Is Your Job a Golden Cage? Here's What You Can Do

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The golden cage is a phenomenon that affects many people at some point in their career. Even if your job comes with a nice salary, you may feel that you've stopped growing, or you may not really enjoy the work you do, which can lead to significant stress at work.

This is a situation shared by many Belgian employees: 83% say they feel stressed at work, while 68% state that their job has a negative effect on their health. Yet, Belgians are alongside Portuguese the least mobile on the job market, according to an international study carried out by RH Tempo-Team.

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If the job also pays badly, the decision to leave is somewhat easier. However, it is less obvious to quit a good job, especially if it offers great benefits. This is why such jobs are referred to as a ‘golden cage’: they pay well, but it’s easy to feel trapped as a result.

It's not all about the money

Being paid too much sounds like a problem many people would like to have, but high-paid jobs often bring a variety of other problems: You might feel stressed or pressurised, have to work long hours or experience a negative mood, and then try to combat this somehow, for instance by overspending.

Although there is a proven link between happiness and higher income, studies show that once you hit an annual gross salary of €80,000 or more, your level of life satisfaction is unlikely to increase further and may even decrease. For emotional wellbeing this point is even lower at around €50,000-63,000.

 Test  Are you stuck in a golden-cage job?

Do you recognise yourself in these statements? Count a point for every sentence that is true to you (source: You can download the printable question sheet here. 

☐ I’m counting the months/years until I retire.
☐ I hate my job, but love the income.
☐ My job situation is bound to get better if I just keep hanging in there.
☐ I may not like my current career, but I know I’m good at it.
☐ I’m constantly worried about my position being eliminated.
☐ I’ve lost interest in my work, but I enjoy the camaraderie of the people.
☐ My associates know the caliber of my work. I don’t have to keep proving myself.
☐ The chances of my finding a job I will truly enjoy are slim and none.
☐ When friends talk about their new careers, I wish I had the courage to make a change as well.
☐ Changing careers is much more risky than staying where I am.
☐ I doubt I can find an equivalent position at another company.
☐ I would rather swim with sharks than start a job search.
☐ I tend to focus on the negatives of a career change, rather than contemplating the positives of its potential.
☐ My family and friends think I’m in the catbird’s seat. They tell me I’d be crazy to make a change.
☐ Work isn’t meant to be satisfying. That’s why it’s called work.

13006677-three-dimensional-image-of-an-exclamation-markIf you said yes to 7 or more of the above statements, it’s likely that your job is a golden cage that you feel trapped in. You stay in it, but the negative effect it has on your attitude and health cannot be underestimated: You find yourself counting down the days until the weekend and you’re constantly tired. Perhaps you even avoid human contact in the office and have a defeatist attitude towards your work.


There is a way out

You might want to leave your current job but feel as if something’s holding you back. Maybe you think it’s too risky, or that your age is against you. You might be worried about keeping up with outgoing payments, or not want to sacrifice your expensive lifestyle. If this sounds like you, don’t panic: there are 7 steps which may help.

1. Identify whether it’s your job or career that’s not working for you
2. Keep an eye on your spending and set aside some savings if necessary
3. Decide on your next career step
4. Be brave enough to take the leap
5. Ask your friends and family for advice, or talk to a professional
6. Set some short-term, achievable goals
7. Finally, if you believe in yourself, you’ll be sure to find the right path.

Ask a career coach for (free) advice!

When you are in a transition period, you may need to watch your expenses in order to put aside enough capital to carry you through the career change" and then you continue.

Working with a career coach doesn’t have to impact your bank balance. MyNextCompany is one of the very few organisations, if not the only one on the Belgian market, that offers career coach services free of charge.

We can assure you that interaction with a career coach will create a positive and lasting impact on your career. This will then help you surge ahead in your professional life. 

Get me a career coach!

Case study: Els Deboutte

Sometimes, from the outside at least, a job may seem like it's ticking all the boxes, and yet it still does not bring satisfaction.

Els Deboutte is a prime example of someone who had a job which offered great benefits: a good salary, pension plan and a convenient location, but who found herself feeling trapped in her job. After her second burnout, she told her boss that she was leaving to start a new career.


She escaped the golden cage in 2009, right in the middle of the economic crisis, and successfully launched her own company, Make me Fly! She now coaches people who are in a similar situation to the one she was in.

She’s written two books, “Geef je Carrière weer Vleugels!” and “Goesting! Opnieuw plezier vinden in je werk én je leven”, and also an e-book, “10 steps to reinvent yourself.” Nine years on, she has no regrets about her decision to leave the corporate world behind, proving that success really can be achieved outside the golden cage.

Sound like a fairy tale?

Hardly. Every career change brings a certain risk, whether you choose to set up your own business or pursue another path. However, if you feel you simply cannot leave your current job, the obstacle is merely psychological and can be overcome with the right coaching and planning.

Think carefully about whether the benefits of your job outweigh the negatives, so you can then take the necessary steps to improve your situation. There are plenty of great resources out there ready to help you, such as Jooble – a job search engine with over 139,000 opportunities in Belgium alone.

If you are more interested in the workplace and want to get to know the employer first, browse our hand-picked opportunities on to look for the job that will make you hop out of bed in the morning again. Get ready to escape the golden cage, and find the right career for you!

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Alban Gaffori

Written by Alban Gaffori

Alban is a notorious multi-tasker and a pioneer in using digital technologies to reinvent today’s recruitment. Big believer in Smart Recruiting® as a tool to match top talent with the right employers. Privately a fan of mountain biking and hiking, he loves to travel to the four corners of the world.