The words Career Cushioning positioned above a couple of cushions.

Increasing your career comfort

Should you be ‘career cushioning’ to protect yourself from a crash landing if everything goes pear-shaped on the work front? It’s easy to say ‘yes’ but much less easy to do when there’s loads of other stuff going on on life.

Nonetheless, we all know that the world of work is more volatile than it used to be and we have to be able to respond to change when it comes along. That’s where career cushioning can help.

So what exactly is it and what does it involve? How does it relate to career management? And is it ok to do when you’re still in a job?

What is career cushioning?

Career cushioning is a new term to describe an old idea: career management. It’s unclear what the origins of it are. This Forbes article claims it’s ‘derived from the dating world where individuals entertain other romantic options while still in a committed relationship’ while NASDAQ believes it entered the corporate vocabulary in 2021 when tech companies began to lay off workers because of fears of recession.

Whatever the origins, it’s about having a backup plan if you lose your job and ensuring you keep your options open.

Developing a back-up plan

If you’re going to have a backup plan, you’re going to need to do three things:

  1. review where you are now
  2. think about where you might want to be if things do go wrong at work
  3. consider what you might need to do to get there.

Drilling down a bit deeper, this review & planning process is likely to involve doing at least some (if not all) of the following:

  • reflecting on how you feel about your current work (and life more generally) and what you would change if you could
  • thinking about what you might like to get from your next role in order to feel satisfied and fulfilled.
  • working out where your strengths lie and what it is that you do best
  • undertaking a professional development review with your manager (or independently) to identify which aspects of yourself you’d like to develop 
  • keeping informed about challenges & trends in your sector or industry that could impact your own position within it
  • scanning the horizon for new types of responsibility that you’d like to take on either in your current job/organisation or elsewhere.
  • thinking about other types of role you could do or might like to do.
  • checking what skills & knowledge are needed for those roles and taking steps to fill any gaps
  • finding ways to meet & connect with people working in areas that interest you
  • exploring career options in more depth by setting up informational interviews to find out more about the work those people do
  • becoming more active & visible in your professional community 
  • updating your CV
  • creating or updating your LinkedIn profile
  • identifying and reaching out to recruitment agencies that specialise in the type of work you want to do
  • setting up job alerts from jobs boards and organisations that interest you so that you can see what opportunities out there
  • applying for jobs so that you get some practice at communicating who you are and what you have to offer 

Is career cushioning just another term for career management?

Yes, you could say that. If you look at the UK’s Career Development Framework, you’ll see that there are six areas of career management skills that we all need to develop in order to have a sustainable & positive working life:

  • Manage career
  • Explore possibilities
  • See the big picture
  • Create opportunities
  • Balance work and life
  • Grow throughout life

The career cushioning activities listed above clearly link to these six types of career management skill. There’s nothing particularly new about the idea but, because of events in recent years, people may have become more aware of the need to proactively manage their careers. And of course there’s nothing like having some trendy new terminology to describe that. 

Is it ok to do career cushioning while you’re still in a job?

Yes, that’s the whole point. It’s not about two-timing your employer. Rather, it’s about taking ownership of the work you do and taking steps to ensure there is a steady stream of income-generating activity coming your way. Even if you plan to continue having a salaried position, it can be helpful to view yourself as a mini .com (or .org) that is constantly on the lookout for opportunities to provide your service.

Need help?

You may have realised there’s quite a lot involved in the career cushioning/career management process and perhaps there are aspects of it that you need help with. If that’s the case, do get in touch to arrange an initial discussion with a view to scoping out what work needs to be done to strengthen your position. 

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