Fearing layoffs, more employees search for a 'plan B' job. Are their worries warranted?

More employees are anticipating layoffs and have started looking for "plan B" jobs to beat their employer to the cut. Such measures may not be necessary, recent data suggests — though workers could be spurred on by tech giants' recent mass firings.

Two-thirds of employees plan to look for a new job as a means of combating inflation in the coming year, according to a September survey from Bluecrew. In a recent article, Korn Ferry called this phenomenon "career cushioning" and suggested it points to a larger issue of falling engagement at companies. 

Trying to stop employees from job hunting is fruitless, and when it comes to workers looking elsewhere, employers can "just assume that it's happening" said Nathan Blain, Korn Ferry's global lead for optimizing people costs. Transparency about the company's performance is the best defense against employee exits, he said — and if the organization is struggling, workers' plan B's can lead to a mutual exit plan. 

But anticipated layoffs may be less likely to materialize than some anticipate. Layoffs and discharge rates increased in only two states in September — by 0.4 points in Ohio and 0.2 points in Illinois — according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' job openings and labor turnover survey, released Nov. 17. The same rates decreased in nine states and changed little in the remaining 39. In the healthcare and social assistance industries, layoff and discharge rates have remained fairly steady all year, peaking slightly in May and July. 

Why are workers showing so much urgency? Big tech companies, including Twitter, Meta, Intel and Amazon, have conducted public mass layoffs in the past month. A Challenger, Gray & Christmas report found that in November alone, tech companies planned to cut 31,200 jobs, more than doubling the 28,207 layoffs the industry made between January and October. 

The healthcare industry is more nuanced. As a recession looms, hospital and health systems will have to make difficult financial decisions — 46 percent say labor costs are their largest opportunity for cost reduction. But hospital CEOs also ranked workforce shortages as their top concern last year as demand for clinicians soared. As a result, when hospitals and health systems cut jobs, nonclinical and management roles are most often affected. 

As the war for talent rages on, the uncertain economic landscape pleads caution from employers across industries. To reel in employees' anxiety, employers should be "sober and real" about where their company is headed and what that means for whom, Korn Ferry suggested.  

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