Should You Start Career Cushioning? – A Complete Guide

Another post, another trend. It’s as if every time we (I) sit down to conjure up another amazing article for our website, there’s a new staffing trend peaking its head from below the clouds. As if to say, “Hey! You will never truly be up-to-date on all the staffing news out there. But, keep trying! I guess.” And when I logged on to see career cushioning becoming the next labor-based trend, I had to ponder.

What now?

Just this year we’ve seen a slew of new ideas — the Great Resignation in a post-pandemic world, frugality, quiet quitting, and its ironic counterpart, quiet hiring. These are just a few we’ve covered in extensive detail. So, to say I wasn’t necessarily jived to see a new buzzword on the market would be an understatement. But, I was mistaken.

To be fair, it makes sense that so many new working ideas are on the horizon. We went through a time when the working world was seemingly destroyed, broken down to a molecular level. For over a year, we couldn’t leave the house. Many began new passions, many had existential explorations into why work really matters, and many businesses changed their formats. On top of that, there’s a recession budding its head. So, drastic changes in thought and procedure make sense.

But, what is career cushioning, and should you be doing it?

Time for a Definition — Career Cushioning

Career cushioning is a relatively new term that has been used to describe the concept of taking on multiple jobs or building a secondary source of income in order to provide a “cushion” in the event of job loss or unexpected changes in one’s primary career path. It can also refer to keeping communication open with other professionals or keeping close tabs on other job opportunities.

Basically, career cushioning is the act of establishing a second income or having a backup job in mind as an act of self-preservation. If your current job were to fall through, you wouldn’t be left in the dust. Essentially, it involves diversifying one’s career options in order to protect against unforeseen events such as layoffs, economic downturns, or changes in the job market (which we’ll get to).

For example, someone who practices career cushioning might have a full-time job, a freelance gig on the side, and an investment portfolio generating passive income. This approach allows them to maintain financial stability even if they were to lose their full-time job and provides the flexibility to explore new career paths or entrepreneurial ventures without risking their entire livelihood.

But Is It Morally Correct?

The idea of searching for another job while you are content at your current one seems… wrong. It seems as if cheating on your current employer, especially if you enjoy your job and company. But, that may be a taboo we’ve established in a society that deems rules based upon the well-being of the company itself.

Think about it this way: think of all the cultural and working-world norms we’ve established. You should never take off unless you have to. You should never speak against your employer or question their motives. These are all acts of not biting the hand that feeds you. And while we understand that the feeding hand is important in the current, expensive age, it may be time to break those traditions.

Having a backup plan or constantly looking for better opportunities is not immoral. As long as it doesn’t interfere with your current work, it’s not wrong. Trying to better yourself and not getting locked into one company and then tossed to the side after you’re laid off is not wrong.

Yes, you may not want your boss to know about it. That’s understandable. But should you not act in career cushioning because you feel it’s unfair to your employer? No.

Based Out of Crisis

In 2022, over 964 tech companies laid off over 149,876 workers globally. Though the numbers may seem skewed, surrounding an industry with millions of workers and thousands of companies, the significance is as crucial as you could possibly imagine. So critical, in fact, that WRAL Tech Wire has created an entire list for ‘Layoff Watch’ this year.

As of the beginning of 2023:

  • BuzzFeed cut 180 employees, about 12% of its workforce.
  • Morgan Stanley laid off about 2% of the workforce, about 1,600 people.
  • BloomTech laid off 88 employees, half of the workforce.
  • PepsiCo is laying off hundreds of corporate employees.
  • Lyft is laying off around 700 employees, about 13% of its workforce.
  • Amazon is looking to lay off up to 20,000 employees globally.
  • Coinbase announced that it would lay off 18% of its workforce.
  • DoorDash is letting go of 1,250 employees.
  • Kraken let go of 1,100 employees due to the crypto meltdown (an entirely other story).

And, that’s not everything. There is a recession that, while seemingly passing, may still storm upon our economy.

Excerpt from How to Prepare Your Career for the Possible Recession:

“Usually recessions sneak up on us,” Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, told CNBC. “CEOs never talk about recessions. Now it seems CEOs are falling over themselves to say we’re falling into a recession… Every person on TV says recession. Every economist says recession. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

The Federal Reserve has been hiking interest rates since March of last year to attempt to slow down the economy. Ironically, the economy had already been slowing on the heels of a return from the 2020 pandemic. Therefore, all analytics and theorists are predicting that a classic recession is going to happen, regardless of what actions come next.

When economic activity lowers, production is less needed and more expensive. Therefore, companies cut labor. It’s a simple cause-and-effect scenario.

