7 August 2000
The demand for the highest quality individuals and the insatiable drive towards creating bigger and better practices within the legal profession has never been greater. Individuals change jobs far more readily than they did before. But for all the job offers that are made and accepted, how often is an individual persuaded to remain by their current employer?
From a candidate's point of view, handing in your resignation is just the first small step towards leaving. You must be clear about the statement you are making and your reasons for doing so. You may feel a great sense of relief having carefully negotiated the various interviews, lunches and dinners with your prospective new employer. You have received an acceptable offer and now have a certain cathartic feeling having resigned. But you may not be prepared for the almost certain prospect of a counter-offer.
Headhunters devote time to counselling candidates in preparation for this eventuality. It is understandable that the lengths to which their current employer may go in order to keep them immensely flatters individuals. But a word of warning; this may be because the employer is aware of how hard it will be to replace the individual rather than being in the best interest of the employee.
Resigning is usually an emotive situation. An individual who already feels slightly guilty about resigning will be susceptible to coercion. A classic scenario is when an individual resigns to their departmental managing partner and is told that the managing partner and/or senior partner would like to have a chat with them. These god like figures can turn on the charm and the very fact that they are taking time to see an individual can be very flattering. The resigning employee will begin to wonder if the old firm is not so bad after all and maybe they should stay. The managing partner will be wondering whether it is really worth keeping them on and for how long they will stay.
Employers should be very mindful about using counter-offers. Quite often in the heat of the moment they fail to consider the internal ramifications of their actions. Offering a special deal or promoting one individual is not always an inspired move. It can give rise to a culture of crisis management, one where employees know that resigning is the best way to achieve aims that should be discussed and negotiated via an appraisal.
Although the headhunter's obvious standpoint decrees that their candidate should never accept the counter-offer, there are of course some that are difficult to refuse. The prospect of immediate partnership, a jump up the lockstep, a 50 per cent salary hike or a sabbatical can be very tempting. However, there are some employers who, once you accept, find a reason to renege on the deal.
Executive search and recruitment companies have undertaken extensive research looking at whether candidates who accepted counter-offers were still with their original employer. The findings indicate that at least 80 per cent of candidates who accepted a counter-offer leave voluntarily within six months of the acceptance, and even in today's market nearly one in 10 are let go within a year.
When faced with a counter-offer situation, an employee should decide whether the content of the offer would have emerged if they had not resigned. An employer should evaluate whether the departure of the individual will really damage the business, or whether retaining them and structuring a special deal could have internal repercussions that could prove even more damaging.
One last word of advice - at the point of resignation the trust between employee and employer is broken and whatever happens, the relationship will never be the same again.
Nick Woolf is a director at executive search and selection company Norman Broadbent.
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