Question

After I gave my two weeks’ notice and told my manager I’m leaving for a new job, my current company worked hard to try to get me to stay. My manager’s boss wants to make a counter-offer, but I said no, thanks, I won’t accept it. They both said the door is always open for me to come back. I knew my manager appreciated me, but I did not know his manager did, too.

counter-offerThink about it — my current employer made it clear that I’m a high performer. That said, my boss’s boss should have had this conversation much sooner and I told him so. He agrees!

Why don’t companies let employees know what their value is? Why do they wait until you quit? Think about what it would save if companies were engaged with their employees at that level. Sit down and have a chat — even if you are at a higher level of management. What’s so difficult about that?

Nick’s Reply

My friend, I have no idea what’s so difficult about that. Corporate CEOs are running around like proverbial chickens, squawking that they cannot find the talent they need to hire.

Meanwhile, valued employees like you are walking out the door for reasons those CEOs never bother to discern until you resign. (See Don’t shortchange yourself!) HR tells the CEO “We’ll do exit interviews. We’ll find out for you why our top talent is leaving. Then we can fix the problem.”

But that’s not “human resources management.” That’s a day late and a dollar short. That’s simply poor management.

Your story says it all: It’s too late for praise, a counter-offer and pleading. (It’s certainly too late for exit interviews!) Who’s going to fix this problem? Who owns this problem?

I’ve got nothing to add, except that you are wise to walk away. (See Inside a counter-offer disaster.) You shared an instructive story and you provided the solution to your boss and his boss: Pay attention and talk to your employees long before they quit. Thanks, and congrats on your career move!

I’ll throw it to our community: Why do they wait til you quit? Why don’t employers address issues about compensation and job satisfaction while it makes a difference? Why don’t they tell their employees, We love you! Have you been begged to stay after it was already too late?

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57 Comments
  1. I have been there as the manager who recognizes talent and sees them head for the door because the rules for compensation won’t let you award ahead of time until it is too late. You tell the truth ahead using your wisdom and understanding of the whole compensation system and are told it is outside of guidelines and cannot be done. It’s all a tactic of putting so many barriers in front to go outside the rules that it’s just a huge personal capital investment that wears you down. I have had as many as 6 levels of approval to go outside the system and any one of them could derail good intent.

    • @Chris McCarty: Wow. We all know this is a big part of the problem, but hearing it from a manager puts a very sharp point on it. I’ve always said an employee’s (and manager’s) first duty in their job is to tell their employer the truth about what’s needed to make the business successful. What you reveal is that the system itself makes this incredibly difficult.

      So, where is your HR department in all this? Why aren’t they telling the CEO and the board of directors the truth about “employee retention” — especially nowadays?

      I’d love to hear from some HR execs, because I can’t count the times I’ve heard HR say, “Well, it’s against policy to give out raises out of cycle or to allow an employee to move to another department…” or “We have a salary scale and we cannot pay more… even if the house is burning down and somebody shows up with a fire extinguisher…”

      Your post makes good reading for boards of directors, Chris.

      • I have had these discussions with a good friend who is an HR consultant.

        The topic of employee retention is beginning to gain traction (he has been preaching this for years).

        What he continually gets back to is the $$$. Just the cost of bringing in a new person, much less the year (or so) it takes before a new person really starts earning their keep. And all the intangibles. Compared to this, a company can easily afford a few thousand bucks a year to retain someone (what about a $2k bonus check every work anniversary?).

        An aside: In the MBA classes he teaches, it is always about “HR having a seat at the table.” Move from being a cost-center to a strategic partner in the company. A big part of this is risk mitigation (including InfoSec).

    • Once an engineering group manager said he wanted to hire me full-time, but didn’t know how. Obviously there was more at work behind the scenes. His company was on the scale of General Electric.

      More recently I was solicited to become a chip coder (FPGAs) at another large company, by a young woman looking for a cheap engineer. Occupational hazard of not dying off young: people assume you’re slipping.

      For some perspective, may one suggest a look at the first two seasons of “Boston Legal” of any of several excellent films of “A Christmas Carol.”

      The Engineering marketplace has grown increasingly hard bitten. It’s good, from time to time, to remember how it got that way.

  2. I’ve worked at a place that only valued people at upper management level. Problems or complaints from lower level workers were ignored. Low pay was a huge issue. All those bad managers are still there 5 years later but they are on the third CEO, one lasted less than two years before jumping ship. Nobody got a counter offer, they saw as replaceable. It was like paying us more diminished themselves in their arrogance. So shortsighted! Management didn’t want to pay employees more and that same thing shows in your story in the blog today.

