First, it was the Great Resignation, then it was moonlighting and quiet quitting. A new trend is sweeping across workplaces around the world called career cushioning. And, just like its predecessors, it’s describing a concept that’s anything but new.
Career cushioning is the practice of creating a backup plan at a time of growing job risks and involves future-proofing your career.
“Career cushioning as a trend was there in the past and is here to stay. In simple words career cushioning is upskilling, cross-skilling, and planning for an alternate career option to fall back to 'cushion land' in case of unexpected job loss. At present, waves of mass layoffs, recession and global political instability have stirred a sense of insecurity amongst employees across sectors, and 'Career Cushioning' has gained prominence, compelling employees to be ready with a plan B,” says Raj Tanwar, Chief Strategy Officer & HR - Head at global employee engagement Advantage Club.
How to cushion your career?
A lot of employees or professionals lose opportunities because they have been trained in only one kind of technology or they are working with software that has not been updated.
“Technology now is multi-faceted and the best way for career cushioning has to be upskilling in different skill sets. A few relevant skill sets are data analytics, data engineering, AI, web 3.0, metaverse, and 5G among others. In parallel to their current job role, they can take up multiple courses in newer technology in their free time.
These courses provide better exposure and help the employee to stay up to date with the newer technology; making them job relevant,” says Vidur Gupta, Director, Spectrum Talent Management, a global talent management company.
Vijay Yalamanchilli, founder of Keka, an HR tech platform for SMEs, suggests focusing on transferable skills rather than one’s specific industry experience to widen the pool of opportunities.
As far as protecting one's career is concerned, upskilling is always a good idea.
“Learning skills that are complementary to one's primary field of employment can help the employee advance in their career. For instance, if a worker is a product manager, having practical expertise in UI/UX design would greatly benefit in cushioning his/her career,” he says.
Yalamanchilli preaches the idea of taking up as many challenges as possible to put your creative side in motion. “It is crucial to develop this mindset early or at the beginning of an individual's career if he/she wants to succeed in today's cutthroat corporate world,” he adds.
Tanwar says the employees can knock into their networks and learn a sought-after skill to remain relevant in the job market. “Employees should search for something better actively and either learn a new complementary skill, enroll or acquire a new degree to remain ahead of the curve.”
Can career cushioning protect you from potential layoffs?
Individuals, who "career cushion", normally try to establish a contingency plan and improve their employability in case they are made redundant.
Those who have the practice of career cushioning are often trying to add an extra layer of security during uncertain economic times.
Gupta says cushioning not only gives employees professional security but can also soften the emotional blow of being laid off. “Employees can upskill themselves in relevant skill sets to help them remain ahead of their competition and make them better prepared as in terms of job readiness, thus lowering their chances of getting laid off.”
Yalamanchilli says career cushioning is considered a necessity for employees to protect themselves against dismissal.
“Simply put, we can call it a means to ‘cushion’ their fall from a ‘career bump’. It helps individuals to develop their potential and increase their competence. Additionally, at a time when layoffs occur, it assists professionals to remain job ready with necessary skills as compared to their competition,” he says.
“We have observed in a few cases that an employee was fired as he was no longer the right fit for his current position. However, he was hired again in a different department after he had acquired the right set of skills and established himself as the ideal candidate.
Upskilling need not be a chore. One can start learning a skill as a hobby and continue if it interests you.
“It can also present a better opportunity within marketing and tech companies, even if you were previously in a customer-facing role,” says Yalamanchilli.
Gen Alpha and Zoomers are living and breeding tech and far more exposed to broader career options. It is common to find a coder working in a software company and teaching online coding courses too.
“By design, their interest and career choices are different but complement them in finding a job in their time of need, i.e. doctor playing in a music band or sales professional as a writer or selling online food as a chef. Additionally, it makes practical sense to guard against this uncertainty too. It's essential to take care of your earning potential and to ensure you're always in a comfortable position to earn enough to meet your standard of living and save for the future,” says Tanwar.
Should managers encourage 'career cushioning'?
As mass lay-offs loom many employees are taking stock of their achievements, identifying gaps in their skillset, and dusting off their resumes.
Gupta says managers should encourage and embrace career cushioning as employees who see potential for growth and flexibility are more likely to stick around and remain engaged at work.
“Employees focused on skills development and career advancement are assets, not flight risks,” he adds.
Yalamanchilli says supporting career cushioning fosters transparency.
“If you find your employees cushioning their career, it is not the time to panic about losing them. Expanding their network, learning new skills, completing courses and more could benefit your company after all. Managers can start by sharing the possibilities of internal hiring in other departments; especially with those employees who possess the skills crucial for success in these,” he suggests.
Oftentimes, employees are far more likely to stay and remain engaged at work when they see the potential for growth and are offered flexibility at their current workplace.
“Remember that professionals are chasing sustainable careers and organizations are chasing sustainable professionals. You need employees who are willing to go the extra mile, stay updated with skills, and remain on top of their game,” adds Yalamanchilli
Tanwar says managers could use it to their advantage by cross-skilling on varied skills and should encourage career cushioning as a part of planned initiatives that will help the employees to feel motivated in the workplace.