Worries about job security, inflation, and the uncertain economy are causing workers to engage in what is being called “career cushioning.” 

The term is borrowed from romantic relationships. “Cushioning” is a dating strategy where someone dates multiple people to soften the blow in case a relationship does not work out.

Career cushioning is the same but for the workforce – it is all about having a ‘Plan B.’ It may not be a bad idea to keep your career options open as you consider these alarming numbers from HubSpot:

  • Three million people lost a job or completed temporary jobs in January 2024 in the U.S.
  • Over 42,000 employees have been laid off so far in 2024, including layoffs from over 160 tech companies.

Though not all job sectors are created equally, overall, the U.S. economy is showing opportunities for growth and resilience in the face of high interest rates.

There are many ways to career cushion, whether that is starting to look for a new job or starting a side hustle that you can fall back on. Let’s look at all of the ways workers are using this strategy today. 

Who Needs a Cushion?

Research reported by U.S News and World Report shows that 68% of U.S. professionals have admitted to embarking proactively on career cushioning tactics. Almost half (48%) blame low job satisfaction as the reason for their current mindset while 30% of respondents report low job security. 

Keeping up with what is happening in your job market is always smart. When you pop your head up and see what else is out there, you can also better determine the market value for your skills. Think of career cushioning as testing the waters for other opportunities. 

Cushions for All Ages

Career cushioning is happening at all points of careers, despite age. Young professionals might be more likely to participate in career cushioning as they navigate through different sectors, explore various job positions, and seize opportunities for skill enhancement. 

Experienced professionals nearing the end of their careers may also prioritize career cushioning to facilitate a seamless transition into retirement or to embark on encore careers, placing emphasis on stability and financial security.

Looking for the Next Job

The ultimate way to prepare for the unexpected is to have a backup plan, especially if you have concerns about your industry or job in today’s economic climate. Stats from LinkedIn shared by WorkLife show fewer than half (44%) of employees feel they are prepared for an economic downturn, while nearly one-third (31%) are concerned that their company is planning budget cuts/layoffs. 

Those bracing for the worst are testing out the job market by interviewing for what they hope could be more stable jobs. Industries such as tech, retail, and real estate have seen some turbulent times lately so workers may want to have a plan in place so that they are prepared in case they must make a move in the future. 

Even if you do decide to stay in your current job, knowing your worth could leverage internal conversations around promotional opportunities or salary negotiations. And grasping what potential employers might look for allows you the opportunity to enhance your skills or learn completely new ones. 


Upskilling is a career cushioning tactic where you cultivate new skills. After all, skills are meant to be cultivated and updated. 

If you aren’t sure what skills you may need to refresh or learn new, engaging a career coach can be enlightening, especially at a time when you are just exploring options rather than scrambling to find a new job. A career coach can help you find direction whether that is with a new job, career or simply identifying a possible side hustle. It can be important to have guidance and direction as you consider what other careers you want to explore or experiment with. 

At JMA, we start with the Highlands Ability Battery aptitude test, which determines your aptitudes or what roles within particular fields could be a good match for your abilities.

A career coach will encourage you to take classes, which is a fantastic way to experiment with a new skill or possible career path. You will get exposure to the lingo and language, and it can help to gauge your ongoing interest. Is this class deepening your curiosity? Are you getting excited about possibilities? Or is it not as thrilling as you wanted it to be? Answering those questions will help you determine your future path. 

Updating your Resume and LinkedIn Profile

When was the last time you looked at your resume or LinkedIn profile? If you are like most people, it has probably been a while. Rather than doing a massive update every ten years, it makes sense to keep track of your milestones along the way of your career. If you hit a goal or mastered a new skill, add it to your resume and LinkedIn profile now. According to LinkedIn, recruiters explicitly use skills listed in profiles to fill roles and that is happening more (30%) year over year. 

Don’t forget to highlight those soft skills such as empathy and creativity to help recruiters get to know who you are.  

Related: Should You Update Your Existing Resume – Or Start From Scratch?

Keep your Network Warm

LinkedIn is more than just a place to post your resume. You can connect with other professionals regarding shared interests which could lead to referrals for new opportunities. And you do not want to only call on your network when you need a favor. It is good to keep your network warm by engaging with people and having those networking conversations so that they are not so daunting when the time comes that you actually need to network. 

I have a client who made it his goal this year to connect with one new person a month this year. He is not necessarily looking for a job right now, but rather wants to connect with people to learn more about them and their work. He is simply curious but by being engaged in the process, his networking is bound to pay off one day when he needs one of those new connections. 

Explore a Side Hustle

More people are turning passion projects into entrepreneurial experiments. Do you have a hobby you love that you could also make money doing? The difference between a side hustle and career cushioning is the intent behind it. Are you starting a business because it is a hobby you find interesting or are you doing it more intentionally as a fallback if you lose your job? 

Sometimes the intention changes over time. I have a career coaching client who is working as a teacher but recently started doing some marketing work for a friend’s business on the side. She started doing the work because she wanted to help her friend, but as she continues doing it, she realized she enjoys it more than teaching. Now, it is her backup plan if she ever decides to leave teaching. 

I also hear clients say they enjoy their side hustle because it provides more interesting work than their “day job” offers. Not limiting yourself to one role and having multiple revenue streams are ways to bring variety to your life as well as decrease your dependency on just one paycheck. 

While no job is guaranteed, being proactive around your career is always encouraged and can lessen the downtime between positions. When you create additional opportunities for yourself and keep your options open through career cushioning, you will be better equipped to weather different situations such as economic fluctuations. You will be more adaptable and able to pivot more easily when faced with changes. This future-proofs your career to some extent and can contribute to a more fulfilling and resilient career journey. 

Learn more about Career Coaching