    • @Kathy: Sounds like a company to say buh-bye too sooner rather than later. Sadly, we’ve come to believe “it’s no better anywhere else,” so we tolerate this stuff.

      Suggestion to companies that do a better job of looking after all their employees: When you recruit, promote the heck out of that!

  3. I’m a recruiter who has not lost an accepted-offer candidate to a counteroffer in 15 years. The candidates hired into positions for which I recruit have all been able to give me a very-understandable reason why my opportunity is of interest to them, and/or an improvement over their current situation.

    And even when someone mentions to me a notable issue with the current job, I’ll always ask what they’ve done internally to rectify it. A surprisingly high number have detailed stories of what they’ve done, and how their efforts have resulted in nothing – which is usually an indictment of the retention policies where they work.

    For those who like their jobs, and it’s just a question of money, I always tell them to have an honest talk with their boss.

    “I really like it here because [give substantive reasons]. But I get calls from recruiters all the time, and I’m increasingly sure I’m worth more money to other good companies, than I am here. I want to stay here, and I’m not looking. But I’m asking you to look at what I’m being paid now, versus what you’d be paying to replace me if I did leave, and let’s have a discussion when you do.”

    Doing that takes guts, but it works a lot more often than one might think. And when that person tries and fails to rectify the situation internally, they become a LOT more committed to considering other opportunities.

    • @Dave: If the world were populated with recruiters like you, I’d stop criticizing recruiters. I hope others read your post at least 3 times, or until they recognize how profound (and unusually honest) your recruiting practices are.

      Folks: What Dave is saying is, he will not recruit you for a job if you’re interested in the job for the wrong reasons. He doesn’t want to deal with you accepting a counter-offer and wasting his and his client’s time if all you want is a job offer to dangle in front of your boss for a raise.

      Dave makes placements and money by recruiting right. He wants candidates who really want the job he’s representing to them — because those are the best, soundest placements. Dave is not one of the majority of “recruiters” or “headhunters” who are dialing for dollars. He’s not going to tell you whatever you want to hear to get you to go on an interview, just to increase his own odds of earning a fee.

      Dave doesn’t throw you against the wall like a strand of spaghetti hoping to make a deal. Dave likely has an astonishingly high close rate and no “fall offs” — candidates who quit or get fired quickly because they should not have been hired.

      Dave reveals why the employment market is so screwed up, and why employers cry they can’t find the right people to hire. It’s because most recruiters do a lousy job of delivering the right candidates to begin with.

      Please listen to Dave: If you’re interviewing for jobs because you haven’t had an honest talk with your boss about what you need or what’s troubling you, DON’T.

      Dave, you made my day. You’ve renewed my faith in recruiters — the very few that do the job right.

    • Dave wrote:

      “For those who like their jobs, and it’s just a question of money, I always tell them to have an honest talk with their boss.”

      Please see software engineer Rick’s comment below, in which he proves the value of this advice:

      “I developed a solution to what had seemed to be an insoluble problem, demoed it, and told the director that I could get the project back on track if I were in charge of it, with a serious promotion. I also made it clear that I would leave otherwise. He agreed, I stayed on for several years as a project leader with a director’s grade, and the project was a success.”

      Check Rick’s post!

    • Um, Dave, can I get your contact information? I work for a division of a Japanese owned company and while the environment is very polite, it is clear that the leadership roles will not be relinquished to Americans any time soon. In the meanwhile, people are jumping ship left and right because of the strong demand for employees combined with the location flexibility means that the geographic limit is nearly gone. Culturally, the Japanese will not make counter-offers but, even if they did, it wouldn’t cause people to stay.

  4. Not telling employees how valuable they are probably saves most companies a lot of money, at least this is probably what many managers believe. Yes, some employees will find better-paid jobs quickly and leave, but most will probably stay for quite some time while being underpaid before starting to look for a new job, due to procrastination, laziness, discomfort with putting themselves out there etc. Then add the time it takes to actually get a satisfactory job offer after the employee has started their job search. If companies told employees how valuable they were, most employees would probably ask for a pay rise pretty promptly.

    • A personal story to back up your statement how much inertia and discomfort with change can factor in to staying somewhere for low pay:

      I started at a big company at 20/hr fresh out of school and stayed there almost 10 years, even through my managers encouraging me to leave because of how their hands were tied by corporate rules for pay. At one point i had a manager randomly move me to new titles (He didn’t even tell me he was doing it) so that he could give me 10% raises instead of 3% raises because title changes had different rules (and then a later boss was looking at my work history and was like ‘wtf have you been doing’). I stayed partly because right in the beginning (maybe 18 months after I’d started working) the great recession hit and where I lived was particularly hit hard by the housing bubble closing (a few big subprime lenders were headquartered there so the market was flooded with newly unemployed people for a year or two).

