Drop Your Counteroffers and Bet on Boomerang Employees Instead

boomerang employee

Nothing quite like a marriage metaphor, right? You’ve heard these stories (or perhaps you’ve lived this story) – after years of asking, pleading, and begging (to a man’s ears = “nagging”) her husband to change his ways to no avail, a woman flips the switch and phhhhhht. She’s gone. Said husband, now realizing that she may in fact be serious this time, desperately promises the Sun and Moon for the opportunity to try again. Because, as you know, this time will be different. Stupid boys. (Editor’s Note: my wife has claimed “Stupid Boys” as the title to one of her upcoming books.)

How does that generally work out? Would you say “good” to “quite good?” My guess is this only serves to delay the inevitable. The man is who he is, and soon enough he will revert to his normal state. Then we go through the same drama again, without having made progress in the least.

The husband is obviously the company in this case, the wife with the boot is the employee. The employee has been telling you, in some form or fashion, what you need to do if the relationship will continue successfully. A counter-offer is the equivalent of the Hail Mary, with a promise for change but a history that says otherwise. You might get an employee to stay, but usually, for the same flawed logic as a spouse hanging onto a miserable marriage:

  • Other relationships (kids, in-laws, Bob in Accounting) will be impacted as well; we’re not prepared to deal with that kind of drama, so we stay. It’s just easier.
  • It’s still a risk. The thought of being wrong is too scary for some people. Better to be married/employed than to die alone on the streets, right? Sad to say, but many companies use fear of the unknown as their most effective retention tool. As long as no one is leaving, why change?
  • A fundamental belief in loyalty without reservation. There are still people who are of the opinion that “leaving” is NOT an option. GenX changed a lot of that mindset after seeing the curtain pulled back on the dealings of corporate America, and the Millennials have taken the torch even farther – if you want “loyalty,” buy a dog. Yet there remains a percentage of people who still believe in “until death do us part.”
  • The sad truth? Even if they accept a counteroffer, 50% of these people will leave within the next 24 months anyway.

So, what brought this topic to mind is a friend’s recent separation from his wife. Now that she has left, he desperately wants to change all those things that he had ignored, lo those many years. That’s a fool’s game, don’t you agree? But counter-offers are rarely a successful play. You’re probably delaying the inevitable, you’re setting a dangerous precedent with other employees who may take note, and you’re still not focusing on the fundamental reason they left. Fix yourself (or don’t, and expect the same results) before throwing money at a losing proposition.

If you love them, let them go – “boomerang” employees aren’t returning for counter offers, they come back after realizing the grass may not be greener after all, or if they see a different company than the one they left. Almost half of companies surveyed agree they would consider taking back a former employee, and 15% of the employees admitted they actually did return to the old stamping grounds.

Don’t miss the opportunity – learn how to stop the next employee (or wife) from leaving; for now, at least, this train has left the station.

FOT Background Check

John Whitaker
“Whit” is an HR Business Strategist and Staffing Professional: he primarily works in the healthcare industry, because... healthcare. A Texan, he tends to amuse us (okay, he amuses himself) with colloquialisms and a cowboy’s view on our industry. John honed his HR chops at Alcon Laboratories and CVS Caremark before starting HR Hardball™ in 2010 where he has been fortunate enough to partner with a slew of Fortune 500 companies interested in shaking their HR tree. You can email Whit, find him on LinkedIn, or read more of his brain-droppings at www.HRhardball.com


  1. This is a hilarious and very accurate metaphor to employee counteroffers. I think many companies would benefit from the “if you love them let them go” mentality. In the end, relationships are a two-way streak. If either the employee or the company is unsatisfied, they should really take the steps to discover for themselves if the “grass is truly greener” on the other side. OR if both parties are aware that there is indeed greener pasture competition, perhaps they will both make an effort to be the best they can be in the relationship. After that, its all about fit. Here is some advice on how to keep Millennial employees happy in a work relationship https://medium.simppler.com/5-things-millennial-hires-must-have-in-the-workplace-fbaec1212f52


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