As employees seek out greater job security during uncertain times, “career cushioning” is the latest trend sweeping the workplace.
“Career cushioning” sounds like getting a comfy new office chair, but it’s a far from comforting new trend for employers. The term refers to employees who are starting to look for (or preparing for) a new job, just in case the downturn in the economy threatens their existing role.
It might seem sensible for staff to have a backup plan but the problem for employers is that shopping around for new opportunities can lead to people jumping ship unnecessarily.
In this article, we’ll look at what career cushioning is and what you can do to combat it by supporting staff to stay in their current role.
What is career cushioning?
The idea of “cushioning” comes from the world of dating, when a person pursues two or more romantic relationships to soften the blow of one failing.
When this strategy is applied to one’s career, it gives you the upper-hand, ensuring you have other options should the unexpected happen - or allowing you to preempt such a scenario by proactively moving on to a new company.
How the economy is driving career cushioning
With interest rates spiralling and the cost of energy going through the roof, the UK is braced for recession. The Bank of England believes we can expect a prolonged recession that will last for the whole of 2023.
Meanwhile, the jobs market is weakening - the number of vacancies fell for the fifth quarter in a row in the three months to November 2022. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the rate of UK unemployment now stands at 3.7%.
And despite an increase in wages, earnings still continue to be outstripped by rising prices, falling by 3.9% after Consumer Prices Index inflation is taken into account.
People are understandably worried about their job security, as well as earning enough to meet their growing living costs - consider that many homeowners are now paying hundreds of pounds extra per month for their mortgages.
This pressure is driving career cushioning, with employees either seeking out jobs that offer more security or a higher salary (or both). In some cases Brits are taking on second jobs to supplement their wages - and the law has recently changed to support them.
Flexible jobs to be a right for all UK workers
Employees will be able to request flexible working from day one of employment under new government plans announced in December. And those on lower incomes will be protected from having exclusivity clauses enforced against them so they can take on second jobs.
The government wants to make flexible working the default, giving employees the ability to not only work from home, but also benefit from job-sharing, flexitime, and working compressed, annualised, or staggered hours.
Additionally, workers on contracts with a guaranteed weekly income on or below the Lower Earnings Limit of £123 a week will now be able to work for multiple employers and boost their earnings.
While this is great news for employees and employers alike - flexible jobs are a key contributor to employee happiness, and it will help businesses to plug crucial staffing gaps - it could exacerbate the challenge of career cushioning.
With people empowered to work flexibly and take on side gigs, they’ll be actively scoping out new opportunities… and it could lead to them moving on from your company. You put a lot of resources into finding good people, so let’s look at how we can prevent that from happening.
How to keep employees happy (and prevent career cushioning)
To reduce the impact of career cushioning in your workplace it’s necessary to maintain employee happiness. Central to this is paying your staff a decent living wage - and understanding that this threshold is continually rising. What might have looked like a good salary a couple of years ago, now barely pays the energy bills!
Of course, company overheads are getting higher too, and businesses are looking for ways to cut costs, not increase them. But remember, it’s more expensive to hire new employees than it is to retain the ones you have.
Ask your employees for suggestions on how the business can make efficiencies and motivate them to get creative by letting them know the savings will be directly applied to them in the form of a bonus or pay rise.
5 more ways to retain employees during a recession
Beyond paying people correctly, here are some other actions you can take to keep employees happy and stop career cushioning in your organisation:
- Make people feel secure - a lack of job security is what drives many people to career cushioning, so give regular updates to let them know how business is going and if there’s any reason for them to be concerned. If you’re able to, reassure them that there are no plans for layoffs, and remain focused on recovery and growth.
- Celebrate successes - recognising wins (even small ones) is especially important during tough times. Create a channel where good news can be shared company-wide and be sure to name the individuals who contributed. Recognising the efforts of your employees could also include rewarding them with small gifts (discover our carefully curated range).
- Offer great benefits - you can significantly supplement a salary by offering employees desirable benefits such as private health care or income protection insurance in case they get sick and can’t work. Larger firms can negotiate good rates on these types of policies, but if you can’t stretch to it, consider benefits like a more attractive holiday allocation.
- Provide training and development opportunities - if people are worried about losing their jobs, offering them the chance to up-skill will help them feel more secure in their position and less likely to look for other employment.
- Improve communication - the most important thing to do in a time of uncertainty is maintain open channels of communication. Make sure you’re talking to your employees regularly and that you understand any issues they’re experiencing. What can you do to support them? If your people feel genuinely cared for they’ll have far higher loyalty to the company.