      But after that I just couldn’t figure out how to talk about what I did. I knew I was valued but I was totally unsure how to sell myself, I knew I was good but I couldn’t figure out what exactly my job truly was (it didn’t ever felt like it matched right with any particular title I knew). And because I was valued and trusted, I often got to jump onto or own new important projects for my department so anytime I started getting bored enough to start looking they’d lure me in with something new. So I just stayed and stayed and stayed.

      (I’d probably still be there because inertia is a powerful force, except the company decided to open an ‘innovation’ center, with a new-to-the-org role of product manager and I realized that’d been my true job the whole time and my boss and her boss went to bat for me and fought for me to get moved over to that department…and from there that launched me into other companies and more than doubling my salary in 5 years. So happy ending, sort of, but almost entirely something I stumbled into and “wait til something works out” is not the advice I’d give to others.)

  5. Oh, I forgot to mention a couple of additional reasons why employees stay while being underpaid. The biggest is probably that they simply don’t know that they’re underpaid. So why in the world would their employers tell them? A further reason is that it’s difficult for new employers to determine a job applicant’s value. A high performer may be several times more valuable to their employer than their average peers with the same job title, but how can a new employer know that someone is a high performer? They usually can’t, so may not not be willing to pay what the prospective employee is worth.

    • @Chris: This all goes back to my contention that every manager should understand how each employee and each job contributes to the bottom line. If they did, compensation would be rational and people would be paid based on their value to the company.

      Of course, this means you might have value $X to one company and $Y to another — it’s relative, which is why salary survey are bogus. See https://www.asktheheadhunter.com/11910/glassdoor-salary-data

      • @Nick: I totally agree with you that every manager should understand how each employee and each job contributes to the bottom line, and use this information to make rational decisions about compensation. However, even if/when all managers know this, employers can save a lot of money by paying their employees less than they are worth, as long as the employees are not so unhappy about it that it impacts their job performance substantially or they leave. For an employer, the ideal situation is paying each employee the lowest amount the employer can get away with without making the employee too unhappy. Knowing how much an employee is worth to the employer sets the ceiling for his/her compensation, not the floor.

        So to summarize and rephrase the points I was trying to make originally, employers don’t tell employees how much the employees are worth to them because employers save money by underpaying their employees. Employers can get away with underpaying an employee forever, as long as the employee is unaware that s/he is underpaid. And even if the employee does know that s/he is underpaid, an employer can often get away with underpaying him/her for a long time, before the employee starts looking for a new job and eventually finds one. Yes, underpaying employees will make a few of them quit early, and this causes losses to the employer, but on balance, the employer probably more than makes up for those losses by underpaying all (or most of) the other employees, who stay.

        (And yes, of course, the same employee is often more valuable to one employer than to another.)

        • @Chris: Point taken and I can’t disagree. In the early days of Silicon Valley, the period between industry up and down waves was short, and it hurt. Every few years, the tech companies would abuse engineers with 70 hour work weeks and mediocre pay. Then things would flip, and engineers made employers give them BMWs as starting bonuses. Again a flip, and engineers who’d bought expensive houses defaulted on their mortgages and lived in their cars.

          Look at today’s economy and employment market. Over time, everybody pays. Think anyone will learn? So much for that 5-year corporate strategy, vision and mission, eh?

  6. I am in the midst of changing jobs and my company wanted to counter-offer. I asked why such raises are not offered until somebody leaves and he said, “It takes a person threatening to leave to get managements’ attention.” I start my new job on Monday.

    • @Kevin: I think that’s the right answer. The joke is on your old employer, because replacing you will cost them loads: recruiting costs, the cost of leaving your job vacant till it’s filled, the cost of learning curve for the new hire, and the cost of socializing the new hire, among other things the finance department cannot and does not track.

      The egg on their face is that they will likely have to give a “raise” to the new employee to get them on board.

      Best wishes on your new job!

