What’s in a name? Plenty if it’s the name of the position you hold at your company.
Recent research indicates that your job title can affect everything from your level of mental exhaustion to your identity.
Each year, Pearl Meyer & Partners, a compensation consultancy based in New York City, publishes a study of job titling practices. In 2014, they found that 80% of companies surveyed use job titles to accurately reflect the corporate hierarchy and more than 92% use them to define an employee’s role. However, only 37% use them to attract prospective employees.
That’s a mistake, according to Doug Schade, principal consultant in the technology group, at the recruitment firm WinterWyman. He says titles are an important recruitment tool and can make or break some candidates’ decisions.
"From the standpoint of prestige, job titles have significance within a company. They allow others to aspire to greater heights. Sometimes, they can mean more than a salary increase or other monetary gain," he says. They also indicate the level of responsibility from the top down, he adds.
The Pearl Meyer report also found that nearly one-quarter of employees are allowed some latitude in determining their title. Research published in the August 2014 issue of the Academy of Management Journalfound that employees were less stressed and burned out when they were allowed to create their own job titles. Study coauthor Daniel Cable, professor of organizational behavior at the London Business School, found that "self-reflective" titles broke down barriers within companies and allowed employees to better express themselves.
The study also indicates this change has a long-term impact. The researchers looked at the Make-a-Wish Foundation and found that the chief operating officer (COO) is called the "minister of dollars and sense" while the PR managers are "magic messengers and heralders of good news." Among medical professionals, they found an infectious disease doctor titled "germ slayer" and an X-ray technician titled "bone seeker."
Of course, you can’t really reduce your job stress by changing your title to something more playful, but that kind of creativity is probably found in organizations where the culture supports and values employees, Schade says.
Jason Dionne, senior survey account manager with Pearl Meyer, says their data found that nearly 30% of firms have job-titling practices that can vary from one department to another. While the importance of uniformity will vary depending on the company, Dionne says it’s best to be somewhat consistent, especially if you will seek to retain talent.
"Once they have this title, people may wonder ‘Sally now has that job title. Is she being promoted? Did she just do a really good job?’ You don’t want to have something that’s going to create any kind of confusion or possibly any bad feelings," Dionne says.
If you do take a position where something like "purveyor of all that is good" is going to appear on your business card or LinkedIn profile, Schade advises making sure that the job responsibilities are clear so you can make sure you’re moving into the right level and salary for your experience and the demands of the position. You may also have to do some translation if you eventually do look for a new job. Highlight the responsibilities that show "minister of dollars and sense," for example, is a C-level position.
In addition, Dionne says titles are indicators of the salaries expected. Schade says that’s one of the reasons title inflation can be a problem. In fast-growing companies, vice president titles may be readily doled out. Then, a few years later, once growth happens, the number of people supervised and level of responsibility doesn’t really reflect what the person is doing. So, when the company does need to hire a true vice president-level person, the job responsibilities and salary comparisons can be wildly off.
Dionne recommends being more conservative and setting titles based on responsibilities such as whether managers actually manage people or if they manage functions. Depending on the nature of the job, you might want to consider the size of the staff or region supervised, the importance of the job to the company’s operations, size of department budget, or other factors that can have a significant impact on the scope and complexity of the job.