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"Never accept a counter offer": a counter-narrative
The Time that a Counter Offer Changed My Life
Good morning, afternoon, or evening — whatever time it is when you read this. Welcome to Musings Out Loud, where I talk about how work life and home life are often intertwined. (Because, really, the idea that we can separate the two is outdated.) You can check out my post about The Great Resignation. And signup for future musings.
Conventional wisdom says that when you resign from a job, never accept a counter-offer. After all, there was a reason you started looking for a change in the first place: you felt undervalued, underpaid, toxic work environment, lack of growth, etc. For the most part, this makes sense.
But many years ago, I was given a counter-offer that was completely unexpected and changed the trajectory of my career.
The First Job (and All. The. Travel.)
I graduated from college in December of 2005. I got married in January of 2006. And two weeks later, on February 1, I started my first full-time job.
I know, a little bit crazy.
I had worked part-time at a community bank throughout high school and college, and through a connection landed a job at a software company that provided a loan management solution to banks. It was a dream job for me. It was also located in Kansas, far from my home state of Wisconsin.
My husband was not yet done with college; he had about 18 months left. It wasn’t feasible for him to transfer to a school in Kansas because he would lose far too many credits. So we made the difficult decision that I would move to Kansas, and he would stay behind and finish school.
For six months, we saw each other only on weekends. Most of the travel back-and-forth fell to me. Since he was still in school, he couldn’t afford to lose the 16 hours round-trip required to make the trip.
I would leave work on a Friday evening at 5:00 p.m. and drive to Des Moines, Iowa, arriving about four hours later. Check into a cheap motel because that’s all we could afford. I would sleep until about 6:00 a.m. the next morning, wake up, and finish the remaining four hours in the trek Wisconsin on Saturday morning. Then around Sunday at noon, I would drive the entire 8 hours straight to get back to Kansas. I did this every other weekend, giving us about 24 hours together.
On top of that, my job required extensive travel. I frequently was on the road three or four days during the workweek. I would often wrap up a client visit only to hop in the car and head to Wisconsin. It was exhausting.
I remember one time using some of my vacation time so that I could leave work at noon on Friday, giving myself some extra time with my husband. On the highway, still in Kansas, I hit some kind of construction material that had fallen onto the road and it cut a big hole in my tire, leaving me stranded on the side of the road. I called my husband, sobbing, telling him that I wasn’t going to make it to see him that weekend.
Desperately Needing a Change
It probably goes without saying that this Road Warrior lifestyle, got old, fast. After six months, I started looking for another job, and found a similar role at a software company in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. It would cut the distance to Wisconsin in half, which felt far more manageable for the remaining time until my husband finished school. I turned in my two weeks’ notice to my manager.
A few days later, I was sitting in the airport on my way to a client site in Montana. I checked my work email and found that the Vice President of the company had sent me something. I’d only interacted with her a few times, so I was surprised. She wrote:
I understand that you have accepted a new role and turned in your two weeks’ notice. I want to make you a counter offer. We will give you a raise, a company cell phone, and we will let you work from home.
I know that you took this job so that you could be closer to home. But I am giving you the opportunity to be home.
I was stunned. I started crying in the middle of the airport restaurant. I called my husband and told him, “I’m coming home.”
It was a life-changing moment. My employer’s flexibility was the reason I stayed—and ended up staying for the next 15 years. I worked my way up from an implementation specialist, to the company’s first product manager, to an executive-level role managing the customer service department.
So Much More Than “Just a Job”
I have watched the inflexibility of companies that insist employees return to the office after working from home throughout the pandemic—often amidst protest from the employees. The underlying assumption of these employers is that employees will fall in line and do what is (debatably) “best for the company,” instead of what is best for themselves.
The COO who offered me the ability to work remotely saw me on a human level. It wasn’t about the work or the job in any way: it was about something that existed outside of work. So she made the offer that met my needs. And we figured out together how I could continue to meet results.
Given the number of people that have left their jobs this year as part of The Great Resignation or Great Reshuffle or whatever we're calling it now, I think it's safe to say that many employees are finally putting themselves first. They’re saying goodbye to employers who demand that employees sacrifice a portion of their lives, whether it’s through a long commute, missing a kid’s school presentation, or being forced to prioritize work over passion projects.
Companies that reject flexibility are basically saying, “Us first. You second.”
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