Career cushioning is the next big work trend – but should you be doing it?

Not feeling quiet quitting? Career cushioning could be the better way to keep your options open.

Whether we’re considering quiet quitting or contemplating cuffing season, it’s clear we’re curious about how to make our careers work for us. The latest trend to ponder? Career cushioning. 

Unlike the chat about setting boundaries and out-of-office messages, this movement isn’t an answer to the issue of burnout. Instead, it’s a way to recession-proof your work life and keep your options a little more open, taking a note from the cushioning dating trend and applying that same logic to your work life. 

“Career cushioning is on the rise because workers are increasingly worried about their jobs,” says Jill Cotton, a careers expert at Glassdoor. “Faced with a looming recession, discussion around layoffs and being made redundant has soared on Glassdoor. In response to the worsening economic uncertainty, workers are getting jittery and ‘career cushioning’. 

“Career cushioning means an employee is quietly scoping out a ‘plan B’ in case they lose their job due to reasons outside their control. It’s recognition that your current job probably won’t be your last and your focus is not on making yourself indispensable and therefore impossible to get rid of.”

What that looks like in practice can range from regularly updating your CV and LinkedIn to keeping in contact with recruiters and potential future bosses. Essentially, it’s hedging your bets and giving yourself some insurance, with the thinking that you could get laid off or want to quit your job sharpish at some point in the future. 

It’s not the same as being desperate to leave your current job and going all-in on the hunt for a new role, but something a little softer.  

“The term includes the word ‘cushion’, which implies that there’s a softening of the impact in the event that someone is laid off or unexpectedly terminated,” says Daphne E Jones, board member and author of Win When They Say You Won’t: Break Through Barriers And Keep Leveling Up Your Success. “Career cushioning is like having an insurance policy.”

“The key to success is discretion and balance; career cushioning is just enough to set yourself up for future success should you lose your job without putting yourself in a vulnerable position if your employer is looking to cut costs,” Cotton explains. 

That point about balance is key – get it wrong and that’s where problems will arise. For one thing, when you dip your toe in the job search waters, it’s easy to get swept away by the current, quickly finding yourself constantly checking listings, endlessly tweaking your CV and emotionally investing in every job you apply for. Put in too much effort and you’ll risk hitting job search burnout – all while you’re continuing to do the work of your actual full-time job. 

Charlotte Davies, a career expert at LinkedIn, notes that career cushioning can also be a sticking plaster for a bigger problem. Are you just hedging your bets, or are there issues with your current job that are making you want to look elsewhere, albeit tentatively? 

“If you are feeling unhappy in your current role, our first piece of advice would always be to speak to your manager and have that open conversation to see if anything can be changed or if there are any opportunities for growth,” Davies suggests. 

There’s also the risk that always having other opportunities in your peripheral vision could make you less satisfied with your current role – a ‘grass is greener’ mindset that could see you lose enthusiasm for your day-to-day gig. That’s bad for you, but also for your career prospects. If your boss notices that your dedication has dampened, they might not be so quick to consider you for promotions. 

To make career cushioning work for you, it might be best to think of it with a focus on skills and networking, rather than on actual job applications. We repeat: this isn’t seeking out jobs, but opening yourself up to future options.

“Update your LinkedIn profile – stay top of mind with your network and expand it – and make full use of your connections to source for advice from your community and even job referrals,” Davies recommends. “Be sure to include relevant skills and keywords featured in descriptions of jobs that seem interesting to you in your profile, which can further boost your visibility in recruiter searches.

“Get started on upskilling. Learn new skills through classes and attain certifications through LinkedIn Learning courses to make sure you have the skills you need that are in demand now and in the future.”

Cotton echoes this call for boosting your skills section. “Knowing your worth and benchmarking your skills is always good practice, even if you feel secure in your role,” she tells us. “It gives you the confidence to perform well in your position, and if you think you are being underpaid or undervalued, you can negotiate for more.

“Transferable skills will be your saviour if mass layoffs hit your industry. Prepare for how the experience you have built over your career could apply to a different role in a new sector or bring value to a new employer. Take a critical look at your CV; find any skills gaps and fill them.”

There are some real benefits to keeping your eye out for opportunities and putting out feelers, too. Jones says career cushioning can give you “peace of mind and options”, as you’ll know that you have a plan of action if things go wrong. 

Plus, if you do get some interest from recruiters, this can help you to see your value from a perspective outside your current workplace. 

Done right, career cushioning is no bad thing. Polishing up your skills and making connections is a great shout. Just make sure some casual cushioning doesn’t turn into a full-on job search that takes up a load of your time and energy – and if you can see that transition starting to happen, question why. A real desire to get out of your current position hints that something needs to change. 

“Keep looking for the joy that you felt when you first took the role,” Cotton adds. “And if you can’t find it, perhaps you need to be job hunting rather than career cushioning.”

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