    • @Kevin, Good luck with the new job, sir. I know you’ve faced some dark times with employers (haven’t we all).
      Now is the time to “strike while the iron is hot” analogy with jobs. I’ve seen a lot of job opportunities out there, some good, plenty not so good, and I’ve seen even less people vying for said jobs. While I’m not to wish evil on others, it’s noticeable how frustrated and scared out of their wits employers are now with little to no candidates applying. More hat in hand humble pie. Quite a contrast from 2010-2011 when I groveled for low-level jobs for chump change, and was slapped down continuously. I guess there is some justice in this life.
      I have my third interview in less than a week this coming Monday. I interviewed with this company in early June, once on the phone, and then in a face to face three days later, but they went with another candidate. These guys were professional, civil, and moved the process along expediently. In an unheard of gesture from me, I let them know how impressed I was with how they interviewed me, what they did, and that if anything came up down the road, I’d like to throw my hat back in the ring. To my complete surprise, they contacted me out of the clear blue, and informed me that they had been impressed with me, and that a second identical position has been opened up now. It may/may not come to fruition, but the prospect of getting out of a toxic Wild West show of 9 years looks good!
      Unbelievably, I sent them a paper resume in response to an ad on Indeed of all places. Totally old school. Interesting to hear employer confess that job boards, and hiring young and cheap, isn’t the fairy dust they thought it was.

  7. Note: If you accept a counter offer, expect to be replaced in 6 months. Once you notify your employer you are on the market, then they will start looking for your replacement. The counter is just to keep you around until you position can be covered. Yes, I am a cynic.

    • @Jim: You sound like a seasoned headhunter. That’s one of the first things we’re taught in the business about how to handle a candidate that’s considering a counter. The thing is, it’s true.

    • No, I’d say your a realist.

  8. Not specific to counteroffers, but leaving on good terms and not flaming the Exit Interviews is a good practice.

    I know several people that left on good terms, started a new job, discovered it was a bad fit, and went back to their old position.

    • I was nice to my old company but let them know I was not interested in a counter-offer (they asked if I would be) as my new place was giving me a 37% increase. I knew I was underpaid, but didn’t realize it was that much. Funny thing is, my old company hired me back for six months as a part-time consultant, at twice the hourly rate they were paying me when I left. The old company’s work was done in the evenings as I was at my new job during the day. That new job was probably the best career move I ever made (still there after 13 years and two promotions).

    • @Gregory: In case I’ve implied otherwise in my exhortations about not accepting counters and not consenting to exit interviews… do not burn your bridges. Be polite as you part company. Be professional. Smile a lot. But be firm in your intentions.

      Thanks for reminding us all to leave on good terms when possible!

  9. I am in exactly the same spot. I have a contingent offer I am waiting on for final approval. In the meantime I am anxious about giving my 2 week notice for the same reasons. Thanks for this timely discussion.

    • Just be highly professional even if you are upset. In one job I left many years ago, that paid off – I later found out that they were going to fire me anyway, but leaving professionally kept the relationship as good as it could be. It was just a bad fit. They knew it. I knew it. We both wanted to do something about it. I acted first.

    • @Sam: Good luck with that offer. Keep your standards high. Keep as much control over the situation as you can.

      I wrote a whole book about parting company, and the main ideas are in this article:
      https://www.asktheheadhunter.com/7809/parting-company-how-to-leave-your-job

  10. Promotions and raises are the only meaningful way that organizations indicate that they actually value you and want you to stay; everything else is a cheap joke. It’s a shame that we have to quit to be noticed, because we generally need to cover ourselves first, and hunting down a good alternate gig that really suits you is a fairly arduous and annoying task. It would be so much simpler if we had rational and well-intentioned management that values its resources, but that, of course, is very rare.

    I am a software engineer, project lead, technologist, and teacher. Where I work (IT in a major university hospital for 25 years, several different departments) there are good gigs and interesting work. However, people are generally not promoted or even recognized beyond the occasional verbal “thank you” without a threat to leave. I’ve done this twice – in two different departments.

    In one department, a flagship project in which I was hired as a simple code-monkey, and which was falling behind, was almost canceled by the justifiably frustrated director. I developed a solution to what had seemed to be an insoluble problem, demoed it, and told the director that I could get the project back on track if I were in charge of it, with a serious promotion. I also made it clear that I would leave otherwise. He agreed, I stayed on for several years as a project leader with a director’s grade, and the project was a success.

    In another, I really needed a gig at the time, so I signed on initially for a ridiculously low salary, originally on a temporary and conditional basis. (Like I said, I REALLY needed the gig. The temporary/conditional thing disappeared almost immediately.) A few months after that, while in the midst of some seriously mission-critical work, I had an attractive offer from another university, which in retrospect might have been a better choice due to factors beyond salary. However, my current employer decided that I was worth keeping, so they beat the offer, and with a son about to start college I couldn’t really say no. It has worked out more or less OK for the last 8 years or so, although I’m starting to get that feeling again…

    I suppose that I have been fortunate in my choices to stay on where I wasn’t originally valued properly, but in both cases my feeling was that I knew the people and the situations well enough to allow me to make that decision with some confidence. Still – I can’t help thinking about how much easier life would be if we could work where our value is simply recognized and rewarded, without having to play these games.

