Golden Handcuffs: Do You Feel Trapped in Your Job?

At first, the salary takes the edge off. Being paid handsomely for your challenging job seems like fair compensation.  Initially, it gives you a little more financial freedom, and you enjoy the sweeter things in life that you can now afford.  You can breathe a little.  However, as time wears on the difference this makes begins to fade. The gruelling day to day reality of the job begins to bite and the extra cash is no longer enough of an inducement. You’re paid well for someone in your industry and you doubt that you’ll be able to earn the same salary elsewhere.  There’s just one problem.  You’re unhappy in your job and it’s making you miserable.

You find yourself playing the same internal dialogue about leaving: “I’ll think about it seriously when I’ve paid off the credit card…..”; “I need my bonus this year…..”; “I promised my family the holiday to Disneyland and the kids could go to that private school……”

The thing is you dread every day.  You have no passion, drive or motivation.  You feel unfulfilled and trapped by your salary. You’re well established, you have the pension ahead of you, the holidays and the bonus, but you are burned out and you feel backed into a corner.  In short, much as you’d love to, you simply cannot afford to leave a job that you hate.

Welcome to the world of golden handcuffs.

Do you know what handcuffs feel like? Your body’s constricted, uncomfortable, and it’s difficult to move. Handcuffs are created to make you powerless and easily led.

The corporate version of this is called the… Golden Handcuffs - They’re what keeps you shackled to a job.

You Never Even Noticed - Sometimes, the act of putting on the golden handcuffs takes place gradually, right beneath your nose. In other words, you put on your own golden handcuffs.

So, what are the Golden Handcuffs and what does it mean?

The golden handcuffs were originally created in response to a problem.

The most highly compensated employees would frequently job hop before the company felt like they’d earned back their investment. The company needed to protect company ROI (return on investment).

For years the golden handcuffs would appear as an incentive given to an employee which must be repaid if the employee left within a specified period of time.

The hope was the highly compensated employees would stick around and contribute in a big way.

But this narrow definition of the golden handcuffs is a conspiracy. The golden handcuffs don’t just affect highly compensated employees. They now impact all employees.

It only emphasises bonuses and share options and then leaves about at least 16other ways you can be cuffed to the corporation/organisation.

Trapped by Golden Handcuffs?

Many people feel firmly trapped by their golden handcuffs.  They feel cemented in and believe that they have no choice: there is nothing that can be done.

This is actually not true. It’s all boils down to perspective – and we certainly have control of this.

The reality is that many of us have a warped relationship with financial reward that we fail to notice. Because of this we often get stuck in a negative cycle.


Do you feel stuck at your existing job – and not just because of money? You might be caught with the modern version of golden handcuffs. Let’s call them rose golden handcuffs, shall we?  Because we all know I LOVE LOVE LOVE rose gold!

These cuffs are golden because they usually show-up as attractive, beneficial, and potentially lucrative. But these cuffs are designed to take away your freedom and they’re so common that every employee wears them.

AsI said, the traditional definition of golden handcuffs from the 1970s includes employees feeling stuck by the money and benefits companies throw at them, incentivising them to not move to another company. Golden handcuffs might come in the form of salary, shares, health and wellness benefits, bonuses, perks paid out on the backend of one’s career or tied to tenure.

My modern-day definition includes other non financial benefits or intangible qualities that tie people to their existing jobs. These include status, title, skill, fear of starting over, and being trapped in others’ definition of success.Just like rose-coloured glasses, rose golden handcuffs represent a false sense of beauty or success.

In short, most of what comprises rose golden handcuffs is self-induced vs company created. The good news is that once we recognise false feelings of contentment and security, it makes escaping to do something more fulfilling truly possible.

Finding My Fulfilment

I know the pain and the shame of not being fulfilled by a seemingly great job and life and being handcuffed – literally!

Escape (or Loosen) Your Rose Golden Handcuffs

Once you understand that’s what keeping you at a job doesn’t fulfil you, it’s time to think about what other options exist and how you could move to something that gives you more joy. Here are four tips for going through this process:

Examine what success means to you. That’s right, you! It’s likely you’ve been living a life according to other people’s definition of success, including parents, friends, neighbours, not to mention society and social media. Consider whether everything you’ve accomplished professionally genuinely makes you happy or just “looks good” to others. Ask yourself, if you had the freedom to live your ideal life, what would make you most happy? Believe that getting closer to that vision is a possibility. I’m a big believer that all plans start with a vision.

Alway shave a Plan B. Think about if you weren’t at your existing job. What would you like to do – and how would it fulfil your personal definition of success. Again, all plans start with a vision. Unsure of what you’d do? Check out my blog, Focus on the Journey not the Outcome, to learn how to get in touch with the things that bring you joy and meaning.

Start a side hustle. Side hustles are great ways to test aspects of your Plan B while still having the security of your steady wage. Think of a side hustle as a hobby that you get paid for. How much you get paid isn’t the point, taking action is. Learning how to monetize something more aligned with your interests, passions and personal definition of success will allow you to see fulfilling possibilities outside of your traditional job or career. 

