How tight are those golden handcuffs?

Today I spoke to a friend (let’s call her Mel) about whether she would take a pay cut in exchange for a job that would be more rewarding. Mel is a friend who really analyses her impact on the world, and worries a lot about whether she is making her biggest contribution.  

She works in tech, and is earning about £70k a year. She’s love a job that was more in-line with her passions and values, but fears that jobs in the sector that interests her would knock £20-30k off her salary.

So – would it be worth the trade off?

What are your values worth, anyway?

A study in 2018 said that happiness in the UK is affected by increased income but only up to earning £43-54,000 a year; after which it has no effect on average – but we need to bear in mind that this is highly subjective.

For Mel, her salary represents both what she can do now, but also her safety net for the future both for herself and her family should they need it. She’s not particularly happy in her work, so this is a typical ‘golden handcuffs’ situation – she’s almost obligated to stay by the level of income, when taken into account with her need for it.

On the other hand, I’m lucky enough to have a family situation in which (hopefully) they will never need a safety net from me, and in fact are likely to leave me with inheritance that will help me when I’m older, should life follow that course.

In other words, I have the massive privilege of being able to de-prioritise income in favour of ethics and self-actualisation; whereas Mel needs to earn more money to reach the bar at which she knows she’s earning enough to be able to stop striving for more.

It served as a reminder to me to get off my high horse when thinking about the choices I’ve made that have enabled me to build a career that’s focused on the charity and non-profit sector. Yes, I’m still making money; but not as much as I could be by focusing on other clients. But is this because I’m inherently a better, more values-focused person? Probably not. If I were exactly the same person in terms of my values and ethics, but came from a background without the privilege I have now, I’d have to upwardly prioritise my income as it would impact more on my future.

In other words, the career choices of others are not necessarily morally black and white, and they certainly don’t happen in isolation.

They are influenced by their financial needs and level of existing privilege.

Maybe the golden handcuffs are tighter on some than they are on others.

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