Career Cushioning and Other Lessons from 2022’s Viral Workplace Trends

Updated May 18, 2023

Man is smiling at park while on laptop with bike next to him

Work doesn’t look – or feel – much like it did in 2019. Since the start of the pandemic, our world has witnessed a dramatic transformation of how we approach work, what we expect from work and even how we quit jobs and find new ones. 2022 was the year of workplace buzzwords, from “quiet quitting” to “productivity paranoia” to “overemployment,” as our society tried to describe, explain and understand these massive shifts in workplace operations and perceptions. 

And it’s not just fodder for clickbait. A deeper understanding of these viral workplace trends and accompanying buzzwords can reveal the current state of work as well as what we can expect in 2023. 

What is career cushioning? 

Of course, we couldn’t escape 2022 without another viral workplace trend taking over the headlines. As widespread layoffs hit the tech sector in the last quarter of the year, “career cushioning” gained traction. 

Career cushioning,  as Business Insider described, is when employees create a professional contingency plan just in case they’re laid off. They’ll explore other opportunities while still in their current roles. Some might be casually looking at job listings while others may be actively applying. In times of economic uncertainty, career cushioning could feel like a common-sense safeguard. 

Even if an employee isn’t concerned about being laid off, career cushioning offers some benefits, such as:  

  • Expanding professional network. Learning about other jobs can help employees build connections with their peers and industry leaders. A strong network is an invaluable resource if an employee is laid off. It’s also an opportunity to learn from other people working in their field. 

  • Researching benefits. Knowing the industry standard for benefits packages gives employees necessary insight for negotiating benefits in their current role, such as more paid time off or a better retirement plan. 

  • Building confidence. Researching other jobs can help employees get to know their strengths as well as where they can upskill. Individuals can use this research to inform their professional development, increasing their confidence in acquiring a new job if needed. 

Related: 7 Tips for Building a Strong Professional Network

How to build a career cushion

The economic uncertainty that characterized 2022 is (unfortunately) probably to continue into the new year. Employees who want to create more security for themselves may choose to build a career cushion. Here’s how to jump on this workplace trend: 

  • Get real with your manager. Don’t be afraid to have a serious conversation about the state of the business and if job cuts are a possibility. If your manager isn’t able to provide the job stability you’re seeking, it’s wise to start exploring new opportunities. 

  • Update your resume and cover letter. It’s time to dust off your resume and cover letter (and, yes, it might have been a minute since you last looked at them). Make sure they reflect your current experience and measurable accomplishments you want to showcase or those that might catch the attention of a hiring manager. You can also tailor your cover letter to the position you’re seeking, incorporating relevant, specific experiences and keywords. 

  • Upskill. Invest time and energy in learning new skills that can advance your career or make you a more valuable candidate. There are many ways to upskill, including taking courses at the local community college or online, consuming content from industry leaders, or even requesting new tasks in your current role. In-demand skills today include proficiency with online programs (such as Google or Microsoft), programming, search engine optimization, and bookkeeping. Soft skills are important, too, including communication skills, professionalism, and honesty.  

  • Explore jobs. Much of career cushioning is simply finding out what positions companies are hiring for. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways, from scrolling online job posting websites (like Indeed or LinkedIn), visiting a company’s online hiring page or networking. 

  • Reach out to old colleagues and contacts. Reconnect with an old coworker. Consult a manager you respect. Set up a meeting with a mentor from the early days of your career. All of these contacts can be immensely helpful when cushioning your career. 

  • Chat with a recruiter. Working with a recruiter in your field can make it easier to identify jobs for which you’re qualified. Furthermore, they may have inside knowledge about positions that haven’t yet been posted publicly. 

Related: How to Know When it is Time to Leave a Job

What we can learn from 2022’s viral workplace trends

2022’s viral workplace trends reveal just how much employee and employer attitudes and expectations have changed since the pandemic challenged the status quo back in March 2020.

Quiet Quitting 

It seems like everyone had something to say about “quiet quitting” in 2022, whether they’d done it themselves, they worried about their employees doing it or they thought it was just a buzzier, more controversial word for work-life balance. The phrase “quiet quitting” first popped up on Tik Tok in March 2022 and is not about actually leaving a job.

It’s about only doing the tasks that are included in your job description, rather than taking on extra responsibilities or going above and beyond. 

Quiet quitting might be more than a passing phase triggered by COVID-19 related burnout. According to an Indeed survey, Gen-Z is over hustle culture. They’re more interested in focusing on their mental health and other aspects of life, rather than giving more time and energy to work. 

Tang Ping 

Turns out, quiet quitting is part of a larger global trend. In China, a trend called tang ping (which translates to “lying flat”) emerged in 2021 as an antidote to the pressures of overworking. China’s commitment to work often verges on the extreme, with many expected to be on the clock for 72 hours per week.

Younger generations are pushing back. Luo Huazhong, a 31-year-old former factory worker in China, told the New York Times: “After working for so long, I just felt numb, like a machine. And so I resigned.” Since quitting, Mr. Luo spent time biking 1,300 miles from Sichuan Province to Tibet and working odd jobs.  


Employees’ dissatisfaction gave rise to another trend in 2021 and 2022: overemployment. The trend gained steam on the subreddit (/r/overemployed), where users described their approach to working more than one job from home during the same nine-to-five schedule – doubling or tripling their salaries and, essentially, gaming the system. Users posted photos of a desk with multiple computers, while others proudly announced accepting a third or fourth full-time job. 

Of course, overemployment is associated with its own risks and many companies contractually disallow working multiple full-time jobs. Moreover, employees may quickly find themselves not only overemployed but overworked and burned out. 

Overemployment, tang ping and quiet quitting are connected by the same underlying philosophy: the current work landscape has de-incentivized going the extra mile. To foster workplace wellbeing and retention, it’s important that employers find ways to reward top-performing employees, whether that’s with bonuses or other perks. 

Productivity Paranoia 

On the other side of the coin is productivity paranoia. As workplaces embraced hybrid models, and employers heard more about quiet quitting and overemployment, they began to wonder: just how productive are my employees? Without an office, it was certainly harder for some to monitor their employees’ day-to-day activities. This paranoia resulted in surveillance – a New York Times investigation found that eight out of the 10 largest private companies in the U.S. use software programs to electronically track their workers’ productivity. This data is then used to determine when and how much employees get paid. 

But, really, who wants to feel like they’re being constantly watched at work? In the end, surveilling your workforce may indeed boost productivity but will likely swiftly kill quality and creativity. 

At the core of productivity paranoia, quiet quitting, overemployment and career cushioning is a severe disconnect between the employee and business leader’s ways of approaching the new world of work. Ultimately, there’s a lack of open communication: employees are worried about being laid off and don’t feel like they have the work-life balance they need. Employers are often unwilling to hear frank employee feedback or discuss the state of the business. And hustle culture is so 2019. 

Related: The Impact of Workplace Wellbeing and How to Foster It

The information in this article is provided as a courtesy. Indeed is not a legal advisor and does not guarantee job interviews or offers.

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