Golden Handcuffs

Article byAshish Kumar Srivastav
Reviewed byDheeraj Vaidya, CFA, FRM

Golden Handcuffs Definition

Golden Handcuff refers to the employer offering a valuable incentive to the employee to bind them and stay in the company for an extended period. For an employee to stay with an employer, the latter should provide a financial incentive, and the former should be in a position to accept the incentive.

Why do Companies use Golden Handcuffs?

When an employer hires an employee, the company incurs costs even before performing any valuable duty. For example, the Company incurs a cost on hiring, onboarding, orientation, etc., which does not pay back to the company.

Now, to make profits from the employee, the employer must retain the employee for a certain period. To pull out parallels in financial terms, the initial costs on the employee are like fixed costsFixed CostsFixed Cost refers to the cost or expense that is not affected by any decrease or increase in the number of units produced or sold over a short-term horizon. It is the type of cost which is not dependent on the business more over which a monthly cost is a salary (which is the variable cost).

Now, if the employee has to provide services that meet the break-even pointBreak-even PointBreak-even analysis refers to the identifying of the point where the revenue of the company starts exceeding its total cost i.e., the point when the project or company under consideration will start generating the profits by the way of studying the relationship between the revenue of the company, its fixed cost, and the variable more for the company, he has to, first, stay long enough to do that. He offers an incentive, which pays off when he stays long enough – options that vest after a certain period or any other incentive. These incentives help the employer in holding on to the employee. How will an employer, without breaking the regulations, let the employee stay for that period?


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Example of Golden Handcuffs

Let us assume I am an employer and want to hire two people to whom I shall pay 5000$ a month. I will get an income of 7500$ per month from each of them, but that will happen only after three months. Hiring each employee would cost me around 7500$ – essentially, to hire, train, and put them into work.

If the employee leaves in 2 months, my net lossesNet LossesNet loss or net operating loss refers to the excess of the expenses incurred over the income generated in a given accounting period. It is evaluated as the difference between revenues and expenses and recorded as a liability in the balance more would be 10,000$ paid for the employee as a salary 7500$ invested in training this employee and another 7500$ in training an additional employee. To keep this employee working with me, I would give him options that vest at the end of 2 years – worth 10,000.

In these two years, I would be getting a 21-month profit from the employee of 52,00$. In this, I will pay the 10,000S to the employee as promised. It makes a situation where the effective efficiency has grown such that even if the total amount paid is high, the profits are equally higher.

Microsoft Example

Let us look at the following words from their investor relations report of Microsoft

“We grant stock-based compensation to directors and employees. On June 30, 2013, an aggregate of 425 million shares was authorized for future grants under our stock plans, covering stock options, stock awards, and leadership stock awards. Awards that expire or are canceled without delivery of shares generally become available for issuance under the plans. We issue new shares of Microsoft common stock to satisfy exercises and vesting of awards granted under all of our stock plans.”

This para is an excerpt from the Microsoft investor relations statement. If we go to the above link and read more about the options and vesting period, we can see it in detail. As a company gives more stock optionsStock OptionsStock options are derivative instruments that give the holder the right to buy or sell any stock at a predetermined price regardless of the prevailing market prices. It typically consists of four components: the strike price, the expiry date, the lot size, and the share more, more people tend to stay back with it. Microsoft, which is, as of July 22, 2019, biggest company in the world via market capitalizationMarket CapitalizationMarket capitalization is the market value of a company’s outstanding shares. It is computed as the product of the total number of outstanding shares and the price of each more, cannot keep employees to themselves without giving them a bit more pay than they need.

It might not be the company; recently, Elon Musk stated that he would be paid only when Tesla reached a one trillion-dollar company, which boosted the shareholders’ confidence. This statement shows another application of how to use incentives to hold on to people. The higher the cadre, the more the percentage of salary comes from the options – which are the golden handcuffs.


  • The advantages are there for both the organization and the employee. The employee can get lucrative pay packages and see his true worth in a company. The more the pay structure, the employee might stay longer with the company and work more for the company – this is what the company wants.
  • For companies, hiring and replacing executives or any other employee might be a difficult task to pull off. There is a lot of risk in hiring a new employee – especially when many other things are involved.
  • The companies can use it as a statement to provide the benefit of the doubt to the shareholders. As we spoke about, Elon Musk used this golden handcuff and handcuffed himself to Tesla. Since people believe Musk is the most crucial person in Tesla and he will be there for a long time, the share prices have risen. It is how companies can use golden handcuffs to make an impression.


  • The higher the pay packages, the more the employees will work for the money, not the job. The employees might not have the morality to work. It decreases the overall morality of the company and creates a tough situation for the management to handle.
  •   Someone can always offer better. The underlying assumption of golden handcuffs is that the company offers people a package that keeps the person out of moonlighting. However, if a company doesn’t realize a person’s real worth, the market will eventually determine the true value and offer to the person. In such cases, even golden handcuffs are not useful. Someone else can provide a better package deal.
  • The probability analysis of having such employees in the organization will be complicated. If we have 100,000 employees (like Microsoft) who all have options assigned to them, one fine day, all the options will vest, creating a sudden hike in people resigning


Golden handcuffs are for companies who can’t motivate employees with the type of work they do. They are like weapons – they can lead someone to a position of power or a disaster. Managers should be careful when using such options to hold on to them.

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