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What is 'career cushioning' and can it help you safeguard your job?

Businesswoman unhappy or sadness cause being fired from company. Business Concept Background.
Be prepared if the worst happens at work. Photo: Getty

Many businesses are facing an uncertain future due to the rising cost of living – leaving workers on edge and fearing the worst.

Although you never know what will happen in a job, there are steps you can take to help safeguard your career should the worst happen. One way that is growing in popularity is ‘career cushioning’ – but what exactly is it and how does it work?

“Put simply, career cushioning is about thinking ahead and having a back-up plan for your next step in your career to protect yourself from potential unemployment,” says career coach Amy Wilkinson.

“As we move into more turbulent economic times and the job market inevitably suffers, it’s a way of future-proofing your career.”

Read more: Why all employers should be doing stay interviews

How to cushion your career

First, Wilkinson recommends working out what your unique strengths and skills are. “You can do this by reflecting on what you do and enjoy,” she says. “Think about what other people ask you for help with and what comes as second nature to you. If you’re really stuck, hire a career coach as they can help you delve into this.”

The next step is to update your CV, so you are ready for any potential opportunities that arise. It is helpful to be up-to-date with industry trends and to be prepared to send applications quickly if a great job comes up.

“Then, start to build your network,” says Wilkinson. “LinkedIn is amazing for this. Think about trying online networking to meet other people in your industry and broaden your contacts.”

Andrew Fennell, director at StandOut CV and a former recruiter, says developing a side hustle or upskilling in your current role are good ways to safeguard your career.

Read more: Why people are quiet quitting at work

“Side hustles are those ways people earn extra cash, which could be anything depending on your skills,” says Fennell. “Some people take up tutoring and others push themselves into starting their own e-commerce business. It could be anything, but having that as a business back-up which could then become your full-time job is an option for some.”

Upskilling involves learning a new skill – such as learning a language or knowing how to code – to make yourself invaluable to a future employer. “Typically those with more skills and more responsibilities are going to be safer when jobs are cut,” says Fennell.

What are the pros and cons of career cushioning?

Career cushioning can help you to feel more confident in your own abilities, which will help you find future opportunities and make you feel more secure in your current role. “It gives you a bit more control and autonomy over your career, rather than leaving it in the hands of your employer,” says Wilkinson.

“Like an insurance policy, you may never need to use it – but it makes you feel safer and more protected than if you didn’t have it. Career cushioning may also help you to feel braver to make a career change too.”

However, there are potential downsides too. “Focusing on your next step could mean you take your eye off the ball in your current role – this won’t stand you in good stead if there is a restructure,” says Wilkinson.

Additionally, if you make it obvious you are looking for other opportunities, it could damage your reputation and relationships in your current role.

Burnout is another potential issue. “Career cushioning can lead to burnout if you are constantly seeking new goals and skills and not giving yourself time to unwind,” says Fennell. “It is only really an option for someone who has spare time to upskill or seek out another job.”

That being said, if it’s the right move for you, career cushioning can be a good way to bounce back from job loss should the worst happen.

“Being made redundant can be devastating, both financially and emotionally,” says Wilkinson. “Career cushioning makes you ‘redundancy ready’ so that you can quickly put into action the prep work you’ve already done – with a clear sense of direction, an up-to-date CV and a network you can tap into.”

Watch: Why do we still have a gender pay gap?