Few things in life are harder to resist than a large pile of money. The temptation is even greater when the only thing you have to do to get it is... Nothing! This exact situation is experienced by hundreds, perhaps thousands of people every day in the form of a counteroffer designed to keep them from leaving for a different company. Accepting such an offer is unwise and leads to all sorts of problems.
The original problem, the one which motivated you to search for another job, isn’t solved. You are dissatisfied with your current employer; your boss is a jerk and the commute is horrendous, or you are stuck in an undesirable role doing something you don’t enjoy. Money won’t solve these problems, it may make them fade into the background for a while, but as soon as the novelty of your new paycheck wears off, and it will, all the old frustrations will resurface. The difference is that this time, you are beholden for the big chunk of money just handed to you. How long do you have to stick around before you have “earned it,” in their eyes, and yours? It isn’t hard to imagine how leaving anyways six months after accepting the counteroffer would be considered shady by most people, and probably destroy any relationship you could have had with your old boss. Nobody wants that. More money just makes unhappy people wealthier.
Stalled career growth. Management will always remember your canceled exit attempt and their perception of your loyalty to the company will be tainted by this history. If you are up for promotion alongside someone who doesn’t share this background, the odds are good that the candidate that seems like the better long term investment will be chosen over the one that looks like a flight risk.
That’s not fair! There is the potential for jealousy among colleagues. This is particularly applicable to counteroffers because often the person continues to do the same job in the same way as before. The only apparent reason they are now making more money is that they threatened to leave. This can lead to resentment and tension in the office and an uncomfortable work environment.
The placeholder counteroffer. Hiring and training new people is expensive, even more so when the situation is desperate; “a good employee has just left for another firm and we need a replacement now!” Sometimes the boss will write up a nice offer designed to retain the wavering worker just long enough to secure some breathing room and allow the company sufficient time to locate a replacement. Once a suitable stand-in is found and hired, management will either lay off the recipient of the counteroffer, (“you’re too expensive”) or make work so miserable that they quit. Companies want you to leave on their terms, not yours. Be the captain of your own career, don’t let others determine when you switch companies, that is your sole prerogative.
Negative impression on potential employers. Nobody likes being used. It is easy for a company to feel that their offer has been leveraged for a counteroffer. This is a bad situation if it happens to you. Most markets are can be small and it doesn’t take many repetitions of this behavior before a person develops a reputation, the result of which is greatly reduced prospects for future employment diversity and mobility in the marketplace. This is a bad thing, options are always good to have by any standard and you don’t want to limit your possibilities for the future.
Some may say they took a counter-offer and it worked out fine, it happens. People also drive the wrong way on one-way streets without a catastrophic accident, but that doesn’t mean it is a good idea. Don’t fall into the trap of using the exception to justify the general rule of wisdom, it will get you into trouble.