Golden handcuffs

中国日报网 2017-04-21 13:18



Golden handcuffsReader question:

Please explain this sentence: “Golden handcuffs are incredibly tough to break.” Golden handcuffs?

My comments:

It means that people find it very hard to leave well-paying jobs.

At least, that’s what golden handcuffs are supposed to mean. That’s what golden handcuffs are for.

Handcuffs, you see, are the ring-shaped metal shackles we see on a criminal. The policeman handcuffs the criminal so that he can’t use his hands. A prisoner in jail may get shackled at the ankles also in order to further impede his movement.

Anyways, thus shackled, one is unable to move as freely as he otherwise can.

That’s the idea of golden handcuffs being lucrative deals to keep employees from moving, golden signifying the lucrative nature of these contracts.

The idea, essentially, is this: make a pay package so sweet and rich that your best employees cannot refuse. And make it long term so that they’ll work for you, like, forever.

In other words, handcuff them with gold.

By definition (, golden handcuffs are “a series of raises, bonuses, etc., given at specified intervals or tied to length of employment so as to keep an executive from leaving the company”.

Golden handcuffs as a phenomenon are relatively new, becoming popular only in the 1990s coinciding with the Internet and bubbles, when executives began to secure exorbitantly large pay packages.

Now, golden handcuffs are tough to break for obviously reasons. If you need to work for a living, then you don’t mind having a pair of golden handcuffs safely secured on both wrists, do you?

No, you want to have them and keep them on, for life if that’s possible.

Well, maybe not for life – that may, after all, make one feel a wee bit like a slave in the old day.

All right, let’s read a few media examples of golden handcuffs:

1. Prime Minister Tony Blair today announced a four-point plan to bring secondary schools into the “post-comprehensive” era.

Speaking on the day of the launch of the Green Paper detailing the Government’s five-year campaign to drive up secondary school standards, Mr Blair said diversity “must become the norm, not the exception”.

He told a Downing Street seminar with headteachers and other leading educationalists that the past four years had seen a “step change” in primary school standards, and the Government’s ambition now was to bring about a similar improvement at secondary level.

As part of that, the Government would change the law to enable businesses and voluntary sector groups to take over the running of weak state schools, he pledged.

The best schools had a “strong sense of individual character and community responsibility” and were run by heads who acted as accountable “chief executives”, Mr Blair said.

“In all these respects, our best schools have moved decisively to a post-comprehensive argument. They take inclusion and equality of opportunity for granted but are highly flexible in the ways they meet them.

“They are not afraid to be different or distinct. They offer greater diversity and choice.”

In a detailed package being unveiled to the House of Commons this afternoon, Education Secretary David Blunkett was setting out plans to tackle teacher shortages by offering graduate recruits in subjects such as maths, science, modern languages, technology and English the chance to have their student loans paid off by the Government.

The “golden handcuffs” deal, to be introduced in September and costing £25 million in its first year, could see a typical student saving around £10,000 over 10 years, provided they stayed in teaching.

- ‘Golden handcuffs’ deal for new teachers,, February 12, 2001.

2. Golden handcuffs: the imaginary chains tying you to a well paying job. Have you ever said you’d love to do something else, but you can’t leave your job? You might unknowingly wear the cuffs.

The office cubicle that replaced your dorm room has now become your jail cell. You leave the cell at night, but you don’t feel you ever truly get away. You might not hate what you’re doing, but you definitely wouldn’t do it for free.

You’ve delayed the business you were going to start, the Peace Corp mission calling your name, and you’ve even abandoned the pledge to spend more time on yourself.

Watching the numbers on your paycheck climb is fulfilling, but is it enough? For now, it keeps you at your job; the golden handcuffs are tightening.

If you truly love what you’re doing, there is no such thing as the golden handcuffs. Your work is rewarding and your rewards reflect your efforts. However, if you’re unsatisfied at work but tied to it because of the money, you’re all too familiar with the cuffs and their powers.

You feel no other job can pay you more than or even as much as your current job. And quite frankly, you might need the money to pay for your current lifestyle. You know, the car, the condo, and the free furniture for 18 months… that you’ll soon have to pay for!

Larry Burkett says we spend the first 5-7 years of our marriage trying to attain the same standard of living as our parents – only it took them 35 years. I’m sure he meant it, but we start trying to match this lifestyle as soon as we have a decent job.

On top of your pursuit towards your parent’s standards, your success leads you to believe you deserve certain luxuries; your nice car, the new TAG watch, or designer clothes. Our family, friends, social networks and most of all advertising can reinforce these thoughts of entitlement.

So the question is: are the golden handcuffs tightening due to the amount of money you’re making or due to the increased standard of living you enjoy with the money?

In my opinion, it depends on the person, but it is probably a combination of both. Often times, as we’re moving closer to the corner office, we buy into society’s perceptions of our job status. Seeing the word attorney on your new business card makes you feel entitled to the new car.

Maybe your new co-workers all drive new cars and take a big vacation every year. Surely, if they can afford it, you can too. Plus, you don’t want to seem cheap around them.

It’s even worse for doctors, lawyers, and investment bankers whose status is somewhat determined by their total bling.

- Golden Handcuffs – why can’t I leave my job? By Dan Meyers,, May 16, 2011.

3. Economists go to great lengths to study both the rational and irrational aspects of motivation in commerce. What they rarely investigate are the more enduring aspects that humanity plays in motivations. For employees, this is vastly more important than financial decision making. An employee who spends 250 days a year with his employer, who spends more time at the office than with his or her own children on any week day, is investing most of their human experience with that employer. If the employer sees golden handcuffs as an incentive, then they communicate to that employee a very base relationship that fails to connect with a human experience.

Despite money being a large lever in our hyper-competitive Silicon Valley culture, many companies realize something more must be provided to prospective employees. Google offers the chance to help engineer global change. Apple brings employees into a realm of technical elegance. Facebook thrives on the art of interconnecting real people. These are good starts, yet they still miss the essence of humanistic employment.

Within each soul are aspects of how they relate to the world, and mainly to other people. Everyone needs to have a sense of value -- that they contribute something of worth. They need to feel appreciated and wanted. They need to feel safe. When one looks at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, these factors dot that pyramid. Money does not.

This is why golden handcuffs rust. They are not humanistic, but restrictive. They are designed to command obedience, not participation. Golden handcuffs imprison people, not elevate them. They ignore what lies at the center of the human heart.

- Even Golden Handcuffs Are Shackles,, December 27, 2016.


About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

(作者:张欣 编辑:丹妮)

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