By Jim Gibson, President, Gibson Consultants

May 2024 – “He did WHAT??”

I’m amazed every time I hear it. Fortunately, it’s not often, but it always hits me as though I’ve never heard it before. The next thought that rushes through my mind is, “What a mistake.”

If you’ve ever accepted a counteroffer, chances are very good that you know all about this.

Accepting a counteroffer after you’ve committed to another employer is almost always a mistake, one that becomes a source of regret, sometimes almost immediately. Yet, it’s easy to see why it happens.

For most people, resigning from a job can be uncomfortable and stressful. Rare is the person who enjoys confrontation, and resigning feels very confrontational. You may feel guilty or disloyal when approaching the boss to resign.

Unfortunately, many bosses can tap into these feelings of insecurity and turn the tables on you. Some bosses are quite skilled at persuading and selling their ideas. In this case, they’re selling you on the idea of changing your mind and staying on board.

They might use a variety of tactics:

  1. Guilt – this is the reflexive “go to” for many bosses. They’ll make you feel like an ingrate, like you’re breaking their heart. After the opportunity they’ve given you, you’re now going to leave them like this?
  2. Your bright future here – this is where they tell you all the plans they’ve had for you, including how much they’ve valued your work and admired your potential. In fact, you’re to believe that you’re an integral part of the future success of the organization. This line of reasoning often leads to either or both of the following.
  3. Money – trying not to overtly treat you like a prostitute, they’re basically asking how much it will cost to get you to stay. What’s your price? Of course, this raise and/or bonus will be presented as something they planned to give you anyway.
  4. Additional authority – while they’re telling you how wonderful you are, what big plans they have for you, and how much you’re worth, they might even offer a greater sphere of influence. This could be a bigger title, more responsibility, or greater input to the strategy and decision-making processes.

Combined with a smooth delivery from someone with the ability to deliver the goods, this can seem irresistible…unless of course you ask yourself why it took a resignation to bring this out. If they loved you so much, and had such big plans for you, and felt you were worth so much more money, why wasn’t that shown previously?

The answer lies in what just happened. By resigning you disrupted their world. Now your boss, who probably has enough challenges, has to explain to her boss why you just resigned. Perhaps more importantly, she has to explain to your peers why you’ve chosen to leave them. Your resignation is generally not taken as a positive reflection of her. Now she also has to find a replacement for you.

This is a headache she didn’t need. In some cases, it leads to short-term panic. How to react? Buy time.

Your boss is usually looking to keep you on board while an orderly replacement and exit can be orchestrated. It may take six months, it may take a year, but when it’s done, she will look and feel like a more effective manager than if you resign now.

It’s critical to remember that if you buy what your boss is selling and accept a counteroffer, things will never be the same. Some compare this dynamic to catching a spouse cheating. A level of distrust and suspicion will always remain, even if below the surface.

More importantly, you planned to resign for a reason or maybe multiple reasons. In most cases, accepting a counteroffer doesn’t change anything. Things are still the same, despite a little more money or maybe a little more influence.

Even so, confronting your boss with a resignation is still stressful and uncomfortable. You can insulate yourself from much of that anxiety by committing yourself to a plan.

First, thank him for the opportunity to work there and for all the support you’ve received. Tell him that you’ve given serious thought to your career and you’ve decided to move to another organization. You have already made a commitment to that organization, and so you are respectfully resigning.

When the boss starts to lay it on, your firm reaction should be to tell him that you’re flattered, but you’ve already made your decision. You’ve made a commitment to another organization, and you honor your commitments. You will be grateful if he will respect that.

Stick to your plan and don’t let the conversation stray from this. As tempting as it is, try to minimize discussion about what led you to this, how the organization can improve, etc. Such a conversation is fraught with landmines and you may regret the direction it takes. Remember, your objective is to make a firm, professional resignation and get out of there with your nerves (and pride) intact.

Perhaps the most important point is that accepting a counteroffer usually means you’ll be back in the job market 6 to 12 months later, often without the opportunity to join the organization you just reneged on. Once you accept a counteroffer, many organizations will lose respect for, and interest in, you.

Uncomfortable as it can be, a resignation doesn’t need to be a nightmare. Sticking to your plan allows you to achieve your objective, walk out feeling good about yourself, and hopefully keep your boss’s and peer’s respect.


About the Author

Jim Gibson is the founder and President of Gibson Consultants, a boutique executive search firm focused on the business of healthcare. Before executive search, Jim spent 13 years in the payer market and 8 years in healthcare software.

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