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Is there a polite way to say that you are leaving work because you don't trust your current employer will follow through with the counteroffer received, that will also not "burn bridges" with the current employer?

I work for company A and received a better offer from company B (mostly money wise).

I decided to approach my direct supervisor about possibility of a raise, promotion, etc. - the answer from management was that it's possible (not guaranteed) not earlier than after a few more months.

Therefore, I decided to accept the offer from company B and informed my current employer about it.

Of course, once I did that, company A started working on a counteroffer for me and asked what salary would satisfy me.

They came up with a upskilling plan for me, after which (again, after few months) I could be promoted and receive the salary that would match the range provided by me.

Big issue: they made it clear that it would be possible for me to be promoted in a few months. I asked if we could get in writing somewhere that if I complete the plan, I will be guaranteed the promotion - the answer was no, because there is no guarantee (tldr corporate approvals, budget plans, etc.).

Company A has had a few bad situations in the past, where they would plan or suggest one thing, and then the upper management would randomly decide to change it and not do the planned or expected thing.

Therefore, even though the offer I received is really tempting, I am really worried that they will not follow through with it, and just waste a few more of months during which I could be working for and growing in company B.

If asked, is there a polite way to say that their offer is great and would definitely satisfy me, however without any guarantees I don't trust they will follow through with it and therefore I am settling with deal from company B?

I value my direct supervisors and I'd like to be honest with them, however I am afraid that being honest may result in the situation getting sticky and with me leaving the company A on bad terms.

12 Answers 12

191

There's really no need for you to go into much detail about your decision. They made you a counteroffer, and no guarantee for the promotion you're looking for is a part of the offer, and you're choosing to decline it. Just keep it terse, but polite:

I appreciate your offer, however, I believe that joining company B is the right move for me at this point.

There's a solid chance your superiors are well aware that the counteroffer they're presenting you is not what you're looking for so they won't read too much into your wording and expect your decision.

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  • 97
    You may even omit the name of company B. – user61034 May 31 at 2:21
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    If you give a neutral answer like this and you still "burn bridges," those bridges were going to be burned no matter what you said. – IllusiveBrian May 31 at 16:40
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    This is a good answer, and I agree with this a lot more than I do with the answer(s) recommending you don't bother with a reply at all. That may be construed as dismissive and/or "ungrateful" by petty-minded managers. So I would definitely reply. Probably add some platitudes about how you've learned some valuable lessons from colleagues and supervisors in the current place and are most grateful, blah blah, which will soften the blow further - best chance of "saving bridges" (to coin an expression). In answer to the OP question, never bring loaded phrases like "lack of trust" into any letter. – Deepak May 31 at 16:45
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    @IllusiveBrian I'll bet you 9 times out of 10 the company that offers the counter-offer will be gearing up to fire said person within 6 months. They won't give a rat's tail about burning bridges the other way. – Nelson Jun 1 at 1:08
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    @FrankHopkins While I can't tell whose experience is more applicable or valuable, I would contend that most companies have personalities shaped by their leadership --- good or otherwise. – employee-X Jun 1 at 20:26
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How to say you don't trust your current employers counteroffer?

Quietly, in your mind, without vocalising or writing it down. Just carry on with your plan, you're not obligated to accept a counter offer or explain anything.

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  • 8
    This applies to romantic break ups too. – Dan Dascalescu Jun 1 at 7:46
  • OP isn't really asking about what they are obligated to do, but how to stay in good terms with the people in the company they're leaving. I don't think this answer answers the question. – JiK Jun 1 at 8:53
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    @JiK It actually does. The best way to do not burn bridges is to do not bring fire near it. And fooling around and trying to twist the words in a way to say that they arent trustworthy has no gains what-so-ever. You're just walking the bridge with a massive torch on your hands. I agree the answer could use a tiny bit more of detail, but that detail is implied from the answer. (That is, for O.P. to kindly reject the counter-offer and carry on with the plan to leave the company.) – Ismael Miguel Jun 1 at 9:31
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    @IsmaelMiguel I'm liking this quote. It's going straight into my anki quotes collection :) – Tasos Papastylianou Jun 2 at 9:40
  • @TasosPapastylianou Feel free to use it, but please correct the grammar mistake in it (the last word should be "them" instead of "it"). – Ismael Miguel Jun 2 at 10:14
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When you leave, you leave. You give your notice, and that’s that. There is absolutely no need to say why you don’t accept a counteroffer, especially if you don’t trust them - just say that you decided to leave and you won’t change your mind.