    • @Rick:

      “I also made it clear that I would leave otherwise.”

      Like Tom Waits says in a song, you must risk something that matters. I believe that, to their detriment, most employees would rather go look for a new job than have that conversation with their boss.

      Of course, we have to keep in mind that such a conversation requires having something to offer in exchange for what you tell your boss you want. Your first story is a perfect example.

    • “Promotions and raises are the only meaningful way that organizations indicate that they actually value you and want you to stay; everything else is a cheap joke.”

      And the really intelligent managers will realize the potential of promoting you to a position in which you are ill-suited. They will then make with the serious raises and title-bumps thereafter if necessary to keep you doing what you love to do and can do well. Not everyone is a manager. Not everyone wants to be except for the extra money.

    • “Promotions and raises are the only meaningful way that organizations indicate that they actually value you and want you to stay; everything else is a cheap joke.”

      This is one reason why I took a job with a government institution.

      Despite being paid less on average than private sector counterparts, the good thing is that raises/promotions are usually pre-determined. Do your job well and you’ll get your raise on x/y. I’ve actually mentioned this to recruiters when they come poking around raise time; I know what it’s going to be, so I can factor in that number.

  11. The facts are simply this: the company has money, lots and lots and lots and lots of money. It’s a matter of the philosophy of whether the people who control the purse strings are willing to pay what people are worth. That’s why everybody needs to quantify their financial contribution to the company and make sure their boss and the boss’s boss and the bosses bosses boss know of this. Then you figure out a percentage of that money that you should get for doing it. If you don’t have these conversations with your boss and up two or three levels you’re not ever going to get paid. You know it I know it they know it. So, have the talks!

    • @Wes: I agree completely. Why do people ask for raises without showing how their work has (and will) raise the employer’s profits, success, etc.? It’s a two-way street.

      You’re one of the few people who’ve brought this up:

      “Then you figure out a percentage of that money that you should get for doing it.”

      I’ve discussed this with employers again and again. They look at you like you’re insane. Pay a percentage?? We can’t do that!!

      Why not? Because if you can’t, then your entire business model is based on costs and expenses rather than profits. The refusal to consider paying compensation based on the actual value of an employee’s work reveals two things:

      1. Your company is incapable of calculating the value of each job and employee.
      2. If your company does know that value, then it’s missing a huge bet when it pays on a scale instead.

  12. I’ll add a corollary observation. Larger companies are dimly aware of the retention=communication problem, so they institute micro-level performance goals and regular performance evaluations, and give managers guidelines on what to measure. Sometimes they have employees self-evaluate, too, to “spark a discussion.”

    And then what does the company do? Prove (or even state outright) to everyone that evaluations have NOTHING to do with salary. “You’re a fantastic employee!” says the evaluation. “Here’s your one-size-fits-all 0.5% raise,” says HR.

    The predictable result is no one values the evaluations, and everyone knows that corporate thinks even top-performing employees are easily replaceable commodities.

    And once a year or so, because a slashy industry survey says the company is underperforming in employee retention, the C-Suite and HR come up with a plan that seems to involve recruiting at university job fairs and buying better coffee for the break room.

    It’s the old adage: When a company tells you who they are through their actions, believe them.

    • @Carol: I think you deserve the “laughing through my tears” award this week. Why isn’t HR crying?

  13. I once had a top performing employee who was paid well below others in his position. He had started at a lower level job in the company and worked his way up to a client-facing position supporting large enterprise sales.

    I had to counteroffer him when he gave me 2 weeks notice. He was making $85K+bonus. I had to overcome HR’s “no more than 10% salary bump for any promotion or job change within the company” and had a counteroffer next day of $125K + bonus. Of course, too late…and his new job was $140K+ bigger bonus.

    The pool available for annual salary increases was usually averaging around 2% to 3% for 1/2 the employees, so in retrospect I had no way to correct such an obvious problem within the standard salary increase cycle. In general, the company execs would come up with a total amount of $$ for salary increases and then spread it out among different departments. This is calculated at beginning of year and then every 3 months you could do promotions/salary increases.

    • @Jeff: In other words, nobody really plans for or cares about “retention.”

  14. Hi Nick,

    I was wondering if there are any exceptions when accepting counter offer is a great idea.

