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What Is Career Cushioning and Why Is It Gaining Popularity The trend has cropped up in the wake of mass layoffs and the looming recession

By S Shanthi

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2022 has been the year of new workplace trends. Hybrid workplace model, remote working, The Great Resignation, quiet quitting, moonlighting and so on. One such trend that has cropped up in the recent past, in the wake of mass layoffs and looming recession is 'career cushioning'.

Creating a plan B

Career Cushioning is about keeping your options open when you aren't happy at your current job. It is about preparing yourself for a possible layoff by taking measures like upskilling, searching for jobs in financially stable organizations, or even starting a side hustle. In a nutshell, it is the plan B in the face of a job loss.

"It reminds me of a proverb, "Survival of fittest", by Darwinian evolutionary theory, which mounts so well in today's VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) times and career cushioning that helps you to stay afloat. In simple words, upskilling, cross-skilling, and planning for more/an alternate career option to fall back to 'cushion land' in case of unexpected job loss," said Raj Tanwar, HR Head, Advantage Club, a global employee engagement platform.

However, this trend is not new and has been around in some form. It is gaining ground now as waves of mass layoffs, recession and global political instability has stirred a sense of insecurity amongst employees across sectors. This is forcing employees to be ready with a plan B.

"Many startups hired thousands of employees during the pandemic. The same employees are now getting fired due to unsustainable and unplanned growth by such startups. It is normal that they'll discuss possible solutions with people in the same boat, and also with the connections. Calling it an emerging trend wouldn't be completely true because employees always take precautionary measures whenever their jobs appear to be in danger, however, collective open discussion on this topic is a new phenomenon," said Sumit Sabharwal, CEO, TeamLease HRtech.

The importance of career cushioning

While life was always unpredictable, the pandemic made us realize that more than ever. However, with it has come the unpredictability of jobs, pushing people to think outside the box to secure their financial status. "Having a backup plan, you can safely land on when things go south is what GenZ believes in. It is time for people to realize that they aren't limited to one role. I have been preaching the importance of honing multiple skills for 15-20 years now," said Vijay Yalamanchili, CEO, Keka, a HR tech platform.

The pandemic-induced tech penetration has made it easier for everyone to learn new skills and have a career cushion. And, with this, one can maintain a consistent standard of living and save for the future as well. "It's 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," said Tanwar.

How to go about it

Career experts advise employees to build skills that complement their primary field of work, for instance, if you are a product manager having hands on experience in designing UI/UX will help immensely. If you are a back-end developer try being a Full stack one. "Upskilling is never a bad idea. In the best-case scenario, you will remain at your job and have an extra skill that can help during internal job vacancies. In the end, we bring these skills to solve problems. And problems today require a multitude of skills. In any organization, identify yourself as a problem-solver rather than a specific job role and take up as many problems as you can. Having this mindset in the early stage of your career is paramount to thrive in today's business world," said Yalamanchili.

In an ideal situation, career cushioning is not important. However, in this unpredictable environment, one should maintain connections with friends and colleagues in other organizations and keep oneself updated with the latest skills so that she or he can easily find another job whenever required, advises Sabharwal.

Experts also advise employees to be financially prudent and maintain an emergency fund that can last at least six months without income. The ideal thing to do should be to save a minimum of 10 per cent of one's salary and never let EMIs go beyond 20 per cent of one's salary, to stay afloat in difficult times.

What is the right time to build this?

"Career cushioning is an ongoing process. It is more apt in the present times. You can also use it as an alternate path if you are unhappy about where your career is headed or intend to discover an entirely new direction after upskilling," said Yalamanchili.

"You should always be prepared for the worst, no matter what the economic conditions are. But, if you feel that your organization is not financially strong, and might be planning for layoffs, this is the time to start your career cushioning efforts," added Sabharwal.

Who should worry?

Career analysts say that every working professional need not have career cushioning immediately. People working in organizations with healthy balance sheets need not worry at all. "It is important only to the professionals who have made risky career decisions by joining unsustainable companies," said Sabharwal.

"If you are working in a company that is struggling to make profits and has grown only on the back of funding, you may consider career cushioning. Investors are wary of the current market conditions and that's why we are witnessing a funding winter in a few sectors. It might get hard for many loss-making companies to survive without cutting expenses, and this could lead you to lose your job," he added.

Layoffs or not, career cushioning as a trend is here to stay. Besides offering a backup when things go wrong, upskilling will help one march ahead in one's career path as well.

S Shanthi

Former Senior Assistant Editor

Shanthi specializes in writing sector-specific trends, interviews and startup profiles. She has worked as a feature writer for over a decade in several print and digital media companies. 


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