Anyone involved in the management of a law firm or corporate legal department hates to see valued team members give notice that they’ve found another opportunity that involves better pay or circumstances. If this does occur, your first impulse may be to counteroffer.
But before you start trying to cut a deal to retain a valued employee, give some thought to these very real drawbacks of presenting a counteroffer:
It may not address the underlying problem. Although the employee may indicate that the other offer is too lucrative to turn down, the resignation may not be solely about the money. Often there are other core reasons, such as a perceived lack of advancement potential or personality conflicts. If there was only one source of dissatisfaction or an easy way to address it, the employee may have already tried to do so.
Also, keep in mind that even if you’re able to sway the person with the promise of a larger salary or better title, it may just be a stopgap measure — one that still won’t ensure long-term retention or job satisfaction.
It can affect office relationships. Once an employee comes to you to tender his or her resignation, it’s hard to put the genie back in the bottle. A rupture in the relationship has already occurred. You may feel dismayed that a once-committed employee pursued another opportunity without your knowledge, and this can lead to lingering questions about the person’s loyalty and commitment going forward. Further, if you suddenly offer more generous terms, employees with one foot out the door may wonder why it took a bid from another firm to prompt an offer of what they felt they deserved all along.
It sets a bad precedent. If other staff members get wind of the fact that enticements were given to keep a fellow employee —and, somehow, they always do — they may feel like they’re being penalized for not threatening to leave. This can cause morale problems in the office and undercut teamwork. In addition, an unexpected adjustment in one person’s compensation may precipitate the need to address pay and promotion schedules for others in the office. Furthermore, responding to counteroffers suggests to the affected employee, as well as to others in the office, that you’re open to manipulation.
It may not be warranted. A counteroffer is often a reflexive move. As a manager, you may see a series of case deadlines looming and can’t fathom finding the time to recruit and prepare a replacement for a productive employee. But is the person so irreplaceable that you must resort to a counteroffer, especially when the employee has indicated a readiness to leave? If you take a longer view, you may find that the costs of retaining the employee are not worth the risks or office backlash that could occur.
The best approach, however, is to avoid the need to counteroffer altogether. If you keep an open line of communication with your team members and encourage them to be honest with you about their career and financial goals, you’re more likely to be able to take proactive steps to retain valued employees before they grow dissatisfied. Or, at least, you may know where your office is most vulnerable to turnover.
If you do find yourself in the position of wondering whether to extend a counteroffer, evaluate the drawbacks before moving forward. Sometimes what seems like the easiest solution is a lot more complicated than it appears at first glance.
Charles A. Volkert is executive director of Robert Half Legal, a leading staffing service specializing in the placement of attorneys, paralegals, legal administrators and other legal professionals with law firms and corporate legal departments. Based in Menlo Park, Calif., Robert Half Legal has offices in major cities throughout the United States and Canada.