Taking Off the Golden Handcuffs

I learned the meaning of “golden handcuffs” today.

I was “walked down” to Human Resources this afternoon to discuss my resignation. It was about time – I submitted it 1.5 weeks ago, but it wasn’t turned over to HR until yesterday… It’s not like they were trying to convince me to stay; we didn’t mention it after the original I Quit conversation. Whatevs. (Sidenote: “Walked down” is employer code for an employee-HR meeting. They are not usually positive experiences.)

HR Chick opened a manila folder and pulled out my resignation email, quickly shutting the folder again. “I just need you to sign this,” she said, handing me a pen. I signed.

She opened the folder and pulled out another piece of paper, quickly closing it again. “This is information about COBRA and insurance. These are all the phone numbers you’ll need after your employment terminates.”

“OK,” I said.

She opened the folder, pulled out another piece of paper and turned it toward me. It was a regular piece of paper, nothing on it, except for a bright pink Post-It with numbers on it. “This is what you owe us for your relocation. If you’d only stayed on for a full year, this would have been reduced by half. But, you didn’t make it to the one year point,” she said.

I looked down at the paper. Two numbers were written with some words:

$5000 signing bonus

$81,657 relo

That’s $86,000. Eighty. Six. Thousand Dollars. Fuck.

I didn’t know what the cost for my relocation from St. Louis totaled. I figured it somewhere between $50,000 to $60,000. I was prepared to pay it back and walk away.



“OK,” I said. “Not sure what you want me to do with that.” I laughed a little, nervously.

“Well, some people just write a check on their last day,” HR Chick answered very nonchalantly.

“Yeah, that’s not happening,” I responded. Visions of numbers running through my head.

“What kind of repayment plan were you thinking?” she asked as if this wasn’t an obscene amount of money.

“I’m not sure. I’m just learning the total sum. I would like a break down of that total.”

“I’ll see what I can do about a breakdown and I’ll talk to accounting about options others have used to pay back,” said HR Chick

I was pretty upset when I left the room. But the more I thought about it, this isn’t about the money. If it was, I wouldn’t leave this ridiculously well-paying job. If it was about the money, I’d stick it out to meet the one year point, and have the amount reduced by half. If it was about the money, I wouldn’t leave – I’m not going to make this kind of money anywhere, ever.

I’m leaving this job because my family needs me. And you can’t put a price on that. Screw the golden handcuffs. It’ll get figured out.

On a related note, I officially accepted an offer yesterday night that will provide the level of flexibility with the family that I need. It’ll be a totally different work experience than I’ve ever had, but it’s something I’ve always wanted to try. I just always thought it would be toward the end of my career, not in the middle. Unfortunately, the pay sucks – but it’ll be enough to pay bills and enjoy life a bit, with some adjustments to our lifestyle. It’s also only a one year contract, but has the potential (STRONG potential) to become multi-year contract or even a permanent job next year. I can’t say much yet, but will give details soon. It’s an exciting, and a little scary, change.

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