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27.12.2022 Organisation & processes

What career cushioning means for companies in 2023

What career cushioning means for companies in 2023

The labour market has seen many shifts in the past few years, first with the pandemic and now a global political crisis and looming economic recession. So, what is the latest resulting trend? Career cushioning.

Is it just another workforce buzzword that’s been spreading on LinkedIn? Or is it a new workplace trend that you should be aware of and take seriously?

From the Great Resignation to the Great Return, to employees resorting to quiet quitting. Will career cushioning be the next trend to shape the workforce? Should you be worried?

And if so, what do you, as an employer or team lead, need to know about career cushioning to ensure you’re prepared for what might come?

You’ll find out in this short intro to the latest workplace trend!

What is career cushioning?

Career cushioning is about pre-emptively putting a backup plan in place in case your job’s future might be in danger. It comes from the verb cushioning: To soften a blow.

Cushioning has been a term in the world of dating for some time now, referring to keeping romantic options open in case a relationship doesn’t work out. Now, the term has entered workplace terminology.

In short, if an employee is career cushioning it generally means that they are already (actively) thinking of their next career move, even if they’re not yet ready to leave their current job. It’s like putting a safety net in place, just in case the current employment for one reason or another – whether it’s an undesired reorganisation or an impending lay-off – falls through the cracks.

Career cushioning doesn’t mean the employee is ready (or wants to) leave your company. It just means they want to have a backup plan in case their current job doesn’t end up working out.

Note that this backup plan doesn’t always have to mean a new job.

For example, career cushioning can also mean picking up freelance work or a side project to have some extra money coming in. Furthermore, an employee could start upskilling themselves outside of work to acquire new skills and experience.

In the latter case, career cushioning can actually be beneficial for you as a manager or employer. We’ll discuss other advantages (and disadvantages) in a bit.

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Why has career cushioning grown in popularity?

Career cushioning has grown in popularity in recent years due to a number of factors. The reasons for this shifting attitude include:

  1. Increased economic uncertainty: In an increasingly volatile job market, with widespread lay-offs and a looming recession, it’s smart to have a Plan B in case things don’t work out as expected.
  2. Changes in the nature of work: Many people today work in gig economy jobs or as freelancers, which can be less stable than traditional employment. Building a career cushion can help provide some security in these types of roles.
  3. The desire for greater control over one’s career: Career cushioning allows people to take more control over their professional lives and be more proactive about their career development.
  4. The value of a diverse skill set: In a rapidly changing world, it’s important to be adaptable and have a range of skills that can be applied in different situations. Having a career cushion can help individuals be more flexible and resilient.

Should you be worried about career-cushioning employees?

So the big question is, of course, how career cushioning may affect you as an employer or manager. Often it’s not something to worry about. But it can also have negative effects.

Let’s start with three potential benefits of career cushioning:

  • Happier employees: Economic uncertainty and the threat of potential layoffs can take a toll on your employees’ mental health. Many employees will be stressed or anxious, or they might be overworking to try to prove their worth to their employer. Having a contingency plan in place can help calm their worries and result in them actually being happier and more focused on their job.
  • Widened skill set: Employees who upskill themselves will learn new skills and gain more experience. Their new-found knowledge they can, in turn, use in their job, making them more valuable for your business.
  • Increased employee retention and performance: Employees who have a career cushion in place may actually be less likely to leave their current job for a new opportunity. Once they start looking for alternatives, they might realise again what originally made them choose their current job. This can result in a renewed motivation to keep their position, thus leading to increased employee retention and performance.

That being said, there may be some situations in which career cushioning could potentially have negative consequences for an employer. Let’s have a look at the potential disadvantages of career cushioning:

  • Higher employee turnover: If an employee starts building a contingency plan by looking for other jobs, they might end up finding a better opportunity elsewhere. This can result in an increased employee turnover rate for your business.
  • Decreased performance: By focusing on building a career cushion, an employee might lose focus in their current job. This could have a negative impact on their performance or motivation.
  • Change in career path: If the employee decides to acquire a new skill, they might end up realising they’d rather pursue a career in that new field. This might mean your company is no longer the right fit for them.

Should you take action?

Although career cushioning is blowing up right now as the latest workplace trend, this doesn’t mean it’s anything new (or bad).

The reality is that employees rarely still see themselves working at one company for the rest of their careers. Job switching is normal and will occur, no matter how great your company might be.

Nevertheless, here are three top tips to keep in mind when you are concerned about career cushioning employees:

  1. Regularly talk with your employees about their career paths and progression. What direction do they want to go, and can your business offer this to them? Provide upskilling or reskilling opportunities, so employees can keep growing while staying within your organisation.
  2. Ensure you have a strong employee value proposition (EVP) in place. Show employees why your company is a great place to work, and why they should choose your organisation over another. To find out more, read our article on how to develop your employee value proposition.
  3. Hold interviews with your employees to find out what they like about your company, what they don’t, but also what worries they might have regarding their job. Perhaps they’re worried over nothing, and talking about it can already alleviate the stress. For more information, check out our article on how to conduct a stay interview to improve retention.

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