    Thank you,

    • @Jihane: It’s certainly not a hard and fast rule that counters should always be rejected. I know of only one or two cases where it worked out well all around. I think the key is the integrity of the employer/manager and the employee. Both sides must be genuinely committed to change what caused the employee to want to leave, and to create a new working relationship without recrimination.

      That is, what is proposed for the future actually has to be good!

  15. I worked for a Fortune 100. They didn’t even bother to do an exit interview when I quit and never asked why I was leaving, yet I can find lots of articles and blog posts written by them where they’re practically crying for help in my area of expertise (which I’ll avoid posting here in an attempt to be just a bit ambiguous).

    Why did I leave? Because they had me running a team of people at a remote site, yet were evaluating me as an individual performer. So when eval time came and all my accomplishments were managerial instead of as an individual contributor in my area of specialty, they gave me a pathetic 2% raise for not “racking and stacking” well with the other individual contributors.

    One can only take so much cluelessness.

    Incidentally, they knew from Day 1 that I wasn’t an individual contributor and we had talked on several occasions about upgrading my position, but it never happened. Pardon my crassness, but I think the reason they never upgraded it was because I did my job well, they never got customer complaints that would require a senior manager to get on a plane to fix, and quite frankly, they were lazy (or at least complacent). I’m sure it cost them a lot more money to hire a replacement for me – a replacement that is most likely struggling to deliver.

    So why do they wait until you quit? Sometimes they don’t even do that.

  16. Nick,

    Really great discussion this week. Thanks to everyone for their insights. This response has been stated peripherally, but here’s the head-on truth.

    “Why don’t employers address issues about compensation and job satisfaction while it makes a difference? Why don’t they tell their employees, We love you!”

    Because they don’t. You’re just a number: An Employee Number and a salary. Okay, we’ve read above how some managers have really pitched it up the food chain for their employee, and there are some very limited success stories. But over and over again, what do the above stories say? “We don’t give raises out of the normal review cycle.” “It’s beyond my control.” “It’s corporate policy.” It’s a truck load of excuses and very little action.

    The bottom line is something like this: “If we paid all of you strong performers the money you’re asking, how could we afford to pay our CEO $20M a year?” Ask the Headhunter isn’t about politics, so I’m trying really hard to avoid anything that smacks of it. But what are the average “C-Suite” employees doing to help the bottom line? Once a generation there’s a Steve Jobs who truly transforms an industry, but most CEOs are just plugging along. “We have a game-changing…way to ship packages/delivery service/payment method/toothpaste.” Yawn. How come the “C-Suite” people aren’t asked to justify THEIR salaries? Oh sure, the Board of Directors really puts the heat on them.

    Basic economics tells us if there is truly a labor shortage, compensation goes up. Anyone have even anecdotal evidence to support that claim? I’ve been a (professional) working stiff since 1978, and I haven’t seen much to support that claim. Although I’ve lived through a whole bunch of “labor shortages” through the years.

    Can things change? Gosh, I hope so. Maybe the next generation with their desire for work/life balance and more of a say in running things can make a difference. It sure would be nice. Until then, keep rattling the gates, people.

  17. Reminder that in a lot of companies it is Compensation that sets the $ policies. HR is just the implementers. The real power is with Compensation and the decision making Manager.

  18. Years ago I had a friend in Detroit who worked in production for a steel forging company. He’d been there 12 years, and never one merit increase, nothing, zip, nada despite having perfect attendance, and apparently his performance was acceptable enough to give him the 12 years tenure. It wasn’t for sake of not asking for merit increases, but his requests were dismissed (been there, done that). One day he applied at a competitor’s shop. The guy received a $13,000 annual increase in pay do do the exact same job in the exact same industry. Back in the day, NCAs, especially for production guys, were unheard of. My friend gave notice. When asked why, he politely pointed out the continuous dismissals when asking for merit increases. They came back and counter offered $13,000. “Why am I suddenly worth more money when I quit?”, he asked. He was unceremoniously terminated on the spot. He started his new job the following Monday, and retired 28 years later, receiving regularly scheduled merit increases and production bonuses.

  19. One reason is that the system is calibrated to watch attrition, a wrong perspective. A company’s focus should not be on leaving, but on looking. If you focus on looking you’ll establish an environment where people don’t want to leave, aren’t interesting in looking for those greener pastures.

    • @Don: Put another way, companies should learn to ask employees what they think and how it’s going while they’re doing their jobs. This gives the company a chance to both learn what management is doing right and what it’s doing wrong — and a chance to change things for the better. Waiting until an employee quits and insisting on an exit interview “so we can improve our company” is so stupid it defies words.

