The Golden Handcuff: An Explanation of My New Favorite Business Term 

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The tradition that is white collar corporate ladder climbing is one of planned promise.  By that, we mean that accepting a job at X, perseverance should lead you to Y and eventually Z with the proper work ethic and performance. It pairs nicely with the idea that growth requires patience, a truth that is accurate in both business and personal circumstance.  While many deem the sacrifice of time as warranted for the financial promise provided via management, it is disturbing to think that time is a constant in the equation of fiscal success.  Why should time be a requirement to receive a reward ? Why must one “stay put” to receive the fruit of their labor?  While every business venture is different, most maintain a common thread that to receive, one musn’t leave. For the benefit of the company, keeping human capital is obvious. For the devout employee, playing the waiting game to receive what you have earned is a paradigm that the seasoned entrepreneur would call “the golden handcuff.”

gold·en hand·cuffs


  1. used to refer to benefits, typically deferred payments, provided by an employer to discourage an employee from taking employment elsewhere.

As the name suggests, a golden handcuff is a paradox that explains being tied down to a desk as one awaits money.  This arises in business throughout every sector, but it’s most prominent in sales and corporations that have a promotion-based career track.  Think Jerry Maguire when he has a public outburst in the middle of the office, declaring that he is leaving before daring to ask the white washed corporate Joes, “who is coming with me.”  Like deer in headlights, the suits meet his gaze in a dumbstruck awe, aghast at his blasphemous decision to abandon the promise of fame and fortune. All but one remains silent, and the outliers rebuttal to Jerrys invitation is that she would, if she “weren’t 3 months away from the pay increase.”  With that, the expectations of an assumed future at the firm sidelined her from abandoning ship with the about-to-boom Maguire.  Folks, that is the golden handcuff.  Dorothy Boyd…thank you.


A double edged sword ! A blessing and a curse ! A wolf in sheeps clothes ! Substitute the monicker of your choice, but the golden handcuff is the corporate trap that anchors people to their desk with the mouth of a hungry hungry hippo, snapping at the game pieces that are bonuses, vacation days, promotions, and the ever elusive salary increase. Now don’t get me wrong, as a salesman who’s commissions are spread over month long intervals, I have grown akin to the waiting game as patience is my best virtue to remedy the lag time between pay checks.  I know it’s coming and my accountant has it on the income statement….but it ain’t mine yet. Like a trust fund or pension, we drag on as we await for the world to give us the key to our own lock box, a reality that unfortunately most businesses operate within.  It’s yours, but not yet for the taking.


Let me attempt to change the negative stigma here by saying that the golden handcuff is the circumstance most people actually WANT to find themselves in, and I’ll include myself in that populace. Steady, confirmed income is why we work. It’s the metric that allows us to plan and shape our lives. As we all hunt for financial freedom, the golden handcuff is what keeps a worker driven and the appetite alive to create even more success.  Now, I’m not trying to be the holier-than-now renaissance man advising you to quit your job and find greener grass…I’m the realist that is going to insist that you understand the jail cell your golden handcuff fixes you too!


We all work hard and seek recognition.  If your boss isn’t providing you that, well hopefully your pay checks show some form of reciprocity. The golden handcuff is commendable, if it locks you somewhere you actually want to be.  The investment banker understands the 10 year career path to achieve partnership; if they love what they are doing, then they should feel free to slide their wrists between the chains and throw away the key.  The doctor who is financing his 8 years of med school tuition knows the hardship that are to come; if he is truly down to take the hippocratic oath, then he may slide his wrists in.  If the aspiring NBA player must go overseas for 3 years of development, yet his dream was always to be a Chicago Bull, then he too, should slide em’ in.  Look, if time is going to be part of the equation and the seeds don’t bear fruit until years down the line, no one will find fault in watering a crop…unless you know within yourself that you are tilling the wrong farm.  Before you are bound by some twisted form of financial holy matriMONEY, ask your self the million dollar question….is it worth it?



Opportunity cost is the economic term that illustrates sacrifice.  In choosing one thing, we neglect another…that is a fact. As we search to balance the crooked scale that is career fulfillment and financial stability, the golden handcuff acts as the perfect barometer for that almighty equalizer.  Golden handcuffs are easy to find as possibility is infinite, a fleeting idea we know as the American Dream.  Finding a the situation that you can wholeheartedly lock yourself too is the real holy grail.  So, before you count your chickens set to hatch in the distant future, make sure you’re cuffed to happiness. If not, you will have made your deathbed and will be forced to lay in it !

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