'Career cushioning': The latest HR trend set to dominate 2023

VP of people talks about importance of HR planning, budgetary foresight to mitigate talent changes

'Career cushioning': The latest HR trend set to dominate 2023

Despite the fact that unemployment in Canada is down, and the power seems to reside in employees rather than their employers, job losses are hitting certain sectors hard.

The beleaguered technology industry has seen layoff after layoff, with Salesforce and Amazon the latest internationals to downsize their workforces. In the face of such uncertainty, employees are rightly anxious – so much so that the current climate has given rise to a new, hazardous, HR trend.

Enter “career cushioning,” the art of actively searching for a more stable job in case you lose your current role. And while it makes strategic sense for employees, for employers, it’s causing an HR headache.

“Career cushioning is what happens when employees want to ensure that they’re always employed,” Andrea Bartlett, VP of people at Canadian software company Humi, tells HRD. “It normally resurfaces when the job market or economy is uncertain.”

Originating in the dating world, the idea of cushioning means to “romance” multiple people at the same time – essentially, hedging your bets. Having migrated over to the corporate sphere, career-cushioning employees are on the hunt for different opportunities while retaining their current salary.

“I see it as a way to reset the power balance,” says Bartlett. “It really puts employees back in the driving seat.”

‘Exploring potential entrepreneurial ideas’

Recent research from Robert Half found that half of Canadian employees plan to look for a new job this year, up from just 31% six months ago. The “new year, new me” mantra means that January is always a hot month for job hopping – that, coupled with economic concerns and the rising cost of living, means employees are clamouring for the exit.

“The degree of layoffs, the degree of over-hiring that a lot of organizations did in 2022, I think it's natural for folks to be exploring their options,” says Bartlett. “It's also seasonal — it's a busier time of year for people to be craving that change.

“I've talked to quite a few clients and individuals within organizations who’ve mentioned exploring side hustles. They don’t necessarily want to leave their job, but they want to supplement their income and explore potential entrepreneurial ideas.”

The fallout from career cushioning for employers is adding yet more fuel to the talent shortage fire. Canadian companies are already experiencing high turnover, driven in part by a lack of career development opportunities coupled with a desire for higher wages.

However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that employers should be stomping out career cushioning – in fact Bartlett believes they should be encouraging it, if they’re ready.

“As long as you’re having transparent conversations, as long as you’re paying fairly and providing development opportunities for your employees, checking in with their level of engagement and looking after their mental health, then career cushioning isn’t such a bad thing,” she tells HRD.

Budgeting for employee expectations in 2023

At Humi, Bartlett says they regularly check in with their employees through engagement interviews, monitoring their satisfaction levels and acting on any discrepancies.

“As employers, you need to see where you’re falling short,” she says. “It's the employer’s responsibility to understand the level of engagement and employee satisfaction at their company. That’s really changed a lot post-pandemic – whether or not an employee trusts their organization is essential. And that, in itself, takes a lot of HR planning at the start of the year.”

In 2023, employees are looking for alignment to the purpose of the company, says Bartlett.

“I would classify that as transitioning your business into a purpose-driven organization and explaining to employees how they’ve contributed to overall strategy and mission.”

Involving employees in HR strategy

When it comes to managing your budget in 2023, it’s important to first understand your employee base. A good place to start is employee surveys – actually asking your people what they want from HR in the coming months means you’ll have ratified data to present to the C-suite.

“After our surveys in 2022, we saw a lot of information around the need for developing first-time manager training and revaluating our group benefits plan,” she tells HRD. “So, throughout the course of the year, we launched that training and also founded a brand new benefits program in October.”

At Humi, Bartlett and her HR team evaluate what their people are looking for first, then use that towards goal-setting for the year.

Read more: Humi Review

“I’m responsible for presenting my proposed budget to the C-suite,” she says. “That’s assessed and approved within a certain range. It’s then up to myself and my team to evaluate how we're going to use the funds in the best way possible across the coming 12 months.”

And while there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to budgetary planning, it’s universal that HR departments consult their people first.

After all, if organizations can expect a slew of career cushioning to take hold in 2023 then it’s essential that HR departments are fore-warned and therefore forearmed.

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