career cushioning

The Great Debate on Career Cushioning

The newest trend in the future of work is “career cushioning,” and no, it’s not working from your couch. It’s a way for people to feel in control in a time of economic uncertainty. But is there a problem with having one foot out the door of your role just in case something happens – and if it’s ethical, how do you cushion your career in the right way?

What is it?

Career cushioning is essentially giving yourself a plan B, a safety net, or an alternative option to your current job without actively looking for another job. It can be anything that you do to prepare for your next role. You could be making an effort to improve necessary skills you believe will be helpful in another job. You could also be keeping an eye on mailing lists, recommendations from those in your network, or LinkedIn notifications about jobs that fit your needs. Career cushioning can also mean keeping your resume with a recruiter just in case something perfect comes along.  

People “career cushion” for different reasons. Some want to be prepared if they think their company is going to go under, and they want to have another job on the back burner. Others just have a bit of a wandering eye and believe that the grass is always greener on the other side.

The origin of the word, according to Forbes, comes from the phrase “to cushion your landing.” The idea of career cushioning, Forbes continues, isn’t surprising given recent layoffs in Big Tech. An economic landscape like this can be scary and shock some into being concerned about a post-pandemic firing spree.

Is it ethical?

Some argue that career cushioning isn’t exactly ethical. When you’re working at one company, they expect to get all of your time, effort, and focus through the good and the bad. If all of your energy is focused on your job, this argument says, the organization is less likely to fail as your cog in the larger machine of the company is holding strong.

Others say that career cushioning is ethical as you’re not in a monogamous relationship with your role. Being prepared for the worst is realistic, and building skills is a good part of anyone’s career progression. This is especially the case if one feels like the ship of their company is sinking, and the writing is on the wall. A job is a reciprocal relationship that makes you sharper, smarter, and more experienced, which creates a feedback loop that gives you a valuable place on your team. 

Career cushioning the right way

Ultimately, career cushioning is about one thing: preparing for the worst so you won’t be blindsided. And there are ways to do that without catastrophizing, neglecting your job, or feeling unstable. So don’t just rest on your laurels and say that you’re a commitment-phobe – confront your issues ahead with these future-proofing career tips so you don’t get paralyzed by indecision.

1. Upskill

A study from LinkedIn found that more than 40% of companies across the globe search for jobs based on skills rather than credentials. So if you want to be ready for whatever job comes next, focus on your skills. At worst, you’ll keep your job and just get better at it. And at best, if you really are laid off, you’ll be ready for whatever the job market has to offer you.

2. Define your skills

Rather than just trying to find a backup job that fits many of your qualifications (or treating your current job like it’s not your first option), don’t put a Band-Aid over a bigger wound. The more significant problem here might not be that you’re uncertain about your career path, but more about the fact that you don’t know what you want in a more profound sense. By defining your personal values and what matters to you in a role, you’ll be able to determine if the job you have now is what you actually want.

3. Apply and interview

There’s nothing that will sate your curiosity about forming a backup plan than getting out there and seeing what there is for yourself. Make a commitment to search for a new job, and don’t be passive about it – start interviewing and applying. It may turn out that you get the push you need to move on from a role that feels unstable, or you find someone that appreciates you more than your current organization does.

4. Examine how unstable your role is

Career cushioning isn’t just a harmless preventative measure – it can also be an anxious endeavor based on fear. If you’re consumed with creating a backup plan in case you get fired, do some research to see if you should really be panicking. Ask your managers about your performance and what you can improve on. Listen to chatter about your company’s success or failure and verify information from the gossip mill with your own personal research.

5. Try out a side hustle

Something that will give you a solid feeling of strength regardless of your job situation is acquiring some sort of side hustle that makes you feel like you have your autonomy back. A Zapier report found that 40% of Americans have some side hustle along with their full-time jobs. And if you’re nervous about being unprepared for a job loss, having a side hustle will give you purpose, build your skills, and provide a small income while you regroup.