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Countering the Counteroffer - the Backstory and Five Good Soul Tips

2021 was the year of the “Great Resignation”, the moment in history when workers at all levels quit their jobs in unprecedented droves. The ‘big quit’ was driven mainly by tectonic shifts in attitudes towards work – both economic and psychological.

The carnage of COVID-19 is largely to thank for the trend. The pandemic, the subsequent furloughs and the emergence of a work-from-home culture caused millions to stop in their tracks and question their underlying drivers: career and future, family relationships and purpose.

For many, the question brought into hyper-consideration was “where am I going with my career?”. And for more than 38 million Americans, the resounding answer was - “not in this direction”. The trend of jumping off one career bus and onto another has carried over into 2022. People continue to reassess their priorities and realign their career paths. The two years of disruption have ushered in a flood of fresh ideas and alternative approaches as well as poking latent life-desires.

Simultaneously, over the past 24 months, the fabric of work itself has been torn apart and re-stitched together. People now expect more freedom to choose not only their hours of work and selection of personalized company benefits, but also the location of their desk. Time at HQ is now expected in many cases to be offset by the option to work from home.

The writing is on the bulletin board. It’s becoming obvious that brands that do not conform to the newly morphing employee needs will suffer – no matter how big their payroll is. Even Apple, with its futuristic, nature-laden, Cupertino Campus, recently experienced a top executive quitting the company in protest of its return-to-office policy. Ian Goodfellow, the director of machine learning, resigned after the company ordered all corporate employees to work from the office three days a week. This led to a quick rethink and Apple delayed in the plan to return to the office. Just 2 years ago BC (Before Corona), the tale of Ian Goodfellow’s resignation would seem preposterous.

The change in attitudes can’t be overstated. Not so long ago, the status of an employee was measured in steps between their personal car park space and the front door of the office. Now, it’s inversely reflected by the distance they can put between the head office and their home work desk, or local cafe, or presumably their little hideaway in Greece.

Organizations dragging their feet to navigate this new landscape of hybrid work are facing fierce competition from rival brands set up to embrace more freedom complete with ‘Head of Remote’ roles emerging to support the dynamic workplace expectations. Because one thing is clear – a multitude of surveys over the past 18 months shows most employees have no desire to return to commuting five days a week. Perhaps this is the final hammer on the hangover of industrial workplace practices.

We also can’t underestimate the new-found need for people to work in environments they feel valued – doing jobs that they feel are important. Previously, we’ve written about career curiosity and people curating their careers. This isn’t a fad. People are primed and ready to change career lanes if the dots don’t line up. Their wicks are shorter. Their tolerance is lower. They value growth and progress over longevity and loyalty and length of stay in a role is trending down with newer generations.

The social conditioning has been cumulative and suddenly ‘lifers’ and blindsiding their companies by presenting a letter of resignation and leaving ‘out of the blue.’ Hugely talented assets are opting to take their considerable skills and experience elsewhere. This, in turn, results in brands being forced to issue counteroffers in a bid to keep their teams together and their businesses charging in the right direction.

This is also affecting growing organizations that are looking to strengthen their teams. It’s now increasingly common for Brand A to identify talent with the intention of building a team around them. Realigning the entire leg of an org chart takes effort and sensitive HR management so if the new talent wobbles with a counter offer - there is a lot more than one role at risk.

And it could be that they only made the counteroffer, ironically, to save money. According to some estimates, the cost of replacing a senior executive could cost as much as 213% of their salary. Do they really want to keep you – or are they papering over the cost and inconvenience to replace you?

So how do you put yourself in a more commanding position or at least mitigate risk?

Here are Five Good Soul Tips to Deal with Counteroffers

Dealing with a counteroffer can be tough but this is not the time to appear desperate and/or lose credibility.

1. Expect the Unexpected

The secret is to never be surprised by a counteroffer. It’s always a risk, regardless of how motivated a candidate is or how sweet the deal is.


  • Bake the chance of counteroffers into your recruitment process. Once a candidate shows promise during interviews it’s time to broach the topic. This ensures neither of you invests unnecessary resources in the relationship. It’s important these conversations unearth any deal-breakers and the candidate is prepped for what may come so they can have time to consider their choices in an empowered and informed state rather than as a knee jerk reaction.

  • Key leadership roles and pivotal technical roles should sit on your company risk register with a solid Plan B contingency in place.

2. Dig Deeper to Find the Real Why

In the same way the reason for joining the gym (weight loss) may not be the reason they stay (community) it can be the same with what a candidate is considering in shifting roles. Get to the root of why they seek change.


  • The first step is to understand why the candidate is preparing to leave their current role in pursuit of something else. And it’s important you grasp the deeper why because this ultimately determines the best and most sustainable next step in their career. Is it just money or…

    • Are they leaving because they feel unappreciated?

    • Are they unhappy with the culture of their current brand?

    • Do they feel that they’ve hit the ceiling and can’t progress any further where they are?

These are big undercurrents that don’t disappear with one empty promise of more.

  • Then, if their current boss offers what they want, make sure they are prepared. As an example - if they are financially motivated, test to see if they’d stay if they received a significant pay rise. And if so, perhaps encourage them to ask for that pay rise to save everyone’s time.

3. Take the Ball and Run with it

Once you’ve unearthed the real ‘why’, give meaningful thought to how you can support that. Empathy goes a long way when facilitating the process of bringing a new person to fit in with your grand scheme.


  • Think deeply about how you can support their needs in meaningful ways. For example - if freedom around location and benefits is important to them, set up a meeting with your ‘Head of Remote’ and ‘Head of Benefits’ to materialize what that could look like.

  • If it’s career progression - spend time mapping out the journey, check-in points and KPIs that need to be in place to advance.

4. Address the Elephant in the Room

Directly making the candidate consider a counteroffer takes the surprise out of the process and tests their motivation to move. This will make it more unlikely for them to say “yes” to any counteroffer on the spot and more importantly evaluate if the move is a good soul decision.

It will also allow you to prep them and convince them why accepting a counteroffer might be a bad idea.


  • Ask how they will react if their current boss offers them a counteroffer of what they want (more money, freedom, seniority, travel)? Be matter of fact and pay attention to their response so you can subtly explore the reasons they are leaving – and observe their answers. They will remember your chat when the counteroffer comes and be prepared with a more aligned and prepared response.

5. Clean Up Your Own Backyard

It’s human when enticing good talent to exaggerate ‘how good it is around here’. Just be sure to temper this with reality because a high flier who is not given the support they were promised or a toxic culture awaiting them can repel talent as quickly as you attract it.


  • Have a clear and simple onboarding process that gives them the right tools and ‘need to knows’ at the right time. Meet a lot of the key connections during the interview process. Check in regularly.

  • Adapt their role to their style to optimize their learning and contribution.

Jobs are like buying houses - there is a rational and an emotional side so make sure you are well versed on helping the candidate make the right decision.

Knock knock. Need help with your next career step? Or want to see if your dream job is whispering your name? Reach out at

IMAGE: Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay



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