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Career Dream Killer Series Part 9: Golden Handcuffs – I Can’t Give Up What I Have


I’ve had many clients come to me after working with the same employer for 10 years or more, who tell me they’ve been beating themselves up for a year or two for not leaving. They tell me they haven’t been happy for a while but feel like they have it “too good” to make a change. They say they feel ungrateful when they can’t seem to appreciate how well their employer has treated them and don’t want to let them down by leaving. Perhaps they’ve outgrown their role or simply want to do something else, somewhere else but they feel tied to their current employer.

What I find incredibly interesting is that many of my very smart clients have never actually considered that their employer had put “golden handcuffs” on them intentionally. They didn’t realize that companies use this as a tactic to incentivize top-producing/high performing employees into staying with them long term. It can be a wonderful position to be in and feel good to be showered with things such as incentive compensation plans, stock options, share bonus plans etc. These make it a little more obvious that your employer is encouraging you to stick around but it might even be that you’re simply earning a salary with benefits, vacation etc. well above fair market value—your employer’s way of making you stay by offering you money you can only make by staying. As I said, these perks can be wonderful, until they start to feel like they’re not.

So, if you’re feeling like you’re bound by golden handcuffs, your employer’s plan might be working just as they’ve intended.

Here’s some of why they do it:

1. To reduce the risk that top employees leave prematurely or unexpectedly. Golden handcuff plans may offer some future compensation that you have to forfeit if you quit before retirement (or some other time frame) or if something happens like the company gets sold. These payouts can be BIG.

2. To protect their company from losing customers, other employees, or trade secrets in the event you have these relationships and information and decide to leave. There will probably be a legal agreement such as non-compete, non-solicitation, and non-disclosure clause that makes you second guess your options if you leave.

3. To provide a way for them as business owners to keep their top employees while they plan their exit or sell their company.“Stay bonuses” can help ease fears of high performers while business owners wind down their involvement and during the uncertainty of the sale of a business.

If you’re feeling like you're trapped by golden handcuffs, you might feel as though your choices for change involve either taking an income hit or continuing to suffer indefinitely. I’d like to tell you that your future likely doesn’t have to look quite so bleak.

Where I start with every person I work with is getting them to a place where they can actually understand what it is they want. We get to work to inject a new sense of purpose into your life. This is very likely at least part of what you feel is missing at work anyway. This will look different for everybody and will be unique to you. What I want you to understand is that you have options. You actually get to decide what you want when it comes to your future and your happiness. The trick is to start to open yourself up to this possibility.

This is what I do with people all day, every day. Help them see what’s possible. When you come to me and tell me that you’ve thought of and tried everything to change your situation, I’ll tell you this: You haven’t.

Find me over on Instagram or if you want to talk more, set up a time to chat!

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