Mary has held a senior position in her team for a few years now, but feels she's become stagnant in her current position. Her employer has held out on pay rises and doesn't know how to help her grow within the organisation. John is a junior and earns a junior's wage, but has been given the responsibility of a mid-level colleague. He outperforms his position description in both quality and working hours, has an insatiable hunger for knowledge and picks up new ideas and methods quickly. He feels used and undervalued by his employer and decides to see if there's anything more suited to his skills and passion.
Whatever the reason, most people have come to a point in their current job where a change is sought. You update your resume, contact a few recruiters, update your professional network profile and search job listings. Before long you're attending interviews, you win some, you lose some and then you're made an offer. You negotiate a start date, a salary and any other conditions and await the paperwork. After all, you'd be crazy to resign from your current place without a signed contract, yes?
With a mix of excitement and nervousness you then approach your manager and resign. You know they know you're not completely satisfied at work, after all, you've been asking for more challenge, money, recognition, diversity, etc. But you don't know if they know you've been looking for a new job, or how they'll react.
In my time, I've only ever had two types of reaction. The most common is the disappointment, the tragedy that is you leaving. They are genuinely sad to see you leave, but respect and understand that it is your wish and appreciate the time you've spent with them and contribution to their company. They tend not to ask if there's anything they could have done, because they already have a good understanding of why you're leaving. They tell you that your desk's always available if you change your mind.
Then there's the defensive back foot. The manager who asks you why you're going, how soon you want to leave, what they can do to keep you. They ask what's better about the next job and make a counter offer. They fight the natural flow in an attempt to save themselves having to find your replacement and probably also so they don't have to tell their manager why people are leaving.
The Counter Offer
Mary and John won't see the first type of reaction. Not this time round anyway. Their situation is not common at an organisation that actively and consciously supports their employees. Mary's manager offers some additional perks, still unable to provide a pay rise, but she's steadfast. She knows she needs to move on. Her manager begins to panic and she hears nothing more until three days before her last day. Mary starts her new job, and despite feeling unproductive for a short period while she learns how to work within the new organisation, she feels appreciated and valued.
John is offered a pay rise. They offer him a range, and the upper range is close, but not quite as much as he would get in the new job. He loves the people and there's stability in the current job, so he accepts. He's given the lowest end of the range and the pay rise is effective in four months. Three months later, John is still waiting for his pay rise. He's still over-worked, under-appreciated. He'll start looking for a new job again in 2 months.
Counter offers are generally made by desperate managers. If you think about it, workers wouldn't even get to the job searching stage if they were happy in their current situation, and if they were happy then managers wouldn't need to change things. As managers, we need to constantly stay informed about those we manage. I don't advocate stalking them, but think about the last time you took someone for a coffee to see what they're up to, what makes them tick, what issues they encounter that affects their happiness in the organisation?
If you think Mary is valuable enough to offer more perks or John to offer a pay rise in order to stay, why not offer them that because they're worth it in the first place. I've never come across any agreement, based on a threat, that's worked out in the long term.
The moment someone comes up to you and tells you they're leaving, it's too late. Accept, apologise and acknowledge, and maybe the next Mary or John will become a prominent advocate and endorser of your company and its products and services.