Golden Handcuffs first introduced in 1976, are financial allurements and benefits that have the objective to encourage highly compensated employees to remain within a company instead of moving from company to company (opposite of a golden parachute).

When Michelle started the new job she was more motivated to do well than she ever will be again. She accepted the job because it was a good fit for her education and who Michelle wanted to be. The managers seemed like people she would enjoy working with. The workplace was innovative. Employees didn’t isolate themselves in an office or one cubical, but got to work in groups doing projects together. That variety in meeting and working with others seemed appealing. And the benefits were amazing – health care, 401K, unlimited time off, free parking, discounts to many activities Michelle enjoyed doing, and even help with college costs. The money was good, really good. What else could anyone ask for? 

So Michelle did the job well, even exceeded productivity and profit expectations. Michelle was recognized for the output she and the team accomplished. Michelle worked long hours but it did not matter. She liked the work. By making friends at work, she socialized by doing the work together. When they were not on the job Michelle and her friends were thinking and talking about the work.

Life seemed good until it didn’t. 

Michelle met some friends outside of work, but did not have time to socialize with them. They really could not understand that Michelle’s work was different. It required a lot of her. The creative workspace soon felt chaotic. Michelle wondered if anyone really creates independently except by taking work home. That unlimited vacation time was rarely used. Michelle could not take time off – there were deadlines that needed to be met. So Michelle kept working hard, meeting other’s expectations of her. In another year Michelle would get her bills paid off and have a very nice financial portfolio. Her motivation to stay at work shifted away from self-actualization to wanting more money.

Life changed even more.

Michelle were so tired that all she did was work, eat, and sleep. She ate on the run from home to work and work to home. Even when Michelle got more than five hours of sleep she woke exhausted. Focus on details became difficult. She was irritated with small problems and people who did not have the same work ethic. Michelle quit visiting family or even closest friends. She was anxious about letting people down at the company. Others noticed she was quick to anger when someone asked why Michelle was working so hard. Michelle could not remember the last time she did something she really enjoyed. Neither could she recall her personal goals. Michelle was exhausted all the time. She began to think there was something wrong with her. It might be burnout. She heard the term a lot lately.

Then there was the awakening.

Something bad happened at work and Michelle was blamed. No one had her back. Michelle’s colleagues and managers retreated from the situation. She was confused and angry. She had given up a life for this company, and this is how she was treated? And there was no one to talk to about it. Friends had moved on and family no longer called. Michelle realized all that she had given this company was no longer important. They really did not care.

It is difficult to imagine that “something bad happening at work”, a layoff, or being passed over for a promotion could be a lucky break. But for many like Michelle it is. It will take a crisis for Michelle to seek help in getting her life priorities straight, to become who she really wanted to be, and to feel well again. And it will require taking stock of how she got to this point.

This story captures some origins and effects of burnout. If your story is too much like Michelle’s, you must make some changes in yourself. One of my go-to sources on burnout, and frankly most things medical, is the Mayo Clinic website. They suggest handling burnout by:

  • · Manage the stressors that contribute to job burnout.
  • · Evaluate your options.
  • · Adjust your attitude.
  • · Seek support.
  • · Assess your interests, skills and passions.
  • · Get some exercise.
  • · Get some sleep. Aim for at least 7-8 hours each night.

Sound easy? It is not. The first step in changing bad habits is recognizing them and their triggers. Get back to the people who care about you for life, not just what you can accomplish. Find an accountability partner – someone to honestly tell you when you are slipping back toward Burnout.

This article by the Mayo Clinic experts may help. Read it often.


  • Leatha Ritchie

    Leadership Development Writer and Coach at LPR Consulting

    Leatha Ritchie serves as principal consultant and owner of LPR Consulting. Leatha is a certified Gallup® Strengths Coach, facilitator of The Change Cycle™, with training in Coaching from ATD, and is certified as an assessor for Predictive Index. She has extensive experience in training and development of current and high potential leaders with an emphasis on training that accompanies coaching or mentoring. Leatha’s particular area of expertise is examining and improving new leader orientation, succession planning, and programs for good leaders to become great. It takes passion, resources, and direction to develop as a leader. Leatha’s articles and blogs bring tools, inspiration, and experience to the learner. Previous to this role Leatha served as VP Operations Leadership Strategy & Development at Bright Horizons, a leader in the early education field. Her roles as Regional Manager, Director of Regional Manager Development, and Division Vice President gave her unique talent in recognizing challenge and growing leaders to confront and managing through while improving the business. Often Leatha was tapped to assess challenging organizational situations then develop systems, resources, and provide training to improve outcome. This role took her throughout the United States, England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, and Guam. Leatha holds a bachelor degree in history with a minor in early childhood education from Meredith College in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she also received her Master of Business Administration.