(And you are quite right not trusting a counter-offer - we had cases here where someone accepted the counter-offer, rejected a good offer from another company, and was fired immediately after rejecting that offer).

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    This doesn't really add anything to the preceding answers. – DJClayworth May 31 at 15:25
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    Well it makes the point more strongly :) – Fattie Jun 1 at 12:24
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    @Fattie Indeed. From the OP's responses, the OP does not seem to realize how wishy-washy he is coming off. It seems that in his mind he is believes he is just doing what is rational and logical to get the best offer. I mean...the fact he told Company A he was going to accept Company B's offer but then did not actually accept the offer and waited for Company A's reply blows my mind. – DKNguyen Jun 2 at 15:45
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I don't think this is a matter of trust. If I tell you "I promise you, you will get a promotion in a few months", and you don't believe what I say, then you don't trust me. But if I say "I think it is possible you will get a promotion, but I cannot guarantee", then it is no longer a matter of trust, but a matter of evaluating the risks. They stated that there is a chance you won't get the promotion, if they ask for the specifics of your decision, then you can just say that you prefer to be safe and take the other offer as it doesn't implies any risks.

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    While that's certainly a better way of expressing the same thing (shifting the blame onto circumstance as it were), it's still saying too much. The offer is clearly BS, and you should just say "thanks" on your way out. – Mad Physicist Jun 1 at 19:50
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Thank them for the counteroffer and tell them you will not be accepting it.

Here's a personal example of what to not to do:

I received an offer from B (a small company of maybe 500 employees), which I accepted. I brought this up to my supervisor at company A (a large multinational corporation) 2 months before my last day, to give them plenty of time to prep for my transition. I liked working at A and felt some sense of duty or respect towards them.

Company A countered with matched salary and approval to transfer me to another office location, which was really what I wanted. Their offer was conditional on approval from some higher-ups (the CEO), which they assured me they would get to me within a week or two. Since it wasn't a very large raise (a few thousand dollars a year), I figured this enormous corp would get it done in the timeframe given.

I foolishly decided not to renege on B's offer in case A didn't come through -- in retrospect, if I was that worried about A, I should simply have just declined the counter.

Naturally, two months later, I finally received confirmation from A that the CEO had signed off on my pay rise and transfer. The worst part was that I received it on the last possible day. I was literally supposed to show up at B the following Monday. With that in hand, I (finally) told B I wasn't going to show up and of course burned all bridges with company B.

I ended up leaving A a year later anyway to go to C. A didn't try to talk me out of it that time, but I had learned from my mistake, and was ready to reject whatever they had.

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  • "The last possible day" should probably have been an earlier one then. – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Jun 2 at 22:42
  • @ThorbjørnRavnAndersen yes, many many mistakes were made during the process -- it was my first job and I was a bit foolish. – Giuseppe Jun 3 at 15:27
  • @Guiseppe then it appears that the lecture to take away is to make a decision and stick with it. The pasture MAY be greener elsewhere, but then again things like this may happen. – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Jun 3 at 15:39
5

Just say you already committed to company B's offer. Any professional person should understand not being all wishy-washy, flip-flopping, and going back on your word.

It sounds like you decided to accept the offer, then informed your employer about it before sending the message of acceptance. You could have, and should have just sent the message of acceptance first. Remember, you're not asking for their permission.

You already informed them you got an offer before accepting it which was way more than you were obligated to do in the first place. Then you had a conversation and they made their decision. It's not like you went over their head or were even secretive about it. You told them what was up, they made their decision, and then you made your decision based on their decision.

It's like selling something. If you already agreed to sell something for a certain price, but then someone else comes along after and offers you a higher price, do you call the first person back and say "Sorry, I got a better offer so I'm not selling it to you anymore." You don't. Not if you're being professional about it.

