How to Unlock Golden Handcuffs in Pharmacy


The term golden handcuffs" describes highly compensated employees who stay at a corporation instead of moving from company to company.

I recently spoke with a pharmacist who was unhappy with his current job. He had been in the same position since he graduated from pharmacy school several years ago.

He was happy with his salary, yet increased responsibilities, longer hours, and the sense of dissatisfaction left him feeling trapped. He rationalized that because of his years of employment, high salary, and great benefit package, it was easier to stay in his current position than to find a new job.

I told him that he was wearing golden handcuffs. His puzzled look prompted me to explain.

First introduced in the mid-1970s, the term “golden handcuffs” describes highly compensated employees who stay at a corporation instead of moving from company to company. Incentives such as stock options that were given to employees had to be repaid if they left before a specified time period, with the idea that the person would stay in that workplace for years to come.

Today, the idiom takes on an even broader meaning that affects employees in a variety of workplaces, including pharmacies.

Golden handcuffs are double-edged swords. They can be good things if you love what you do and are financially stable, but they can be constrictive if your finances are unstable and you are not happy with your job.

Perks such as reduced on-site daycare, an annual bonus, a social life centered around your co-workers, an approaching retirement date, or a 401k matching program with a long vesting period keep us in place when we really want to move on.

Getting locked into golden handcuffs usually begins early in one’s pharmacy career. After being offered a very competitive salary, new graduates after create a lifestyle around that income, despite student loans and other financial commitments.

Then, additional loans in the form of car payments and mortgages are acquired. Credit card debt also increases. Before long, one is living paycheck to paycheck.

Rather than working on downsizing debt, the pharmacist takes on a part-time or on-call position at another institution to compensate, only to damage his or her work-life balance even further while feeling like a hamster on its wheel.

As time goes on, personal situations contribute to the tightening of the golden handcuffs. A family with a single income, a kitchen remodel, divorce, college tuition for the kids, or financial help for aging parents keep you bound to your job and in constant fear of what would happen if you lost your job or actually moved on.

Much worse, you change your workplace persona to status quo. You no longer question authority, speak your mind, or choose to lead.

The good news is that you can unlock the golden handcuffs and regain control of your professional freedom.

First, examine your finances. If you are living a paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle, cut your spending. This may range from something as drastic as moving to a home with lower mortgage payments, to trading in your SUV for a more economical pre-owned vehicle, to something as simple as cutting down on takeout meals.

When it comes to finances, it is very important to have your significant other on board with the process. Share your plan, seek his or her support, and establish a budget to help eliminate current debt and complement savings.

Regaining financial security can give you more confidence and self-esteem to take back your true professional self without fearing the “what ifs.” Then, you will no longer feel shackled to your current position.

The other aspect in unlocking the golden handcuffs deals with how you perceive your pharmacist position in terms of salary and prestige. Your golden handcuffs may be your fear of earning less money or respect in a more satisfying position.

Regrettably, our culture equates success with such criteria. In the blockbuster career book Do What You Love, the Money Will Follow, organizational psychologist Marsha Sinetar describes how most of us believe our jobs are a means to an end to fulfill responsibilities to our families and creditors, to gain material comforts, and to achieve status and recognition. Over the years, Sinetar has discovered that that the achievements of those who are successful are directly related to the joy they derive from their work.

As you begin to examine the circumstances that have locked you in golden handcuffs, you will uncover the key that will free you.

Unlocking golden handcuffs is scary because change and transition in the world of work is scary. It may take time, planning, and persistence on your behalf, but once you believe freedom is a possibility, you will find a way to make it happen.

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