Management-led buyouts can irritate public shareholders, who often feel unfairly compensated. Shareholders want their managers to maximize the price they receive for their company. But they suspect that managers want to buy the company as cheaply as possible. Nonetheless, management buyouts proliferated over the past two years.

But the turn in the buyout market may be changing all that. Not because corporate chieftains have suddenly become more altruistic. Rather, there are fewer incentives for them to rush into the arms of buyout barons.

In the second quarter this year, aggregate dollar size of management-led buyouts dropped to nearly one-third of that seen in the same quarter last year.

First, easy leverage has gone away. Without the ability to load companies up with debt, private equity firms will be more focused on improving operating performance. Managers will have to work harder.

And they could be paid less. The pay packages of managers at companies owned by private equity firms are often directly linked to performance. And they usually get a slug of equity in the company they help take private. With stratospheric returns looking harder to achieve, running a company owned by a buyout firm might not be as lucrative.

Managers might also come to find that buyout barons are tougher bosses than public shareholders—especially in hard times. They have higher return expectations and are a notoriously demanding bunch. Company managers may decide that working for pesky public shareholders isn’t such a bad gig after all.