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  • The reason I reached out to my current employer before accepting company B is because I wanted to see what they can offer. Even though not advised, if they gave me a guarantee that they will follow through with the counteroffer, I would most likely accept it and stay at company A with all the consequences. – nnz May 31 at 10:51
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    @nnz That's exactly the problem though. In negotiations, the one with the upper hand is the one who shows that they know they are willing to leave the table (i.e. they know they are the one with less to lose). That's why Company A said they could not do anything for you the first time you talked to them. After that, in your mind, you were willing to leave the table and were willing to call their bluff. Except your communications with them afterward were not representative of that and as a result, Company A is still trying to push you around. Commit! – DKNguyen May 31 at 17:26
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First, I agree with the responses that say you don't need to explain - and I think there's a good chance too much explaining here will cause unneeded trouble and/or burn bridges.

But you didn't ask whether to convey the potentially offending information that you don't trust the company's proposal. You asked (1) if there is a polite way to say it (2) without burning bridges.

Politeness: If you feel compelled to explain your reasoning, you might consider focusing your explanation on the nature of the two offers, rather than on the shortcomings you perceive in your current company's trustworthiness. For example, you could say something like: "Susan [or whatever her/his name is], I really appreciate the effort you went through to work with management on this proposal. But some of the points I find most attractive are contingent on how things go in the future. The other opportunity guarantees some things up front that are important to me. After living through the last few months with the COVID-19 pandemic, I realize the future don't always turn out the way we plan. I just feel like I need to go with the sure thing."

I suspect whoever you talk to is less likely to be insulted or take offense if you talk about "contingencies" and "uncertainty of the future" rather than talking about trust, giving past examples of failing to live up to promises, etc.

Burning Bridges: Can you do it without burning bridges? I don't know. Saying it kindly probably reduces the odds that this bridge burns -- but no matter how polite you are, your supervisors or management (and perhaps even co-workers) might feel betrayed at your leaving regardless of the reason. You can't dictate how they will feel or act on their end.

I would refrain from explaining if you can. If you feel you must explain, then it may come across as less offensive to avoid talk about trust -- or any other characterizations of your current company or its management or employees, really.

The second bold section of your post makes me wonder if you really want to convey, at least to your direct supervisor, that the company and/or its people aren't trustworthy in your eyes, so that's why you're spurning their offer. I don't really see a polite (well, non-offending) way to say that. My advice is don't try. Also, even if your manager is a close personal friend, you should assume that whatever you say to your manager will be conveyed up the chain and also spread around to co-workers (which may be what you want, but is definitely not helpful in maintaining bridges).

Good luck.

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2

Most other answers appear to touch on a point, but leave it in the background rather than bringing it to the forefront as the primary focus.

Rather than saying "I don't trust you to follow through", instead say, "I have been given an offer with a more immediate benefit to me."

By drawing the focus of the negotiation to a more immediate and firm future, you let them know that unless they are also willing to adjust their offer from a nebulous "maybe in the next few months", then you aren't interested in further negotiation.

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The really professional way

The professional way is to laugh into their face*. A maybe counter offer against something real right now? How dumb do they take you for? A promise is not a counter offer, a promise is nice when you work there anyway so you know that you're not off the radar, but it's not a counter-offer, because it is not an offer. And this is not even a promise to get something but a promise that maybe you get something, so basically it says nothing, because you may get something any time. You don't have to worry about burning bridges, they already burnt them.

Okay, look, to me trying to help people learn to be better at their job is part of being a professional, so I'd communicate their "failure" clearly to them. But indeed, a bit more nuanced and less confrontational than just laughing into their faces, as that would get them on the wrong foot and they would be all defensive (just laugh when you come home). But to be really professional, I'd firmly say that a) this is not really a counter offer it is an empty promise and you cannot base your professional decisions on that and b) the other offer is better and you'll just take that, conversation ended.

The "nice" diplomatic way

However, if you don't want to ruffle any feathers, then yes the easy, polite and "professional" way is to be nice and just say "thank you, but I've decided to leave" without any comments as to why. If they press on a "why" you can go with something like "I like the offer and I really think it's time for me to see some other places. This is final." unless you want them to improve their offer. Then just state that the other offer is better and they'd need to match or top it in writing (and with immediate effect). Personally I wouldn't want to work at that place after this cheap attempt to sway you, but you may have your reasons to stay if you can.

