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The rate of job cut announcements at U.S. employers in November was more than five times greater than a year ago, according to a report by Challenger, Gray & Christmas. Overall, U.S.-based firms announced 76,835 job cuts in November, led by the technology sector. So far this year, tech companies have announced nearly 81,000 cuts.
While the numbers seem staggering, the total number of layoffs year to date is the second lowest on record, since the firm began tracking jobs cuts in 1993. The lowest level was last year.
“When we’re looking at layoffs across the board, while we have seen an uptick from the historic low layoffs we’ve been in at the last two years, we’re not seeing huge mass layoff activity,” said Challenger, Gray & Christmas senior vice president Andrew Challenger.
As layoffs continue to make headlines, nervous employees are engaged in what is known as “career cushioning.” Workers are polishing their resumes, firing up their networks and building new skills to prepare for new opportunities.
“There’s a bit of a game of musical chairs playing out, and employees don’t want to be caught out when the music stops without a seat,” said Mark Royal, a senior client partner at the global organizational consulting firm Korn Ferry. So current employees want to be in a position to quickly grab a new job.
Experts say some of the motivation for career cushioning may also be coming from employees in search of a position that better aligns with their values.
“I suspect it’s coming from folks that don’t feel a sense of belonging in the workplace don’t find purpose in the work that they do,” said Julie Kratz, founder and CEO of Next Pivot Point, a leadership-training organization that works with companies to promote diversity, equity and inclusion.
So employees are “kind of playing it out in their job currently waiting for something better to come along and actively searching,” she said.
In a similar fashion to the trend around “quiet quitting,” career cushioning may also come at the expense of productivity. To keep employees focused, experts say companies should be as transparent as possible.
“In an absence of information, people fill in with fear,” said Kratz. “So if you have had layoffs, [be] clear about how much more you expect of that, or not, just to quiet those fears, especially going into the holiday season so that you keep your talent.”
Company leaders should take steps to ensure the employees who stay will be part of a winning strategy. “Leaders can take steps to try to build confidence that the company is taking the right actions to deal effectively with the challenges ahead and create a promising outlook for the organization as a whole,” Royal said.
Managers also should acknowledge the degree of uncertainty with their direct reports, and find ways for employees who stay to benefit from a reorganization.
“While we may not have an epidemic of quiet quitting and we may not have an epidemic of career cushioning, leaders or managers are wise to take the signal seriously and think about ways they can combat any disengagement by focusing on some core engagement, potential elements and how they apply in the current context,” Royal added.
For workers who may be engaged in career cushioning, don’t forget the best option may be to secure the job you have.
“As you’re working on plan B, don’t forget to work plan A and work to reinforce your value,” said Royal. He suggests employees tackle priority projects that demonstrate their unique value and make them hard to replace.