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Never Make Counter-Offers

business 4 December 2011 | 72 Comments

At many companies, the way you get a raise is to quit. As a matter of policy. I am not exaggerating.

The way it works is this: Management figures they’ll save money on salaries by leaving it up to the employees to negotiate for their own pay. So they don’t give raises until someone tries to negotiate for one. Naturally, anyone asking for a raise is viewed as having no negotiating stance unless they have a credible claim to quitting, so raises are only given as counter-offers, generally matching or slightly beating the offer the employee has elsewhere. Management figures as long as they always match what someone is offered elsewhere, the employee will always prefer to stay, because that’s easier to do, and salaries are kept to the absolute minimum they can be with no real risk.

This is completely insane.

Think about what this does to employees. The most devoted, upstanding employees are the least paid, and the most conniving, disinterested ones are paid the most. Sooner or later the lower paid employees are either going to get the feeling that all the necessary secrecy around salaries means they’re getting screwed (because, um, they are) or find out that someone got a raise by quitting, and go about doing it themselves. Maybe in the process they’ll find a job which they realize they actually like better. They have no reason to feel appreciated in their current job, after all. And there’s a good chance they won’t even listen to the counter-offer, much less take it. Soon the whole workplace is completely toxic, with everybody either underpaid, having one foot out the door, or being one of the assholes who views periodically finding a job offer you don’t plan to accept just to get a raise as normal and reasonable.

You should never make counter-offers. Ever. If an employee tells you they have a job offer, tell them that if they take it then you’ll wish them well, and stick to it. Don’t send the message to the rest of the employees that you’ll reward them for shopping themselves around, and don’t hang on to people who don’t want to work for you.

So how should you retain employees? Have clear and consistent salary guidelines, and regularly give raises to people who are outperforming their pay level. Don’t be a tight-fisted, short-sighted moron.

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