Context matters!

A lot of this depends on why they want to only give you the "possibility of a promotion" in a few months. If the company has a fixed career roadmap that mandates reviews for promotions every X months along with potential salary increases, then what they say is totally fine. They just follow the rules of the company and apply them also to rogues that don't want to play by those rules. Applause to them. But then either you totally ignored the company policy or they did a terrible job communicating that policy. If they out of the blue just go with this "in a few months" excuse of an offer then it's all on them (and this answer assumes this case as you did not mention any reasoning as to why they can only offer you this semi-promise). So before you go with either approach, make sure you got the context right. And if you are not sure, rather go with a softer (i.e. the diplomatic) approach.

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  • " it's not a counter-offer, because it is not an offer" Well i deleted my comment under the question because it was using those exact words. Wouldn't say it better. – Guiroux Jun 2 at 12:24
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Frame challenge:

As you are telling it, it is not a matter of trust, but a matter of better offer. The company B offers more money now, the company A offers the same, but months away, after upskilling (probably an additional effort from you and probably additional contract limitations) and "maybe". The offer B is better even if you are sure that company A will promote you later.

You can simply say that you like the other company offer better.

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Your desire to give them honest and constructive criticism is appalling.

They've been happily underpaying and denying you raises for how many years now?

Now that you're ready to move on they wish to keep you?

You've made note of how things like these don't go through as planned within the company, why do you think it will be any different from you.

You owe them one thing and one thing only:

After careful consideration I have decided to proceed with my resignation. I appreciate the offer.

Even if they did follow through with their counter offer, do you really wish to take on much more responsibility or just get extra money for similar responsibility?

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I'm guessing you may be a younger worker, possibly one of the first time that you've switched jobs?

There is this fairly strange (to me, at least) switchover point in job-change negotiations where you need to fundamentally pivot from being a "normal human being" (possibly considering yourself friendly with coworkers and manager) to something different, a very goal-oriented and cold agent in a negotiation. Being "normal human" and conversational and discussing your feelings at this stage is directly detrimental to your needs, and a company will actively take advantage of that.

Best option is to say absolutely nothing about why you're not taking your current company's offer.

Related, just repeat what your requirements would be to stay. "I will need a written guarantee of the promotion and raise on a specified date". Repeat, repeat, as necessary, do not elaborate your feelings around it.

I've also seen it suggested that you direct some responsibility for the decision to outside family or friends, e.g., "For the sake of my family, I need to take the guaranteed extra income". *

You might use the phrase, "It's just business, I'm sure you understand", which I expect manager-types to grok.


(*) Note that this is on Haseeb Quereshi's list of rules for negotiating developer job offers:

Rule #5 of negotiation: don’t be the decision-maker. Even if you don’t particularly care what your friends/family/husband/mother thinks, by mentioning them, you’re no longer the only person the recruiter needs to win over. There’s no point in them trying to bully and intimidate you; the “true decision-maker” is beyond their reach.

This is a classic technique in customer support and remediation. It’s never the person on the phone’s fault, they’re just some poor schmuck doing their job. It’s not their decision to make. This helps to defuse tension and give them more control of the situation.

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    Don't lie. If there is no family reason, don't make one up. – Hilmar May 31 at 14:08
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    I am not sure why you were downvoted so much. Details aside, the fundamental argument you are making is mostly sound. But yes, don't lie. Exaggerate if you must. – Mad Physicist Jun 1 at 19:58
  • Exaggerating and deliberately hiding that you are doing so is a form of lying. – Panzercrisis Jun 2 at 13:41
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    It's actually kind of hard for me to imagine that many people have absolutely no family or friends with whom they would discuss or coordinate a decision. It's s real head-scratcher why that's being taken as an unacceptable false negotiation point. – Daniel R. Collins Jun 2 at 15:01
  • @DanielR.Collins Well, for one thing most of your family, and especially your friends, don't have a commanding say in your career decisions. The only real people that do are your spouse, and maybe your parents. – DKNguyen Jun 2 at 19:54

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