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Accepting a counteroffer usually just a short-term fix

In this economy, most people feel lucky to just have a job, let alone be given the opportunity to have two job offers on the table.

But as the competition heats up for key talent, more top performers are being recruited by other employers when they already have a job.

If this happens to you, the question then becomes whether you should jump ship, or see if your current employer is willing to counteroffer.

While it certainly does the ego no harm thinking two employers want your services, you need to tread carefully, says DeLynn Senna, executive director of permanent placement services for Robert Half International in Pleasanton, Calif.

“Most of the time, accepting a counteroffer is short-term fix for both the employer and employee,” Senna says. “More than 90 percent of those who accept a counteroffer end up leaving the job less than a year after they accept it – either because the company lets them go or they leave on their own.”

Huh? Why would a company get rid of an employee to whom they just made a counteroffer?

“It’s always in the back of a manager’s mind that the employee is disloyal,” because he or she talked to another company about a job and considered leaving before the counteroffer was made, Senna says.

“An employer wants to minimize disruptions or lost productivity in this economy, so they make a counteroffer to keep the person,” Senna says. “But the trust has already been broken with the manager and the employee’s colleagues.”

Senna says colleagues may resent, for example, that a counteroffer included a pay raise, especially when so many companies are trimming compensation because of the floundering economy.

“These colleagues are going to know that you’re now making more money, and there is now a lack of rapport,” Senna says. “And when it comes time for a promotion, the manager may give it to someone else, because he or she may be considered a more ‘loyal’ worker.”

Accepting a counteroffer has other pitfalls, as well.

“Just because you accept a counteroffer, it doesn’t mean it fixes the problem that was already there in the first place – the reason you considered leaving,” she says. “Getting a pay raise doesn’t change the fact that maybe you’re not getting a chance to work on certain projects or can’t get along with the boss. Those problems still exist.”

That’s why Senna says it’s critical that anyone considering a counteroffer from an employer should consider:

- Trying to make it work. “Make sure you do everything possible to improve your current situation before you think about leaving. Try and get the raise on your own, address the poor communication with your manager, try and get those good project assignments, etc. If you can change the one thing that makes you want to leave, then try and work it out.” While a new job offer may be exciting, consider that in this economy, it’s difficult to know who is financially solvent and who is not. You may be jumping ship to a company in trouble. Further, you will be leaving “goodwill that has built up” in your current job, Senna says. “It’s much more risky to leave.”

- Standing firm. If you do your research and believe that the job offer is worth taking, then tell your employer and don’t waffle when a counteroffer is made. Senna suggests saying something like: “I appreciate it, but I’ve made a commitment. I’ll do what I can to tie up loose ends here before I leave.” Senna adds that your employer may try change your mind while you’re still on the job, but you must be polite but firm about declining a counteroffer. “Think about it: Why do you have to threaten to leave before being heard? That’s a real red flag right there,” she says.

- Keeping your word. “You’re running a real risk of damaging your professional reputation if you renege on your agreement with a new employer to accept a counteroffer from your current employer,” Senna says. “Remember: Your reputation is the most important asset you have.”

Anita Bruzzese is author of “45 Things You Do That Drive Your Boss Crazy…and How to Avoid Them” (www.45things.com). Write to her c/o: Business Editor, Gannett News Service, 7950 Jones Branch Dr., McLean, VA 22107. For a reply, include a SASE.

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