What Is ‘Career Cushioning’ and Should You Be Doing It?

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As soon as we’ve learned a new workplace buzzword, a la “quiet quitting” and “quiet firing,” a new catchphrase becomes all the rage. The workplace term du jour is “career cushioning.” 

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What does the phrase mean and why is it picking up steam now? Should you do it, and if so, how might you go about it? 

Career Cushioning Defined

“Career cushioning — a term borrowed from the world of dating — means cushioning for whatever comes next in the economy and job market, taking actions to keep your options open,” LinkedIn career expert Blair Heitmann told GOBankingRates. “It’s like your insurance policy to set yourself up for success due to the current state of economic uncertainty.”

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Vicki Salemi, career expert at Monster, further elaborated. 

“Career cushioning means you’re building your bench, your backup plan, your go-to ‘in case of an emergency, break this glass’ plan,” Salemi said. “Actually, it doesn’t have to be in case of emergency: Think of it like you’re driving onto a highway that has a ton of traffic and then all of the sudden you coast into the nearest exit to take another route. This is your exit ramp that you’re building so you don’t have to feel like if you lose your job suddenly there is nowhere to go.” 

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Why the Term ‘Career Cushioning’ Is Trending 

The term may feel like it came out of the blue, as so many of these cutesy terms do, but “career cushioning” arose in the workplace conversation right on time. 

Huge corporations such as Amazon, Meta, DoorDash and H&M are among the giants that have recently announced massive layoffs. This indicates that the rosy days of the Great Resignation are over. Employees are now feeling the pressures and tensions of a rocky economy and are duly concerned about their job security.  

This is why they absolutely should be career cushioning. 

“People are starting to feel more uncertain about the future of the economy — 85% of American workers say they’re concerned about inflation, yet just 44% feel prepared for an economic downturn, according to a recent LinkedIn Workforce Confidence Index,” Heitmann said. “So now’s the time to get prepared — beginning to warm up your network, browsing jobs and growing industries, etc. — so you can weather what lies ahead.” 

How To Cushion Your Career 

Career cushioning can be as involved — or as simple — as one wants it to be. You may just want to update your job site profiles such as LinkedIn to keep things fresh (which, honestly, you should be doing anyway). Or you may want to take things further by doing the following. 

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Keep your network warm.

“Your professional network is your most important asset over the course of your career. Tend to it like a garden,” Heitmann said. “Stay top of mind with your contacts. You don’t only want to call on your network when you need a favor. Those relations are two way streets. Tapping the right person at the right time is the magic formula that can help get your foot in the door. You can even signal to your network that you are interested in a new role by using the OpentoWork photo filter on LinkedIn, which is an incredibly effective way to get inbounds on job openings.” 

Set up job alerts.

“This is one of the easiest and best ways to build your cushion,” Salemi said. “You can begin with the end in mind: Review job descriptions to see the requirements and qualifications and what you’re missing on yours, then upskill. Pursue online learning and certifications, etc. Also, with new salary transparency laws in effect in several states, you can get a sense of the range of jobs. This is particularly helpful to know your worth. As you build your Plan B, your exit plan, which you should always be doing discreetly anyway, consider your connections, the opportunities, growth, your skills — in addition to always knowing your worth.”

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Pursue a side hustle.

“Another way to build your cushion involves pursuing a side hustle,” Salemi said. “Right now seasonal hiring opportunities are prevalent, so perhaps you can pursue it to gain new skills, earn some extra money and make new connections.

“In case you are let go, you will at least already have this gig in process and can perhaps ramp up the hours, talk to your supervisor about a more long-term opportunity, and more. If anything, you’ll probably get a valuable reference out of it.”

As you can see, career cushioning isn’t really all that different from simply being prepared for a worst-case scenario: losing your job. Additionally, career cushioning — unlike, arguably, quiet quitting — isn’t about mentally checking out or giving less than 110% to your work. It’s about staying in the driver’s seat of your career. 

“Ultimately, this isn’t about being less focused, less loyal or [less] committed to the job,” Salemi said. “You can still be a top performer and be engaged and productive [with] your current employer while building and nurturing this career cushion, making it a consistent priority outside of work hours to watch out for No. 1: yourself.”

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