While some predict that we can hold off a recession, it’s important to note that many believed the same before the Great Recession in 2008. Though a significant decline in GDP is the main sign of a recession, labor rates dropping often come first. This same scenario happened at the end of 2007 when then-President George W. Bush stated he wasn’t concerned.

So, in a world where anyone in any sector can lose their job tomorrow, it makes sense that career cushioning has become all the rage. Once again, it’s self-preservation.

Benefits of Career Cushioning

Before deciding if you should pick up a side gig or start applying to different jobs, you may want to weigh out the pros and cons of career cushioning. Luckily, we are here for you. As a staffing agency, we know everything about the job hunt.

Let’s break down every positive and negative surrounding career cushioning to define if it’s the right move for you.

Pro: Increased Finances

The first pro is extremely simple: if you have a side gig, a second job, or are looking for better jobs within your sector, you are going to have an increase in finances. It’s as easy as that. More work equals more money, honey!

This extra benefit can be especially useful for professionals in an industry with a steep learning curve. For example, if entry-level positions in your industry are low paying on average, you may need supplemental income to survive while still building your abilities. Then, once you have worked enough, you can move up to cushioned positions.

By having multiple sources of income, individuals can better weather unexpected expenses or changes in their primary career. If you work in a fairly volatile or shifting industry, this may be the most important aspect of career cushioning.

Con: Reduced Focus

A potential drawback of career cushioning is that it can lead to a lack of focus. By spreading oneself too thin, individuals may find it difficult to excel in any one area, which could limit their career advancement opportunities.

As we noted earlier, it’s okay to look for other jobs, even if you enjoy your current one and don’t intend to leave. The issue is when the job search affects your day-to-day performance. For example, if you find yourself not working as hard as usual because you are searching through job boards, you are heading in a terrible direction.

Career cushioning isn’t necessarily preparing for a layoff. It’s having a safety net if it happens. Therefore, your job search doesn’t need to be as feverish as those already fired. If your job search affects your real job, you may end up getting in trouble or fired, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

You are not unemployed yet. Don’t act like it and get in trouble with your actual, paying job.

Pro: Improved Network

Career cushioning can provide individuals with an expanded network of professional contacts. By working in multiple fields or industries, individuals can build relationships with a wider range of professionals, which may prove valuable in the long run. Furthermore, meeting and speaking with people in your current industry can help you establish potential jobs or gigs for when something bad happens.

In a way, the main part of career cushioning is networking. If you know a ton of people in your industry, you have people to call upon and inquire about jobs if you are laid off.

Connect with other industry workers over social media and forum platforms, reach out to experts for advice, and send emails to other specialists for help or tips. Build a network of other people for education and advice. This networking may always lead to references, new skills, or potential job openings in the future, especially if yours goes south.

Furthermore, keep an eye out for help desk conferences, workshops, and online meetings. There are always a ton of ways to meet other professionals in the field. Go meet people, ask questions, and be pleasant. You never know where your new friends may lead you. This doesn’t mean you are actively job searching, but building a great basis for future endeavors.

Con: Time Management

Much like a reduction in effort, having side gigs on your plate can cause some time management issues. One of the biggest challenges of career cushioning is managing one’s time effectively. Taking on multiple jobs or income streams can be time-consuming, and individuals may find themselves struggling to balance their various commitments.

Ultimately, having one job allows you to focus your entire schedule on one job (sometimes too much), but having even the inkling of a job search can send your time management into a spiral, especially if you work remotely.

Remember: your current job is still your current job. Career cushioning is building a foundation for any possible problems, not working to resolve an actual one. Don’t get yourself fired preparing for a firing that wasn’t going to happen.

Pro: New Skills

This is a little bonus, but still a bonus.

If you are picking up a side gig to maintain some backbone income, you will pick up new skills in that industry. This especially goes for independent contractor or freelance work, as opposed to jobs like Uber. For example, if you start working as a freelance graphic designer on the side, but don’t work as a graphic designer primarily, you will be picking up a multitude of new skills.

These new skills may end up being applicable to a full-time job hunt in the future. For example, if you currently are a full-time writer and start picking up graphic design on the side, you may be able to move into a digital marketing or content creation role in the future. Bonus!

Con: New Stress

While career cushioning can reduce stress in some ways (financially, mostly), it can also increase stress in others. Managing multiple jobs or income streams can be overwhelming, and individuals may find themselves struggling to keep up with their various responsibilities.

As noted, having multiple jobs can lead to a stretching of efforts and time management. If these things bother you, or you aren’t made for being overwhelmed, you may find yourself significantly stressed. This is not a good move, especially if you don’t need the stress.

