Using golden handcuffs in workplace role-play



Steve Jobs, was by many accounts and recent documentaries, not a very nice person. He was a genius and everyone respected that aspect of his being. But he was inconsiderate, he clamped down on charitable giving, and he was intensely intense. He was the personification of intensity. I cannot imagine what it must have ben like to work for him. I have worked for idiots and that is insufferable. I have worked for ego-manias and that is insufferable. I have worked for idiotic egomaniacs and that is just this shy of literally banging one’s head against the wall to just see if you have a brain left. I recently saw a meme on Facebook that noted “I back at my Ex and ask myself: Was I drunk the entire relationship?”

There are some jobs, where you have to ponder why you stayed so long and whether you were drunk the whole time there. Sometimes you stay at a job because of laziness to find a new job, inability to get a new one due to a bad economy or because you have been the beneficiary of a set of golden handcuffs.  Steve Jobs specialized in that.  Golden handcuffs are a type of financial incentives designed to motivate employees to stay with a company longer than they might otherwise do.  Now, that is the corporate version of golden handcuffs. In non-profits the golden handcuffs have a little less luster and sheen, but they exist, nonetheless. Usually, the big boss brings out the golden handcuffs as a way of cementing his or her ego.

Here are a few ways, that golden handcuffs manifest in the workplace.

  1.  Ridiculous Title.  We all know that titles are sometimes a dime a dozen in the workplace. I know someone who used to be the director of pen dispensing. This was at the US Department of Justice. In every workplace, there is someone with a title that makes you go hmmm?  I recently came across a “thinking partner”.  Yes, that is a real job now. If I am lucky I get to have one to just sit there and think with me. I am lucky because I can just think out loud. I am unlucky because that person gets paid a lot of money to just listen.  If you are fortunate, you will be handcuffed with such a title in the workplace as a way to retain your services.  Sometimes these thinking partners are also known as Director of Strategic Initiatives or Director of Policy. Mind you those are not ridiculous titles in themselves. But many people know what they mean. You are being tasked with playing a role that makes the boss feel better and allows him or her to feel important with such titles as direct reports.
  2. Fake Project. Believe it or not, there are times when a boss gives a project to a team member that is not really meant to come to fruition. They just want someone to play the part of project manager.  And in doing so, you retain staff. That is, they are retained until they realize there is no real project. It is giving power to reiagn over nothing but air. Reminds me of that movie Office Space where one of the characters is relegated to the basement and thinks he still works at the agency when he has, in fact, been fired.
  3. Extra Vacation Days. I have seen some managers reward staff with extra vacation days that they do not report. It helps the staff feel important to be in cahoots with the boss and they get time off. It’s not a bad gig. The problem is when that staff person is told to send a ridiculous email to the team that they will be working from home on a major project (see above) for the boss.  Everyone knows that is not real and that the person is staying home but it is a role to play.
  4. Being part of the inner circle. Sometimes, it is not about being paid a ridiculous amount of amount. It is about ridiculously being part of the boss’ inner circle. By making certain individuals feel so special, these employees stay on and on and, at times, never leave. They don’t get real work, or respect, but they get to go with the boss to a gala or a press conference. That particular handcuff is very enticing to those that get caught up in it.  They play the role of confidant, lackey and believer.


If you ever find yourself in such a situation, unlock those cuffs, run and never look back.




4 replies »

  1. Some people’s scheming never ceases to amaze me. I have done quite alot of volunteering at my kids’ school and an advantage of that is being part of that inner circle, which I liked. It gave me a sense of belonging and I could also help others to feel included. I guess I like everyone to feel a part of things and don’t like exclusion. Such an awful form of bullying. For me, meaning is more important that power.
    xx Rowena


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