      From my PDF book, “Parting Company: How to leave your job”:

      “Exit interviews fascinate me like cockroaches do. An exit interview is the meeting a company’s human resources department has with an employee who has been terminated or who has resigned. Like the Top Ten Stupid Interview Questions, exit interviews are the cockroaches of the human resources world: no one knows why they exist, no one can justify or eliminate them, and they will likely survive into the third millennium.”

      I agree with you, Don. A company that’s tuned into “who’s looking?” can right the ship (and the wrongs).

      • I think the heart of this discussion is the existence (or non-existence) of a trusting working relationship between a boss & the team. Trusting a company is something in la la land. Where there’s a lack, those bosses range between having no clue, or departure paranoia. the troops aren’t going to tell you squat.

        The more the team trusts you as a manager the more likely they will share. Working relationships aren’t Utopia, as people are people & the door swings both ways on trust, some simply won’t and don’t and some will take a chance to explore it and establish it.

        The ultimate expression of trust in a manager is when someone working for you, will tell you they are looking or further have been interviewing, & further have an offer & want your advice. In large corporations this includes internal looking and changing organizations, where it may go further than the aforementioned, a person asking you to assist in making a move. I’ve done this a few times & can tell you it’s a bittersweet composite of losing someone who’s valuable & the ultimate expression of someone’s trust in you.

        The trust in a manager is to not act like an idiot taking it personally as an act of betrayal, sharing your honest & objective take on their goal or opportunity, & most important working the system at their behest, which you should be doing anyway.

        Ideally this happens when they are just looking not leaving. And one job of a manager is to work the system we both live & work in, shield them from BS, get them what they need to do the job, help them grow and in cases like looking..keep it between us, which is almost always necessary. A manager needs to know who to tell & how to tell it, (because some companies have high priced help above you who you know will exactly stamp their VP feet and act like purity raped) and see if you can help them yourself if doable.
        If doable, because you may work for a company that appears to have developed a culture to make it as difficult as possible to keep people interested and managers to help cultivate that interest.

        And most important, if you can’t do anything more for a person, e.g. a promo, or a career change. then you do the right thing & help them to depart with as much graceful dignity & benefits as you can. By that I know of instances, including me, where a boss can get you a package, work out good timing mapping into retirement status, working out favorable departure dates, letters of reference, be a referral.

        In all honesty there’s some selfish interest in handling this well. Things happen, things change & if you value person, they go to the head of your future (re) hire/recruitment list. And if a person moves on, feeling good about you/your team, they can be a willing source of referrals for replacing themselves or some future need. You become part of each other’s network. It’s simply bad business to act like a snot when someone wants to move on. It’s a small world.

        I’ve mentioned this before, but when I was recruiting I was surprised when my candidate gave his current boss as a reference. In talking with his boss who extolled his virtues, he really impressed me when he said he’d hating losing him, but in all honesty he couldn’t do anything for him. I thought, now that’s a boss.

        To your point “companies should learn to ask employees what they think and how it’s going while they’re doing their jobs” This fits into the much maligned performance appraisal. PA’s are what you make of them. They can be a useful tool. An opportunity to find out what a person feels about their growth potential, the company etc. But I’ve never seen any training, formal or informal that simply says “Ask them how they feel about sticking around or moving on.” Just task focused stuff , and possibly some career development matters (training) . It takes one thing for a manager and the person to understand to really make a PA truly useful…a manager doesn’t record everything discussed. And the person needs to trust you to manage content (which they should see before it’s send up the line. The PA can simply be like a timer..time to compare notes. It’s not just how are YOU doing, but also how am I doing looking out for your interests. One can argue you don’t need a PA to have these discussions…but I’ve worked in places where they weren’t done and usually that means these conversations don’t happen. So HR invented an alarm clock. Use it.

        As to exit interviews. I believe they can be an excellent corporate tool.
        But again you must have trust…and security in play. As such,they are best done AFTER the person’s gone. Wait a year, when someone’s well established in their new space, then ask. The secondary benefit is if the person was a regrettable loss. If they feel their departing choice was a mistake & are looking…you have a chance to explore a rehire. (unless of course it’s one of those idiot companies/managers that will not rehire. (they are out there)

        • @Don: So much to unpack. A really well written comment. Worth of being a post in and of itself.

          A few observations:

          One of the most important pieces of professional advice I was ever given:

          “Any discussion with your boss is not a trivial thing.”

          This does not preclude a trusting relationship with our boss. But it is a reminder that when my boss has to choose between “what is best for Greg” and “what is best for the Company,” they are obligated to choose the Company (or resign their position).

