More than a third of workers admit to lining up ‘Plan B’ job

37% of professionals have taken steps to look for another job in a work trend being labelled ‘career cushioning’.

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Helena Young

Over a third (37%) of workers have looked into starting a new role, as today’s turbulent jobs market sees them lose confidence in traditional 9-5 employment.

The phenomenon is being referred to as ‘career cushioning’. It describes an employee who carries out regular searches online to monitor what roles might be available as a safety net, should anything go wrong in their current job.

According to a poll of 2,000 white-collar workers from recruitment firm Robert Walters, the main rationale to ‘career cushion’ is a lack of job security. 72% of respondents cited this as their leading cause for concern.

The findings are a stark reminder of the ongoing hiring challenges currently faced by small business owners. Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures show that job-to-job moves in 2022 reached a record average of 946,000, driven by resignations rather than dismissals.

Chris Poole, Managing Director of Robert Walters, is warning business owners to look at how attractive they are to future and existing talent, commenting: “The rise of ‘career cushioning’ tactics [means] staff retention needs to be at the top of employers’ lists.”

Cushioning tactics in full flow

Battered by sky-high energy prices and a ballooning cost of living crisis, firms have been forced to cut staff to restore order to balance sheets. Most notably, in tech. Since the beginning of this year, 570 tech companies have let go of around 168,000 employees.

The downsizing has now trickled down into other UK sectors. Earlier this year, ONS data showed that redundancies have increased to the highest levels post-pandemic.

Robert Walters’ research suggests that employees are wise to this troubling economic landscape.

Alongside low job security, respondents also referred to turbulent economic conditions (55%), internal changes within their business (45%), and low job satisfaction (33%) as the main motivations for their ‘just-in-case’ browsing.

Preparing for the worst, many are searching for a back-up career option online. Monitoring the jobs market (66%) and ‘tidying up’ their CV (43%) are the top tactics being used. 15% of people said they had started a side hustle.

Most common tactics for career cushioning:

  • Monitoring jobs market – 66%
  • CV prep – 43%
  • Networking more – 36%
  • Applying for jobs – 33%
  • Upskilling / training – 30%
  • Working with career coach or recruiter – 22%
  • Adopting a side-hustle – 15%

The grass isn’t always greener..

Interestingly, the data also shows that a quarter of professionals admitted that their perusal of the jobs market has led them to appreciate their employer more.

A further fifth admitted that they have discovered their current employer pays better than the market average.

Poole comments: “Career cushioning needn’t always be looked at as a negative by employers. In many cases it can lead to employees upskilling, being more determined to succeed or engaging in more networking – bringing greater value to the business.

“There is no guarantee that those that have a ‘career cushion’ will leave, it’s an old adage but employees researching opportunities elsewhere can often illustrate to them that the grass isn’t always greener.”

Of course, there is still a risk that career cushioning might slip from a passive exploration of options, to an employee actively searching to leave their role.

That peril has become more menacing in recent years, as the fallout from the ‘Great Resignation’ post-COVID continues to threaten small business growth strategies. Official figures show that the unemployment rate has hit a record high in the UK.

The drain on talent has proven so disruptive that many startups are exploring alternative recruitment routes, like hiring ex-offenders or overseas workers.

How to pop a career cushion

It sounds simple. But the easiest method to deflate a career cushion before it can spring your best talent into a new position is to ensure you are offering  a better remuneration package than rival employers.

When deciding how much to pay your employees, make sure to carry out industry benchmarking. This is essentially a fancy way to describe researching how much people in similar roles are being paid in other companies, so you know the going rate for that role.

Understanding how much your employees could be being paid at another company will help you to put yourself in their boots, and evaluate whether a pay rise might be necessary to attract and retain talent.

Perk up

Of course, it’s not all about the money. Benefits and perks packages are now strong magnets for enticing new applicants to your workforce – in fact, forgetting this information is one of the most common mistakes made on job adverts.

Learning and development (L&D) opportunities are the most in-demand. E-learning solutions provider IMC has found that 86% of employees would remain with their current employer for longer if their employers invested more in training and upskilling.

Today’s workers are also searching for ways to engage in meaningful work – a job seeking method where the candidate prioritises roles that are linked to an individual’s personal views and passions.

As a result, organisations are increasingly posting about their unique company values and corporate culture. In fact, LinkedIn recently unveiled a first-of-its-kind values-based tool for job searchers to find roles that reflect their beliefs.

More on this: learn about the many effective tactics you can use to lower staff turnover rate and retain talent in our full guide.

Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

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