What’s in a Job Title?

What’s in a Job Title?

A recent survey commissioned by the staffing firm Spherion looks at how employees feel about their job titles. One quarter of employees, the survey found, “consider non-traditional job titles unprofessional and are against the idea of having one,” while 23 percent also said these types of titles don’t accurately describe their roles:

Although not every company may have a “Chief Happiness Officer” on the payroll, Spherion found that creatively-named roles are merely a small part of employees’ overall professional title dissatisfaction. Nearly half (42 percent) of today’s workers feel their job title does not accurately reflect their true roles and responsibilities. However, even employees in favor of more traditional titles believe they could use improvement, as 14 percent consider monikers such as “Project Manager” or “Specialist” too generic.

“Employees take great pride in their job titles, and in some cases, a title that is considered limiting or hard to describe can significantly impact their job satisfaction,” said Sandy Mazur, Spherion Division President. “As businesses face greater pressure to retain and recruit top workers, reexamining how different titles are perceived and applied can make a big difference in building morale and positioning a company as a favorable place to work.”

Job titling is an area of frustration from the employer perspective too. At CEB, we asked HR leaders last year if they were planning to reduce the number of job titles in their organizations. About two-thirds of HR leaders reported that they had done so, or would consider doing so. Their goals were to create consistent titling nomenclature across the organization, increase clarity of career opportunities for employees, emphasize titles that provide clarity and impact in external markets, reduce the gap between junior- and senior-level employees (in other words, flatten organizational hierarchy), and reduce overspecialization of roles and responsibilities. On the flip side, only 2 percent of organizations were letting employee choose their own job titles (though another 17 percent said they might consider it).

Connecting our data to Spherion’s findings suggests that both employers and employees want job titles to more clearly connect to an employee’s role. Just how to do this is the tricky part. Some amount of balance is needed between simplification and specification.

For instance, reducing the number of job titles at your organization can deliver many of the results organizations are looking for. However, there are also risks. First, employees may perceive reducing the number of job titles as minimizing opportunities for promotions because organizational structures have flattened. And if simplified too much, job titles can become generic and ambiguous, making it difficult for employees and external partners to identify and understand roles and responsibilities of their peers.