What is career cushioning?


What is career cushioning – the recession-ready work trend of 2023?

Need something soft to sit on while you work? We’re here to spill the tea on the latest trend to take over the workplace.

Recent high profile mass layoffs in the tech industry have had a seismic effect on workers around the world. In the US tech industry alone, there have been almost 90,000 layoffs, with more expected by the end of the year. Workers are on edge, and in response, savvy employees are scrambling to dust down their CVs and spruce up their LinkedIn profiles in the lead up to the new year. This trend has a name – career cushioning. 

But what is career cushioning exactly? Why has it taken off in such a big way? Do we all need a career cushion?

What is career cushioning - and do you need to be worried about it?

Looking back over this past year, it’s easy to see how we got here. This was the year that brought us the season of the Autumn Budget u-turnsthree Prime Ministers in seven weeksscandalously high energy prices, record high inflation, a cost of living crisis, strikes, strikes, and more strikes… Was there anything else? Oh, and a recession. That’s right.

If that’s not enough to give the most secure of workers the heebie-jeebies, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) predicted back in August that pay rises could fall behind inflation by almost 8% later this year, marking the biggest fall in real wages for 100 years.

And according to LinkedIn’s UK Talent Trends Report, between September 2021 and September 2022, hiring rates in the UK slowed by 11%, even though the unemployment rate remains at a near 50-year low.

It’s little wonder that employees are jumping into action to protect and safeguard their careers, keep their jobs or make their position more secure. This has been dubbed ‘career cushioning’ – putting a plan B into place, while still in a role, to cushion the landing in case of sudden job loss, redundancy or hiring freezes. To think about it another way – it’s a form of succession planning, where you’re looking out for your future needs.

LinkedIn career expert Catherine Fisher describes career cushioning as “taking actions to keep your options open and cushioning for whatever comes next in the economy and job market. Think of it like an insurance policy to set yourself up for success.”

Interestingly, whereas trends that have hit the headlines in the past few years have focused on wellbeing and work life balance, such as quiet quitting (or quiet firing) or the Great Resignation, career cushioning is much more about job security. This marks a significant pendulum swing from employees feeling empowered to seek jobs with better pay or better working conditions to employees doing what they can to stay safe and secure.

According to LinkedIn’s Workforce Confidence Index, based on feedback from more than 11,000 workers in the US, less than half (44%) of employees feel they are prepared for an economic downturn, while nearly a third (31%) are concerned that their company is planning budget cuts/layoffs.

So what does career cushioning look like in practice?

Career cushioning is a broad term that covers anything that can make your landing a little bit softer in the unfortunate case of being let go, or more employable, and as a result, make your job more secure. This could be seeking out a new role; learning new skills or upskilling; updating your LinkedIn profile; reaching out and warming up your network; or taking on extra hours, extra jobs and working on your side hustle.

Career cushioning can also mean building up savings – making sure that you have an emergency fund, or other financial security as a backup in case something goes awry with your current role.

This is showing up in LinkedIn data – employees are marketing their skills more, with 365 million skills added to LinkedIn profiles over the past 12 months, up 43% year over year.

Career cushioning is becoming even more prevalent in 2023

Career cushioning tips for employees

1. Get reviewing 

As we lurch from the Great Resignation into the era of career cushioning, now is the time to think about what you want to get out of your career. If you haven’t already done so over the course of the pandemic, it’s worth giving some thought to your career goals and objectives, what you’d like to accomplish, and do the research on what it will take to get there. That could include what employers are looking for in the roles you’re interested in pursuing.

2. Get upskilling 

Whether you’ve personally undertaken a career review or it’s already on your radar in your current role, you might already be aware of skills you want or need to develop. The rapid acceleration of technology means that new skills are emerging all the time, and it really does pay to stay ahead of the game, and even more so during times of economic uncertainty and employee attrition.

Employers are looking for employees who are tech literate, digitally conversant, emotionally intelligent, adaptable, and more. Excellent communication skills, creativity, innovation and complex problem-solving regularly top the list of skills that employers are looking for. By expanding your skill sets, you will be more agile and able to adapt quickly to change.

3. Get talking with your network 

With your new skills and a fresh look at what you want from your career, now is a good time to get out and network. Reach out to old contacts and colleagues and warm up your professional network. Have a look at what open roles are being advertised and keep tabs by setting up job alerts. If you’re actively seeking a new role, reach out to recruiters and employers and get the ball rolling.

Career cushioning – tips for employers

If hiring freezes, revenue and redundancies are keeping you up at night, you’re not alone. While we tend to think of career cushioning as a trend for employees, it’s worth sparing a thought for employers as it impacts them too. We know that letting staff go is often the last thing you want to do, and having a stressed, burnt-out workforce isn’t great for the bottom line either. Staff turnover is a gnarly business, so to navigate this career cushioning trend, we also have some tips for employers to improve retention.

As LinkedIn Principal Economist Guy Berger says,

“You can’t eliminate uncertainty, but you can do your best to mitigate it for your employees.”

1. Upskill your workforce

Upskilling employees comes at a far smaller cost to your business than hiring a replacement. By expanding the skillsets of your current employees, you will find yourself with a more diverse, agile, innovative, well-rounded workforce that can adapt quickly to change.

Without continuous learning and training programs in place, organisations risk losing qualified talent and lagging behind more agile competitors. A company that prioritises the training and development of their employees’ skill sets will be able to sustain a prominent competitive advantage in this new digital era.

2. Review your employee value proposition (EVP)

Your employee value proposition (EVP) is the balance of rewards and benefits that you can offer employees in return for their amazing performance in the workplace. An EVP includes everything an employer is doing to attract and retain employees, which is hugely beneficial for the success of a business.

But your EVP is much more than compensation packages (although they are also important!) – also review employee development paths, internal reward and recognition programs and community initiatives. Your EVP is how you’ll attract and retain the very best of talent and is a great remedy for career cushioning.

3. Talk (and listen) to your staff 

Conventional wisdom holds that happy employees are engaged employees, and happy employees don’t tend to just jump ship without warning. That said, even happy employees might have worries over job security. Scheduling regular meetings or 1:1s, providing coaching sessions, and asking your employees for feedback through staff feedback and engagement surveys are all essential for you as an employer to keep tabs on how your team is doing.

Engaged employees play a significant role in any company’s financial performance, so having satisfied employees and keeping them happy is key to business success.

That’s why it’s so important to keep a pulse on employee happiness. One of the best ways to do this is via an employee happiness survey.

We often hear that internal communication is a pain point for businesses, but 1:1s are a great way to keep those lines of communication open. Ongoing feedback is essential for employee development and allows team members to reach their full potential and climb the career ladder. This is exactly what you need to nurture to support your employees if they’re feeling the need to cushion their careers.

tired charlie chaplin gif

The wrap up… Should you be career cushioning?

No one likes surprises – especially if that surprise is redundancy or pay cuts. We understand that this is a challenging time for employers and employees alike, but if you’re anxious or have worries about the future of your role, one of the best things you can do is to talk to your employer. It’s likely that many of those worries can be solved together in advance of things getting, well, desperate, and long before you feel you need to prepare for battle – or cushion a potential fall at least.

Communication is always better than a knee-jerk reaction – so while you should always be nurturing your career, a conversation might mitigate the need for any extreme cushioning activities. Yes it’s good to be prepared, but be warned – prepping can take over your life, sucking energy unnecessarily and impacting that much-coveted work-life balance.

Like good old BT used to say, it’s good to talk. Whether you’re an employer or employee, and however you’re feeling about the current economic climate and what lies ahead, having these conversations can be a powerful tool in your toolbox.

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