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Nine careful ways to refuse a counter offer in Asia without burning bridges with your boss

A counter offer gone wrong

If you’re a banker in Asia and you’ve just landed a new job, there’s a good chance that your current boss will greet this news by making you a counter offer.

As we reported earlier this week, several banks are expanding in Hong Kong and Singapore as hiring levels pick up in the wake of bonus payments. At the same time, recruiters in Asia have noticed an increase in counter offers this month as banks try to retain the people they rivals are trying to poach.

You are advised to turn down most counter offers as they tend to be hasty stop-gap measures that benefit your boss more than they genuinely reward you. But in Asia, how you do this matters – an ill-conceived rejection may cause your boss to lose “face” (an ancient Chinese concept loosely translated as dignity, prestige or reputation).

“It’s important to consider how to preserve the relationship, preserve their face, especially in China, if you want to stay active in the finance industry,” says Sean Upton-McLaughlin, founder of the website “If you’re a foreigner in China, your boss can even delay your ability to change employers by holding a grudge and not signing your notice of resignation.”

It need not work out that way for you, however, if you follow the rules below and reject a counter offer without burning too many bridges with your boss.

Related articles: 

The ancient Chinese cultural concept that could save your banking career

Four banks that are recruiting in Asia and what this means for the job market

Eight awesome answers to the most critical interview question in Asian banking

1) Don’t fabricate to save face

“The biggest mistake in Asia is that too often a convenient face-saving story is told – taking a break from work, a family issue or something else completely unrelated to why you can’t take the counter,” says James Carss, managing director, Asia, at search firm Dryden Human Capital. “This may make your exit easier but it will cause problems if you turn up at a competitor a month later – your previous manager will feel betrayed.”

2) Don’t give the game away

While being honest that you’re moving to a competitor, don’t reveal many additional details. “Don’t make it easy for your boss to throw extra temptations into the counter offer,” says Darren Hutchinson-Hill, managing director of recruitment agency Glenhill Group in Singapore. “Remain in control and don’t volunteer too much information on the role, company and, more importantly, the salary.”

3) Do delay

If a counter offer has just been sprung on you, delaying your response by a day or two is a useful face-saving tool. “Don’t immediately answer as you might come across as too eager to leave and your reply not well thought-through,” says Claire Chua, manager, finance and accounting, at recruiters Ambition in Singapore. “Whether or not you have made your mind up already, the delay means you are giving your current employer face by appearing to take their offer seriously. It also gives your boss time to cool down and not see you offer rejection as a form of betrayal.”

4) Make your manager feel valued

To give further face, show that you value your manager’s efforts to retain you. “And wrap up the conversation by saying you would really value getting their blessings for moving to the new employer,” says Chua. “Say that it hasn’t been an easy decision, especially when the company has done so much for you and given you plenty of opportunities to grow your career.”

5) Always use polite words

Sugar coat your rejection in polite, face-saving words, adds Chua. “Depending on your relationship with each other and how open you both typically are, you could even say: ‘You know we have such a good relationship and have always been very transparent, therefore I do hope you can understand that it isn’t an easy choice for me’.”

6) But make the rejection irreversible 

When rejecting a counter never leave the door open for your boss to up their offer. If they do include extra sweeteners, never reverse your original decision, advises Paul Heng, founder of NeXT Corporate Coaching Services in Singapore. “‘I am truly appreciative of your kind offer but I have already accepted the new role and it would not be professionally nor morally right for me to reverse my decision’, is a good plain-vanilla approach,” he adds.

7) Don’t hide behind HR

You may need to postpone your rejection and cover it in pleasantries, but always do this face to face with your manager, says Upton-McLaughlin. Telling HR may seem like the easiest option, but it could result in a serious loss of face for your manager. “You don’t want to give the impression that you’re leaving because of the boss.”

8) Avoid getting angry

While you shouldn’t lie (see point 1 above) about your reasons for leaving, neither should you vent all your frustrations about the company or its staff. Try to focus instead on the positive reasons – the job opportunity ahead. “Be honest around reasons, but also be very professional and never make it directed at one particular person,” says Carss from Dryden.

9) Help in the transition

Let your boss know that you will ensure a smooth transition during your notice period and will be happy to identify and assess candidates to replace you. “Let them clearly know you are committed to delivering a proper handover in order to reduce any issues that may still have about the counter offer,” says Chua from Ambition.

AUTHORSimon Mortlock Content Manager

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