Whether you’re an employer or a jobseeker, job titles can be a tricky aspect of working life to navigate. The wrong title (or wrongly communicated title) can be the tipping point between landing your dream hire (or job) and being completely overlooked. Due to this, there’s no room for carelessness when defining a role and, while job titles are certainly the subject of much debate, their role in the workforce is as important as ever.
At their most immediate use, job titles help people understand who is who.
Regardless of how small (or closely-knit) your company is, new hires won’t know the roles in your organisation. Job titles are a straightforward way of ensuring everyone in your company knows who to see for what, which reduces confusion and increases efficiency. This extends to external stakeholders as well!
A well-thought-out job title also tells its holder which tasks they should focus on and what to expect in their day-to-day work, including their interactions with others. While it’s definitely a plus to have employees willing to assist in matters outside of their primary scope, job titles serve as a handy reminder of the tasks that deserve prioritisation.
Making titles work for you
That’s not the only way a job title can benefit its holder though! Upgrading someone’s job title is a great way to reward an employee who’s been consistently performing well and is due a promotion – even if your organisation doesn’t currently have the budget to give them a raise.
In fact, sociology professor Jeffrey W. Lucas discovered that giving higher-status jobs to high-performing employees resulted in “greater satisfaction, commitment, and performance and lower turnover intentions”.
In addition to this, a change in title can even help employees envision new directions in which they can take their careers, inspiring them to evolve their way of thinking and working. Our own Jordan Barker – who’s held an impressive three different titles whilst at Talent Point, most recently assuming the role of Lead Talent Manager – claims that we cannot underestimate the usefulness of that:
“Job titles have helped how I have been able to track where I am in my career and have symbolised at each point a change in the responsibilities that my role entails. In short, the changes I have seen in job titles have represented the progression I’ve made within Talent Point.”
Even if a new title doesn’t change a person’s structural ranking, a simple change to communicate an understanding and appreciation of the skills your employee holds can go a long way. For example, the title of ‘Secretary’ has a lot of negative (primarily sexist) connotations behind it, whereas ‘Office Manager’ acknowledges the organisational expertise held by the person in that role.
On a related note, from an employee’s or jobseeker’s point of view, it’s important to raise any questions about your title to an employer. “[Your title is] a signal to both the outside world and to your colleagues of what level you are within your business,” states Margaret Neale, a professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business and co-author of Getting (More of) What You Want, for Harvard Business Review (HBR). Not to mention it lives on your résumé – and LinkedIn – forever!
Also speaking to HBR, Dan Cable, a professor at London Business School, notes that if you’ve been offered a position at a new organisation, opening up a discussion about your potential title and the tasks it encompasses can be a fantastic way to take on more tasks you enjoy, which of course is beneficial to you in both the short and long term.
And if you’re employed but looking to move on, your title may be a key indicator for prospective employers to gauge how much you earn and your level of expertise. For better or worse, your title will play a substantial part in the type of jobs you’re offered going forward. Titles are used to calculate the value of workers – and their colleagues – both within an organisation and outside of it, which can bring as many negatives as positives.
What’s more, the impact of a job title can even extend into your personal life, bringing you further benefits, so it can be very worthwhile taking exact phrasing into consideration. A title can carry weight in all sorts of places within society, as our Content Manager Murray Adcock found out:
"At a previous employer, my official job title included the word 'Consultant'. It wasn't a huge reach, but I personally didn't do much consulting, certainly not externally. Still, it was on my contract and what the company wanted me to be referred to as, so it's what I wrote on forms when applying for stuff like house insurance and mortgage quotes. The ridiculous thing was, that small word tended to net me 5-15% discount on most premiums!
The title of 'Consultant' has social weight; it turns out that algorithms prioritise it, getting me better offers and cheaper prices. I know friends have found similar things when being promoted to managerial roles, resulting in drops in other annual costs. So if you think your title could legitimately have more impact or sound more senior then it's worth asking your employer, as it could mean genuine savings and more cash-in-hand even without a genuine raise."
Employees in an organisation are prone to measuring themselves against the lowest-performing person at the level above them, which can lead to discontent if they believe they’re working at a higher standard but haven’t been acknowledged with a similar title. In the long run, this can also lead to your employees continually benchmarking themselves against the worst players in your company, eventually bringing the whole group average down!
However, while it can be easy to put the onus on job titles for such issues, it’s wise to take time to consider their root cause. Poor hiring and promotion practices are arguably the primary reason these conflicts arise, and it would certainly make more sense to invest money and energy into correcting that, rather than changing the organisational structure of your company – which can be a costly, time-consuming affair.
In fact, even flatter or holacratic structured offices still retain job titles despite their aim to combat the challenges brought about by traditional hierarchical systems, which is proof in itself that job titles have little part to play in them.
And while flat organisations do completely avoid using job titles, this structure is typically restricted to small companies in which everyone can work completely independently and still be held accountable within the overall scheme of the business. However, even then, hierarchies can be formed based on seniority – which employees don’t need a job title to help figure out!
Julian de Valliere
In the end, job titles are an essential form of communication, both within and outside of an organisation. They directly impact the efficiency and functionality of a workplace – in part by impacting the emotional state of their holders themselves. Therefore, it’d be more than pertinent to treat them with the consideration they deserve – they can make the difference between a well-oiled machine or a production line of calamities!