"Better the devil you know"

“Say you won't leave me no more
I'll take you back again
No more excuses, no, no
'Cause I heard them all before
A hundred times or more

I'll forgive and forget
If you say you'll never go
'Cause it's true what they say
It's better the devil you know”

Or is it?

Here's the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth...


“an incentive from your current employer to get you to stay after you've announced your intention to leave.”

That's life...

As recruiters it’s a prospect we’re faced with during each and every recruitment process where the preferred candidate is actively employed.

Recruitment industry trainers spend hours pouring over sales techniques to prepare recruitment consultants for overcoming this ‘obstacle’. In their book of tricks you’ll find “the trial close”, “buy-back mitigation”, and they use phrases like “increase your chances of closing the deal/beating the competition/winning the candidate back”. *shiver*

I have sat in a room with recruiters who have verbally blasted candidates for accepting a counter-offer. They had been trained in a certain way, and wholeheartedly believed that candidates were screwing them over (and out of commission).

Don’t get me wrong, a candidate accepting a counter-offer from their employer at the final stage in a process is personally one of the most frustrating things that can happen. The fact it only ever happens when their manager is faced with a resignation really truly hacks me off the most.

But that's life.

My personal experience

In my career, I’ve probably experienced this around eight times. And on only two occasions has this worked out for the candidate in the way they were promised or expected.

Number 1 - My very first counter-offer situation

Great guy, he’d been with his employer since he graduated, and just felt a bit stale. He was 100% honest throughout the entire process, he told me what he was thinking at every stage, so when he was presented with his dream assignment (overseas, promotion and ex-pat package) he jumped at it. I was annoyed for all of three seconds, maybe even less.

I bumped into him a few years ago at a bar in town and he sheepishly asked if I was still his friend – “of course” I replied, “but it’s about time you started using me to recruit for your team (only half joking of course). He was absolutely made for that business; from the way he was wired to his personal communication style, his outside interests and his love of travel (they like to rotate mid-level managers frequently so this was ideal).

Number 2 - Senior HR Manager

Very similar story actually. She’d been with the same employer for a big chunk of her career, albeit she’d joined an SME which was acquired by a multi-national, which was then sold to a global corporate. She wasn’t sure she was suited to such a big beast of a business, and I had her an offer of a promoted position within a much smaller business, with the type of project work she was craving to get back into. But, when it came down to actually resigning, she couldn’t do it. The thought of leaving behind everything she’d worked for, and the people she’d essentially grown up with, was too much.

The reality was, as much as big corporate mentality did her head in, she knew the business, she knew the managers and she knew how to work that system to get things done. It really was a case of “better the devil you know”. Her career started flying shortly after, with a renewed sense of what was truly important to her.

What's your point?

The reality is, the only people who truly lose out in this situation is the potential new employer; they’ve often spent weeks, if not months, investing a great deal of time and resources in getting to that stage. More often than not, the process has put strain on their existing team who are a team-member down. Knowing they have to go back to the drawing board is frustrating to say the least, and it’s easy to blame the recruiter, or the candidate they believe has been deceitful during the whole process with the sole aim of achieving a salary increase. Again, in my personal experience, the latter is extremely rare (and you can often spot it a mile off from the very first call).

So, what’s my point you may ask?

Knowing that your employer was only willing to give you what you had worked hard for/deserved when they thought they were losing you is extremely frustrating. That bitter taste rarely leaves your mouth, even when you pick up your enhanced payslip and/or annual bonus. But sometimes it’s the right thing to do. It’s your decision and yours alone.

But remember - the easiest thing to do, is nothing. Taking a leap of faith and trying something new is hard, terrifying in some cases; both personally and professionally you worry you could be making a huge mistake. Sometimes, getting that extra couple of £k added to your salary can definitely make long hours more palatable.

But is that really enough? Was it really amount money all along? I’d say on the whole, probably not.

"Boomerang employees"

"An employee who leaves a company they work for, but then later returns to work for the company once again."

Better the devil you know

We’ve seen a significant increase in the number of accountants returning to previous employers, particularly those who trained in the profession who moved into industry when they qualified, returning for more structure and more varied work.

Let’s talk about all the reasons you might consider returning to a previous employer:

  1. Better the devil you know (yup…this song will be in your head until you hit the pillow tonight and I’m not even sorry). You’ve moved on but the grass isn’t any greener, and you realise that the things you previously complained about weren’t all so bad. You’ve made a mistake, and you want them to take you back.
  2. The co-worker/boss/manager/(insert here) who was the single catalyst behind your move, has left the business. You loved the company, the culture and the work, but they just rubbed you up the wrong way and the mere sight of their car in the car park turned your stomach before you had time to reach the front door every morning (we’ve all been there)! But now they’ve gone, and you want to explore options again.
  3. You have more experience now and understand where you add value. Sometimes we just need a change; sometimes there no “nail in the coffin” and it just feels like the right time to look for a new challenge. And that’s OK.
  4. It’s an easy way out of a bad situation. Imagine you’re desperately unhappy and would gladly pack up your stuff and walk out today if you didn’t have commitments. “Yes please!”

The list goes on.

Right or wrong?

But there’s still stigma attached to being a boomerang employee; co-workers looking at you with caution, wondering how much they’ve paid you to come back (again, I hear this one a lot and similar to the counter-offer situation). How will this be perceived by employers in future, the fact you left and came back to the same company - will they be worried you'll do it again? Will your employer have higher expectations because essentially, you're ‘tried and tested’?

We’ve seen many people return to previous employers over our years in recruitment, and for the most part, it’s worked incredibly well. OK, some have moved on pretty quickly, but in our experience, the candidate saw it as a quick fix to get out of a bad situation, rather than a viable long-term carer move.

Becca's parting advice:

My parting advice – whenever you’re making a big decision about your career it’s very important to ask the following:

- WHY am I doing this? Am I really unhappy about my workplace, or am I projecting from other areas in my life I’m dissatisfied with/stressed about? Very, very important so that you don’t end up equally unhappy regardless of where you work and end up “job hopping” in search of something that’ll make you happy.

- Is this (staying with employer/moving on) going to achieve what I really want? For example – I’m over-worked and missing out on quality time with my family. Does this opportunity offer me the flexibility I need to get balance back into my life, or am I just being tempted by the bigger salary and paid overtime to make up for it? Will I end up back in the same trap?

- Ok, it’s easy, but does that mean it’s best? It’s an easy option to stay with my employer/return to a company I know, but is that really the right option? It might take a little longer, and be more difficult in the process, but could I be happier somewhere else?

- Lastly, what’s my gut telling me? Just because you have an offer, doesn’t mean you need to accept it. You don’t need to resign from your employer just to see what they could do to retain you, you can just keep that other job offer under wraps, knowing you’re going to keep looking until something feels right.

At the end of the day, it’s your career, it’s your choice.

Oh, and finally…who is currently singing in your head? Kylie or Steps?