Invest in cultivating your network. If you decide to leave your existing job to strikeout of your own or to something different, you need to rely on your network.Who you know, and the help they can give you, is paramount to your success.Networking means more than passing out business cards, it means having trusting relationships with people that will help, support, and vouch for you. Building a deep network takes work, so start early and never stop developing real connections with all sorts of people, not just in your current industry. Cast abroad net of positive, interesting people from all walks of life. You never know how or when you will tap into those relationships.

The good news that I share with you today though is that you can actually experience freedom while wearing the rose-golden handcuffs.

And once you realise how you’re locked in you can start making choices along the way that are aligned with the career and life you want most.

You can show-up at work on your own terms.

You can avoid the destructive toll the handcuffs take on yourself, your family, and your own dreams.

The Consequence of Wearing the Golden Handcuffs

Understand how serious the consequences are for you.

Is there something holding you back from being courageous at work and discovering how you could be at your best.

Are you fearful of doing anything that could “upset the apple cart” and result in humiliation, never getting promoted, or losing your job?

The rose-golden handcuffs are effective at keeping you from leaving, but they also keep you locked into a weaker mindset of…

Survive vs Thrive

Ironically, are you showing up at work to keep from losing, but never to win.

Are you playing the safest game possible versus pressing to find where you could make a bigger contribution.

So for me and likely for you too, the rose-golden handcuffs often generate behaviours that cause you to makes less (not more) of an impact like when:

You say “Yes” when you really “No”

You don’t speak your mind or offer a radical idea that could improve things

You keep your head down in staff meetings.

You don’t take your vacation because you’re afraid you’ll miss something important

You don’t lead

You don’t take a risk

You sacrifice time with your family and friends for work

You put your own career dream on the back burner.

Maybe I’m just paranoid but it seems like someone doesn’t want you thinking about all of the other ways you’re locked into your job.

The reality is that the rose-golden handcuffs get stronger and tighter:

The longer you’ve worked for an organisation / organisation

The better you’ve performed

The higher you go

And these apply to everyone.

By broadening your definition and putting everything else under the microscope you start to gain awareness and control of how you’re working.

Here are 18 Ways You Wear the Rose-Golden Handcuffs Golden Cuffs

Use this list below to help you identify your own rose-golden handcuffs.

I’ve used my own personal experience to rank them from the weakest form (like a nice perk) to the strongest form of rose-golden handcuffs that keep you trapped.

I realise that the rose-golden handcuffs show up differently for everyone, and I hope you’ll consider that in going through the list.

Add up how many of these apply to you:

Free coffee

Free snacks

Free workwear wardrobe

You use your company issued mobile phone for personal phone calls

You use your company issued email address for personal emails

Company paid car and fuel

Your best friends are in your office / workplace

A business card from a company with a superb reputation you love showing off at corporate and networking events

A huge annual bonus that keeps you hanging on for just 1 more year

Further education – University tuition plan reimbursement plan that you’re contractually obligated to pay back if you leave in the next 5-years

A great medical insurance plan

Share options with a long vesting date

Dependable weekly/fortnightly/monthly wage automatically deposited into your bank account.  Knowing the exact amount of money that will be flowing into your bank account every month is a huge comfort.

Superannuation contribution matching with a long vesting period

You’ve almost made retirement and need to stick it out for a pension

9 Things that Tighten the Rose-Golden Handcuffs

While Corporate has multiple ways to apply the rose-golden handcuffs, there are apects of your personal life that can make them even tighter.

If any of these below apply to you, add 5 extra points to your total score:

1. Single parent income

2. Kidsin braces

3. Kids in university

4. House poor

5. 2 car payments

Constructing your lifestyle around an income and your barely scraping by

Your own parents worked for corporate too and that’s all you know

Having no back-up income strategy

Not realising that you always have a choice.

So how to Break Free from the Golden Handcuffs

Now tally up the number of items from above and take your next step based upon the Rose-Golden Handcuff Scale below:

1-5points – FREEDOM FIGHTER – Freedom never tasted so good.  You’re probably sitting on a beach somewhere having a cocktail. Have another one me!

5-10points – PAROLED – You’re not shackled, and you’re making a conscious choice to work in the sector you’re in.  Get a boost from reading some of the outstanding self-development books out there and readily available online.

10-20points – WORK RELEASE – You’re out on a temporary work release hoping to keep working on your own terms, but you know deep inside that you’re returning to the big house. You’re at the crossroads of whether to stay or make a jail break. Suggest you book yourself a call with a Career Coach – signup to make contact with me and we can have a chat.

20+points points – LIFER – You’re in for the long haul but don’t give up hope!  Start experiencing more freedom and aliveness right where you are. Sign-up for 30-min quick fire session with me to help you get your best next move.

So where do you fall on the Rose-Golden Handcuff Scale?

What has it meant for your career?


Rose-Golden handcuffs are a choice.

Some people might struggle to accept this but it’s true.

It’s up to you to decide what you want.  Do you want to continue to chase the big bucks or do you want something else potentially more fulfilling?  At the end of the day this is a personal decision and there is no right answer.  It’s totally up to you to decide what will make you happy.

It’s important that you take the time to realistically consider all of your options – often there are more available to you than you might initially realise.  It might not be easy, but there are other ways to find happiness beyond your salary and bonus package.

Has this resonated with you? I’d love to hear from you. Post a comment and let me know.