My friend RJ Morris had a great post up at Fistful of Talent a couple of years ago related to the deep psychology of the Counter Offer - the moment when you tell your employer you're leaving and they start scrambling to keep you. Here's a taste of RJ's post, you should go read the whole thing:
"Wow, Sally…that really catches me by surprise. Look, you’re way too valuable to us to have you leave. You have to know that, right? I mean, we’ve been really busy, so maybe I have not given you the right recognition or been able to bring you up to speed on the conversations we had last month at the leadership retreat. You’re very important to us. We had even talked about expanding your role. You’re that important.
And me, I’m probably moving up in the next 6-12 months, and you’re the lady on the succession plan. Let me talk to the CEO and get you some time on her calendar next week, when she gets back from Asia. I know we can accelerate the raise we had already planned for you, plus another bump when you get promoted into my role. Just hang in there, Sally. Things are right around the corner. Big things. Don’t make any firm decisions yet."
RJ's basic premise is that counter offers come across as fake and forced when provided by a boss or employer who's been ignoring the employee in question for months if not years. RJ's on the money with his take on the issue, but there's an important qualifier that the candidate side needs to understand:
You never take an offer to your employer as a conditional resignation expecting that they're going to counter. As soon as you do that, you're screwed. You've overplayed your hand.
Translation: If you take a counter offer to your boss, be prepared that she's going to say, "OK - hate to lose you, but you have to take that offer. Can I get three weeks instead of two for your notice period? I'd really like to see if we can get this filed and get your help in training your replacement during your last couple of days". Whoops! As soon as you start taking an offer to your boss expecting them to counter, you probably fit into one of three categories:
1. You're an average performer. You think you deserve more money, but you're actually fairly comped in your employer's eyes for what you do. I'll accept your resignation, good luck out there!
2. You're over-comped for the market. You may be an above average performer, but due to a variety of factors, your company already pays you more than you're worth vs. the market. No one cares that you want/need more money. They'd rather hire your backfill and spread the other 1/2 of the FTE across others to solidify them than pay you more to keep you.
3. You're clueless about your importance versus the political scene at your company. You think you deserve more money, and maybe you do. But the way your company handles increases, you need 2 levels of approvals plus HR to get out of the way before a proper counter is to be issued - all unlikely in an environment where CYA is a way of life. The fact that you brought an offer forward expecting someone to counter you shows your lack of situational awareness.
Real players don't take offers to employers expecting that they'll provide a big counter offer. Real players go to resign and rarely accept a counter offer due to all the factors that RJ outlined in his post. Unfortunately, there are a lot of candidate types who use the offer to attempt to generate a counter. Those folks usually end up in a world of hurt, and they've only got themselves to blame.
Don't play games with offers if you fit one of the three categories above. You'll end up without your head.