What Is Career Cushioning?
It’s hard to keep up with the lexicon of the workplace these days. In the past few months alone, we’ve had to learn about quiet quitting, quiet firing, proximity bias and boomerang employees. So it’s understandable if you’re not up to speed with the latest buzzword.
Career cushioning entered the corporate vocabulary in late 2021, as fears of a recession began to escalate and tech companies began to lay off workers in earnest.
Employees began to become concerned that the balance of power was shifting back to companies, after a long period where they could demand higher salaries and flexible hours. That led many workers to begin keeping options open.
They called it career cushioning and at its heart, it means having a backup ready to go in case things fall apart at your current position (The term is taken from the dating world, where having a “cushion” is lining up another prospective partner in case it doesn’t work out with who you’re dating now).
Career cushioning can take many forms. In some cases, it’s adding new skills to your resume. In others, it’s a renewed emphasis on networking. For some, it’s an expression to mean they’re actively interviewing for a new gig, just in case.
The term came to prominence on social media, but has become a standard one in human resource departments everywhere.
The phrase might be new, but there’s really nothing unique about career cushioning. People have been on the lookout for better gigs for as long as the free economy has operated. But with the current economic uncertainty, it’s becoming a lot more common—and open.
“You’re keeping your options open in the event that you need a new job,” career expert Catherine Fisher said in a LinkedIn post. “Think of it as hedging your bets.”
It’s not just the threat of layoffs that’s driving this surge in career cushioning. Worker satisfaction is nearing an all-time low. A recent study by the Workforce Institute at HR software firm UKG found that 46% of employees said they wouldn’t recommend their company or profession to children and teens in their lives.
The study of 2,200 workers in 10 countries, as well as 600 C-suite leaders and 600 HR executives in the U.S. found a bleak outlook on work, with nearly half (45%) of U.S. employees saying they wouldn’t wish their current job on their worst enemy. Globally, that figure was 38%.
“Think back to early 2020. It’s been quite a journey for the workforce since then,” wrote Chris Mullen, executive director of The Workforce Institute. “If people were feeling burned out before, well they’re likely feeling completely fried now. A two-plus-year pandemic wrought with resignations, supply-chain complications, and a lethargic labor market, only to be followed by record-high inflation, mass layoffs, and growing concerns of a recession.”
Given that frustration, it’s not surprising people are looking for a backup. Companies, however, can still retain their best workers, though it might mean making some big changes. Flexibility and recognition are much more important to today’s worker than the pre-pandemic ways.
Having learned that they can be just as productive at home, workers are demanding more flexibility in their schedules and that’s unlikely to change. Meanwhile, the increasing number of Generation Z employees are looking for more frequent communication with their manager, perhaps as much as daily.
Mental health policies are also critical, as the most successful companies moving forward will be those that assist anyone who’s struggling and helping them receive treatment, without any workplace penalty.
“People inherently want to work,” wrote Mullen. “Maybe there are a lot of people who don’t like the work they are doing today, or who are struggling to find satisfaction or a sense of purpose in their current role, but that doesn’t mean they hate working. This data also signals that at least a quarter of organizations are doing things right, by helping their people find a sense of purpose and special meaning in their work. And that’s key to fixing work — for everyone.”
The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.