase in compensation. You've analysed and agonised over the decision to leave a good (or bad) job for what could be a better one, and have decided to accept the offer. However, upon handing in your notice, your current boss asks you to stay. This appeal is known as a counter offer or buyback.

In recent years, counter offers have become commonplace. However, whilst buyback offers can be tempting, take care not to be swayed to your own detriment. Career changes are tough enough as it is, and anxieties about leaving a comfortable job, friends and location and having to reprove yourself again in an unknown opportunity can prove daunting. Just because the new position is a little scary doesn't mean it's not a positive move.

If you are made a counter offer you should be aware of exactly what it involves. Usually the offer comes hand in hand with a good deal of flattery, such as "You're important, we need you", "What will it take to make you stay?" or "We were just about to give you a promotion and it was confidential until now."

Counter offers usually come laced with some of the following:

  • more money
  • a promotion and/or more responsibility
  • a modified reporting structure
  • disparaging remarks about the new company or job
  • guilt trips

Of course, since we all prefer to think we're extremely valuable employees, it's natural to want to believe these manipulative appeals, but beware! Accepting a counter offer may well be the wrong choice to make. Think about it: If you were worth "X" yesterday, why are they suddenly willing to pay you "X + Y" today, when you weren't expecting a raise for some time?

Also consider how you've felt when someone resigned from your staff. The reality is that employers don't like to be "fired." Your boss is likely to be concerned that he'll look bad, and that his career may suffer as a consequence of your departure. Bosses are in part judged by their ability to retain staff. When an employee quits, morale can suffer. Further, your leaving might jeopardise an important project, increase staff workload or even ruin planned holidays. It's never a good time for someone to quit, and it may prove time-consuming and costly to replace you, especially considering recruitment and relocation expenses. It's much cheaper to keep you, even at a slightly higher salary. And it would be better to fire you later, at a time that best suits the company.

While your employer may truly consider you an asset and genuinely care about you personally, you can be sure that your interests are secondary to your boss's career and your company's profit or survival. Thus, flattering offers and comments are attempts to manipulate you to act in your employer's best interests - which aren't necessarily your own. In other words, they're not about you.

Accepting a counter offer can have numerous negative consequences. Consider the following:

  • Where did the additional money or responsibility you'd get come from? Was it your next raise or promotion- just given early? Will you be limited in the future? Will you have to threaten to quit to get your next raise? Might a (cheaper) replacement be sought out?
  • You've demonstrated your desire to leave and will be perceived as having committed blackmail to gain a raise. You may never be considered a team player again. Many employers will hold a grudge at the next review period, and you may be placed at the top of the next round of redundancies.
  • Apart from in the short-term, nothing will change within the company. After the dust settles from this upheaval, you'll be in the same old rut. A rule of thumb among recruiters is that more than 80% of those accepting counter offers leave, or are terminated, within six to twelve months anyway. Half of those who do succumb reinitiate their job searches within a matter of a few months.

Granted, recruitment consultants have a vested interest in candidates not accepting counter offers, since they can't complete their search assignments without willing candidates. However, your responsibility is to yourself and you should consider how you, and you alone, will be best served.

Attempted buybacks can demonstrate disrespect for your well-thought-out decision and commitment to the new company. Should your current employer decide to eliminate your position or pass you over for promotion, successfully countering their decision is unlikely. Besides, you've analysed, accepted and committed to the new company, which will have made plans around you.

Finally, when making your decision, look at your current job and the new position as if you were unemployed. Which opportunity holds the most real potential? Probably the new one, or you wouldn't have accepted it in the first place.