Understanding Career Cushioning

You have probably heard the saying: “The only constant in life is change.” Today, most people can sense change occurring in every direction – particularly when it comes to the workplace. Although change is inevitable, sometimes it can cause feelings of unease, especially about professional futures. Enter: career cushioning.

Making the rounds in human resource circles, career cushioning marks a fresh, trendy take on a concept that is anything but new.

What exactly is career cushioning?

In simplest terms, think of career cushioning as a way for individuals to reinforce and strengthen their personal job security by creating a backup professional plan.

While layoffs and cutbacks have become too common, those curveballs often come without much – if any – warning.

It’s understandable why career cushioning is taking shape in myriad forms to help soften any employment blows that may come.

How is career cushioning connected to dating?

If you think you’ve heard the term “cushioning” before, you probably have.

Borrowed from the realm of romantic relationships, “cushioning” has historically been used to describe keeping romantic options open during a committed relationship. Basically, it’s like having a backup in case things with your current love interest fall apart.

Interestingly, another trendy workplace term that also has roots in the dating world is “job cuffing,” which stems from the seasonal phenomenon of “handcuffing,” or latching onto potential romantic partners through the chilly winter months until the return of warmer days signals a reevaluation of a relationship’s viability.

In the workplace, “job cuffing” refers to employees hunkering down in a job they don’t necessarily love through the winter months before making the choice to chase new opportunities in the spring.

How is career cushioning done?

For some people, the career cushioning strategy may entail simply keeping their finger on an industry’s pulse by monitoring the job market, enhancing professional skills and competencies, shoring up relationships with other professionals, or seeking advice from recruitment consultants.

Other people may go a step further by applying to different jobs and interviewing for open positions as a defense against unexpected cuts in their workplace.

Some may take on a second job, in addition to their primary job, or even start up a “side hustle.”

Growing increasingly popular, side gigs typically translate into flexible work arrangements that might be remote, online, or nontraditional work hours. An added benefit of side hustles is that they offer a path to test the waters of a new career direction or pursue personal interests and hobbies while also earning some extra cash.

Why are employees using career cushioning?

While insulating themselves from economic and workplace uncertainty is one of the main reasons employees may turn to career cushioning, there are other driving forces as well.

Situations that might prompt an individual to consider job cushioning include:

  • The desire to diversify income streams
  • Lack of job satisfaction
  • Changes within their employer’s business
  • Anxiety about the future
  • Lack of advancement opportunities
  • Feeling unappreciated or underpaid
  • Seeking work that aligns with personal values

Rising reports of American workers feeling overwhelmed with uncertainty and facing burnout, as highlighted in a recent Fortune article, are reflective of ongoing workplace struggles.

How can companies respond to career cushioning?

Supporting employees in this time of uncertainty is paramount to retaining top talent and fostering a healthy, positive, and productive work environment.

While completely curbing employees’ appetites to scan the employment horizon for alternative job opportunities may be a tall order, focusing on their professional satisfaction and well-being can reap volumes in rewards.

To help keep employees fully committed and focused on their current workplace demands, keep these tips in mind:

  • Talk regularly with employees about their aspirations.
  • Provide options for employees to explore other in-house career pathways.
  • Help employees channel their passion and drive in ways that benefit the company.
  • Create a workplace culture that fosters confidence, comfort, and support.
  • Acknowledge and reward employee achievements.
  • Provide training and development opportunities.
  • Consider utilizing “stay interviews” to assess employee morale.

It should go without saying that trust and open communication are worth their weight in gold in a workplace environment. And as most savvy businesses know, hiring and building effective teams can make or break organizational success.

Keep Career Cushioning in Check

Most of us know how this sentence ends. The bottom line is it’s never a bad idea to evaluate your current situation, consider your own current and future needs, and even devote some time to really thinking about what you want out of your job – personally, professionally, and financially.

It’s good practice to keep your resume updated, stay active on sites like LinkedIn, define what’s important, and remember to keep your mental bandwidth in check.

Even when you’ve got a good thing going, preparing for the unexpected can go a long way toward securing peace of mind.




About Equiliem

Equiliem (www.equiliem.com) believes in empowering success. It’s our job to cultivate relationships that connect people and employers in a way that is inclusive, intelligent, and allows both to thrive. 

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