          Nobody cares about the interests of Greg and his family as much as Greg.

          When I am asked why I do not do Exit Interviews (or do not provide candid feedback if I have to take one), I give two reasons.

          1. ”anything I say can, and will, be used against me…”

          2. If the company really cared what people think, managers would be trained to have ongoing dialogs on various concerns*. The fact that an exit interview is presented as a way to tell the truth without retaliation does not exactly…speak well of the company culture?

          “The One Minute Manager” is an excellent template on how to have short, meaningful conversations. If anyone in the company actually cares enough to address anything.

          I really like your bit about being in a company’s best interest to have positive parting-of-ways. No shame in developing talent to the point that there are no opportunities in that setting. That is why movies where a talented athlete in a small town is sent away by his coach to the big college are so touching…the old coach knows the athlete is destined for much more.

          I think companies need to be deliberate about turnover in roles, especially entry-level, and design a whole program around seeking people that will be ready to move on in one to two years. Like after the first year, be EXPECTED to job search. Become the company where the best in the industry got their start. Talk about a network!

          Anyway, great post. Thanks you for sharing.

          *”Personally, most of what I do is Undercover Boss except I’m not the boss. In my experience, employees know exactly what’s wrong with the organization, have a pretty good idea how to fix it, and have an accurate bead on why management will never make the repairs.”
          -Bob Lewis “KJR 9/18/2017”

          • Thanks for the kind words.

            As to exit interviews. If the boss is trusted, he/she already knows why the person is leaving. From that point it’s a matter of the boss trusting HR to pass any of it along. If the person doesn’t feel comfortable with HR, then most likely it will end up a boiler plated dialogue.
            When I left my 1st real company, I opined that a colleague was under appreciated and under paid. to my surprise he asked me what I said about him…because his boss called him in and gave him a raise.

            • That is the first time I have ever heard of something positive coming out of an exit interview.

              It only took forty years to find an example. :-)

              Thank you for sharing.

  20. It could get to be a rough couple of years for many employers. So many employees who were kicked to the curb “because of COVID” realized that said employer thought their job and them personally were expendable. Rather than sit around on unemployment compensation, they found something else to do. A company that was looking to add people rather than reduce staff. That job that suddenly was “work from home” half across the country. An online guru whose “system”, stripped of hyperbole and helium, pays well more for less stress than waiting tables, customer support, being a code monkey, etc.

    I used to refer to https://data.bls.gov/timeseries/LNS11300000 a lot, but now I have to wonder if the self-employed, work from home, and people “working a system” are not being counted. This is especially so when you and I hear “In the Economy” 30-second packages on local radio with reports like “There are 100 million open positions; however, only 80 million people are looking for work. And now in sports …”

    Anyone can do that math, except for the employers who cut deep during the early days of the COVID pandemic, now can’t find anyone to fill their open positions. They appear on the evening news wringing their hands and complaining the “people would rather sit at home and do nothing”.

    They may be sitting at home, but they definitely aren’t “doing nothing”.

  21. Exit interviews and annual reviews come from the same place in hell. Perfunctory, time wasting, uncomfortable and lots of BS coming from both sides.

  22. :), A previous employer gave me a bonus after I had given my two-week notice. I knew they were clueless, but not that clueless. If you have limited resources for bonuses/awards, don’t give them to the people leaving! Can’t you see that is a bad message to those who remain?

    My current supervisor told me how important I am to him on Friday. We will see how that figures into my end-of-year evaluation. Those above him pay a lot of lip service, but have shown little in the way of improved outcomes. They have a different definition of employee engagement than I. Words are easier than actions.

  23. I have a distant relative that worked on Wall Street in the 1920’s. He told me a story about how he gave his notice because another company was paying him a lot more. He was given a counter offer of more than the new company offered. His reply was if he is worth that much now, he should have been paid that a year ago. Refused both offers, moved to OK and made several large fortunes in oil….

  24. I read these comments and wonder why companies treat employees so terrible. I have worked for companies that were that way too. It seemed like management was totally clueless and I wondered why. After asking, I always received just about the same stock answer: “because we can”,” and get away with it”. Even when there was a reckoning, they were still clueless. Is it because being ruthless is a badge of honor? Is there a class in business school on how to behave bad? It’s not just the money side, it’s also lower management behaving badly with verbal and sometimes physical abuse and getting away with it after being confronted by fellow employees in HR.

  25. “Your company is incapable of calculating the value of each job and employee.”

    An example of how Fortune X corporations survive in spite of themselves?

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