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Think threatening to leave to get a raise is a good idea? Think again.

Today’s Careerealism T.A.P. question #382 prompted this post. You can go read the entire question here, but the gist of it is, “I’m underpaid. Should I threaten to leave to see if I can get more money?” Since I can only answer in 140 characters on Twitter, I decided to expand all the things wrong with this tactic here.

This question netted a visceral response from me because of my recruiting background and I don’t like the threat game. Either do it or don’t, but don’t threaten actions to get your way. The list of 10 reasons not to accept counter offers (below) harkens back to my recruiting days. Nothing is worse for a recruiter than a candidate using the recruiter and the hiring company as pawns in a game to get more money from his current employer. Whether a recruiter is in the equation or not, threatening to leave to is NOT a good strategy to extort a higher salary. (Yes. I said extort.)

You took the job at the salary you’re receiving. If it isn’t enough, if the scope has changed, if your contributions to the bottom line aren’t reflected in your compensation, then put together a sound presentation as to why a higher salary is in order. Have an adult conversation with your manager, offering point-by-point solid reasons why more money is warranted. Demonstrate the company’s ROI on their investment in you. If you don’t like the answer, thank him/her for the time and start your search – while still performing top-drawer work at your current employer. For now, they pay your salary. Respect that.

Don’t take a sissy approach, whining into your manager’s office saying, “Everyone else is making more money than me. It’s not fair. If you don’t give me more money, I’m going to start looking for another job.” (Looks pretty smary in black and white, doesn’t it?) Rather than figuring out ways to cajole a higher salary with groundless threats, put that effort into exhibiting your skills. Or use that energy to launch a job search. Either way, threatening your way into anything is never a good idea.


1. You made your employer aware you are unhappy. From this day on, your loyalty will always be in question.

2. When promotion time comes around, your employer will remember who is loyal and who is not.

3. When times get tough, your employer will begin the cutbacks with you.

4. Accepting a counteroffer (or a threat-based raise) is an insult to your intelligence and a blow to your personal pride: you were bought.

5. Where is the money coming from? All companies have wage and salary guidelines that must be followed. Is it your next raise early?

6. Your company will immediately start looking for a new person at a cheaper price.

7. The same circumstance now causing your dissatisfaction will repeat in the future, even if you accept a counteroffer or get the raise you “forced”.

8. Statistics show if you accept a counteroffer, the probability of voluntarily leaving in six months or being let go in one year is extremely high.

9. Once word gets out you bullied your way into a raise (and it will), the relationship that you now enjoy with your co-workers will never be the same.  You will lose the personal satisfaction of peer group acceptance.

10. What type of company do you work for if you have to threaten to resign before they give you what you’re worth????

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  1. Rosa Vargas says:

    I love this post, Dawn. You beat me to it. I thought about the fact that this topic needed more elaboration. However, I see now that I would not have done it justice. Excellent! Ha, ha! Great minds do think alike. (wink).

  2. Dawn, in these tough times, any employee who uses that strategy is likely to be shown the door. I can’t believe that anyone would not have the ability to figure the consequences out. This also brings back another consequence. Everything you do and say on the web can be found. Be careful of what you say on Facebook, Twitter, and any place out. A savvy employer can easily follow you. Whining in public is not good corporate policy.

    Great post, with your usual brilliant way of saying things to bring us all on board!

  3. dawnbugni says:

    Thanks Rosa and Julie.

    Like I said, threatening is never a good strategy — in an individual’s career or their personal dealings. Glad to see two respected career colleagues agree. Rosa’s right! “Great minds … “

  4. […] Bugni from Dawn’s Blog visits to suggest if you “Think threatening to leave to get a raise is a good idea? Think again.” Her charity selection is Monty’s […]

  5. Dan says:

    I unfortunately have to disagree in a practical sense – no, I don’t feel that it’s “right” to threaten to leave; but you should instead ask why they’re doing so. Quite often, especially in today’s economy, even companies who do very well are expecting their employees to take on more responsibility without compensating them. I can list at least a dozen people who in the last few months, their company have fired/retrenched their supervisor, given them the role, then expected them to accept little or no compensation.

    It’s not unusual at all for a company to try get the most out of an employee while paying the least they can get away with. In these companies – and I do not mean it’s all companies, there are some honorable employers out there – paying as little as you will accept is the practice. Speaking with a friend recently, he explained how his role is constantly shifting to add more responsibilities, more travel, etc; but he’s still earning a basic starting salary lower than three of the people that report to him. When he approached management about his package, he was told that’s all they could assign to him due to his title, which had not changed along with the new responsibilities (and before you ask, it was clearly stated it wouldn’t change). Ironically, when he picked up a job at another firm, the company suddenly asked what they can do to keep him.

    But I agree in principle that it’s not always a good thing, and by that I mean this. When you have to use leverage to get fair compensation, the company clearly doesn’t think you’re worth the effort to compensate fairly. Once you have to go to another employer to get what’s fair for the responsibility you shoulder; it is a good sign that your employer doesn’t value you. And that should be your first thought when the “negotiation” begins and the current company try to retain you.

    • Dawn says:

      Dan –

      You and I are really not that far apart on this issue. If threatening to leave is the only way for an employer to ‘get’ the value an employee brings to their organization, they probably won’t ever ‘get’ the value their employees bring to their organization. And their HR department might as well install a revolving front door. They’ll need it.

      That said, walking into someone’s office “demanding an increase or “I’ll leave” is not the way to approach the issue or convey value. If, as an employee, you feel you’re not compensated properly for the value you bring, and adult, professional, value-driven conversations don’t net proper result, then they should as your friend did: seek employment elsewhere. You said it eloquently, ” When you have to use leverage to get fair compensation, the company clearly doesn’t think you’re worth the effort to compensate fairly.”

      Thanks for commenting.

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