Golden Handcuffs: Avoiding the Pitfalls of an Unusually High Salary

OutlierGolden Handcuffs: Avoiding the Pitfalls of an Unusually High Salary
By Jackie Schaffer

In Outliers: The Story of Success Malcolm Gladwell identifies three qualities of work that create satisfaction:

  1. Autonomy
  2. Complexity
  3. Connection between effort and reward.

After reading Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers,” it’s the third quality that I want to examine a little deeper. Connection between effort and reward is a quality that comes in several forms like compensation, benefits, praise, and titles. Of the four, compensation is the one that can get a little tricky. We all appreciate getting paid more money, seeing our bank accounts grow and hearing that extra cha-ching when opening our wallets.

Sometimes our organizations pay us above market norms. Which is great when you are fully satisfied with your job, and you see a long-term future with that employer. But if you aren’t happy with your job, higher-than-market compensation can be like wearing a pair of golden handcuffs. They’re gold like money—which is good, but handcuffs because it’s difficult to go anywhere else and get similar pay. You’re basically handcuffed to your organization.

I often use an analogy of a $100,000 window washer. No one else is going to pay a window washer $100,000, but because she has been working for the same organization for 20 years without her salary increases being capped, her compensation grew outside of market salary ranges. If that same window washer wanted to try another career or change the organization she worked for, it would be very difficult financially for her to do so.

The point is not to turn down increases or avoid being paid above market; the point is if you’re not satisfied with your job, you need to do something about it before you are handcuffed to the job by money. Don’t wait until you are making $70,000 to think about changing careers. It’s difficult to cut your pay by 50% in an effort to try something new. If you go from earning $50,000 down to $40,000 to start a new career path, it’s much easier to stomach (not fun, but definitely easier). It’s essentially, short-term pain for long-term gain.


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About In-HOWse Guest Jackie Schaffer
Vice President and General Manager of Cella Consulting Jackie Schaffer, is a former in-house leader who has consulted for teams of all sizes, including Fortune 500 clients, government entities and educational institutions. Cella helps creative leaders and their teams identify and execute strategic priorities, so they can increase their effectiveness and focus on creating high-quality creative.