Letting Go of the Golden Handcuffs | Jobs In MD

Letting Go of the Golden Handcuffs

Do you have a "great" job that you don't like, but you are afraid to leave it for whatever reason? Learn what's keeping you there and then discover what's most important in your life.


The term "golden handcuffs" is a phrase used to imply incentives given to executives to retain their employment with a company. In times of tough competition and turnover, golden handcuffs can be a means for employers to retain the best of the best.

Originally, the phrase "Beware the golden handcuffs" was applied to traditional jobs - not just those with stock options or super lucrative deals. The idea was that one is locked down to his/her job and is "handcuffed" per se. The idiom dates back to 1976 (according to Webster's New World American Idioms Handbook) and was stated by John Steinbeck, who described San Francisco as a 'golden handcuff' without a key.

Different for Everyone

The term can be expanded to mean when an employee stays in a job that they are unhappy in because of the perceived "golden handcuffs." I often hear this when I am meeting with someone who is unsatisfied in their career, yet they tell me that they cannot possibly leave their job because they would lose the benefits or bonuses or children's tuition or educational assistance or... and the list can go on and on.

If we are unhappy in a job and it is affecting our health, our relationships or our self-esteem, we must let go of those golden handcuffs. But how? It might be necessary to examine our golden handcuffs from a different angle to determine if what's holding us back is really true or not.

What We Have vs. What We Need

Let's take the benefits area for example. A client might state to me: "I will never get the benefits that I have here." My questions for this person would then be:

  • Is that true?
  • How do you know it to be true?
  • What do you need for benefits?
  • What alternatives can you think of in terms of your benefits?

Beginning by answering the very first question is a good start. This is a question first posed in the work by Byron Katie. Her approach is to consider the first question and then she encourages us to ask three more. (There is a worksheet available on her website).

Unhappy? Question Your Perceptions

Often, we stay in situation because of a perception that there is not a way out or that by leaving, we may not be able to find what we need. While "the grass may not be greener on the other side of the street," staying in a job that is creating a lot of unhappiness can lead to health issues.

Steps to Get Started

Begin today by looking at what is important to you in a job. What do you really need to have satisfaction in a job and what is the environment you want to be in? Identify what "golden handcuffs" may be keeping you from making a change. Create a vision for yourself and begin creating steps you can take to achieve that vision.

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Diane L. Dunton M.S., president of Potential Released Consulting Services since 1996, has over 25 years of business and HR experience. Diane has received specialized training with National Training Labs, the Gestalt Institute, Center for Creative Leadership, the University of Michigan's Organizational Career Development and the Center for Reengineering Leadership programs. She has developed programs for over 25,000 employees and leads more than 20 workshops annually offering executive coaching, professional individual coaching and programs on leadership and strategic planning. She has appeared before conferences of up to 9,000 participants and her work has appeared in both U.K. and U.S. management publications, including the Society for Training and Development's Team and Organizational Development Sourcebooks (2003-2006).Learn more about Diane at PotentialReleased.com.