Think about it: why include bonus stress if you haven’t even been laid off yet? It seems contradictory. Therefore, if career cushioning is only going to overwhelm you, you may want to keep it to networking and looking at other jobs. Working a side gig may not be worth it.

How to Implement Career Cushioning

At this point, you have decided whether or not career cushioning is the right move for you. You have looked into your industry and business, seeing if you could potentially be facing industry-wide layoffs. You have looked at the market or perused other jobs that may take up your free time. You have, by all means, made the decision to build a sturdy cushion to land upon if things go south.

So, how do you go about career cushioning without tiring yourself out or offending your current employer? Let’s discuss:

1. Set Clear Goals

You can’t do anything without marking down what you intend. It’s as easy as that. What are your dreams? What are your aspirations?

Overall, take a moment to see what’s going on in your industry and reflect upon your current situation. If things were to go south at your current position, would you want to change industries? Would your current skills and experience apply to other jobs? Look into this before building a network.

Furthermore, write down what you would want in a new job. What would make you willing to leave your current one? What amount of money would be enough to fall on? Would side gigs be able to provide this?

At the end of the day, it’s all about what you want to do and where you want to go in your career. Make sure you have clear intentions before muddying up the water with new job opportunities.

2. Manage Your Time

As we noted, having multiple jobs or a significant job hunt can pull you away from your actual, full-time career. You don’t want to do that.

Managing your time effectively is critical when pursuing a career cushioning strategy. Be sure to schedule your time carefully, and consider outsourcing or delegating tasks when necessary to free up more time for your other commitments. Don’t find yourself working your side gig at the office or searching for new jobs on company time. Not only is this a bad look, but it doesn’t amount to anything other than added stress.

3. Prioritize Self-Care

Do not burn yourself out. Job searching can be stressful, especially if you are working in the meantime. Networking can add emotional and mental weight to your day-to-day. Having a side gig can be too much.

If you are noticing that building a cushion is causing too much stress in your life, you need to cut it. As we’ve hammered home, this isn’t a response to an emergency. It’s precautionary. Therefore, you don’t need to stress about it too much.

Is it important? Yes. Is it your top priority? No. Your current job is.

Make time for exercise, relaxation, and other activities that help you recharge and stay focused.

4. Stay Flexible

There’s a hidden risk when career cushioning. Though you don’t plan on moving from your current job, you may find something significantly better on the horizon. You may find yourself pondering actually leaving your current position, though you never planned to.

The grass is always greener. Right?

In 2022, Zippia found that 65% of those that were currently employed were looking for new jobs, regardless if they were going to take them or not. So, you aren’t in the minority if you are window-shopping on Indeed. Just be ready to take action if something does fall into your lap.

Point being: if you are going to career cushion, you need to be open and flexible for opportunities that arise. What if you get a fantastic job offer? what are you going to do? Be ready for anything.

5. Don’t Openly Speak of It

We noted that career cushioning, networking for the future, and looking at the current job market aren’t morally wrong. It isn’t cheating on your current employer. But, it isn’t necessarily something you want to announce to the world.

Never lie if you are asked by your employer about it, but don’t make an effort to tell everyone in the office. Ultimately, it may make you look like a toxic employee or may lower the employer’s view of you, causing them to let you go. Once again, that becomes an unnecessary self-fulfilling prophecy. Don’t get fired because you are attempting to be secure if you get fired.

At the end of the day, career cushioning is your own effort to build your future. It doesn’t need to be discussed with anyone in the office. It doesn’t need to happen in the office, at all. It’s not worth hurt feelings, lowering morale, or lower professional opinions on you. Some simply don’t understand the concept.

If your boss does find out and asks you about it (somehow), be honest. Let them know you don’t plan on leaving and you love your job, but you see the market and are afraid of the uncertain future. They may have advice.

Never lie.


Career cushioning can be a valuable strategy for individuals looking to increase their financial security, explore multiple career paths, or pursue entrepreneurship. However, it is not without its drawbacks, and individuals should carefully consider their personal preferences, financial situation, and career goals before deciding whether or not to pursue this approach. By setting clear goals, managing their time effectively, building a strong network, prioritizing self-care, and staying flexible, individuals can make the most of a career cushioning strategy and enjoy greater career success and fulfillment.

If you decide that you want to look into other industries or try and build a foundation to fall back upon, don’t feel guilty. It’s only natural to care about your financial future. Just don’t let it bleed into your current job, for it’s still your current job. Also, don’t make it an open and public thing. It doesn’t need to be posted on your social media or discussed in the break room.

Do what’s best for you and make sure your future remains bright.

“Once we rid ourselves of traditional thinking we can get on with creating the future.”

— Jimmy Bertrand, American Drummer