Inflation is a key theme in today’s economic environment and it seems not even job titles have escaped its influence. Titles are getting longer and grander – every second person I meet in financial services is either some sort of chief, specialist or consultant. At the very least they have a seniority- or management-implying prefix, such as senior, leader or head, tagged onto their title.
For obvious reasons a ‘documentation specialist’ sounds much more impressive than an ‘administration clerk’, right? But has this all gone too far? Is it just a cheap way for employers to attract and/or retain employees? Have titles completely lost focus and do they now only remotely reflect the role?
In a previous life in another industry, titles were a respected and precious commodity. For example, a manager was typically a well-rounded individual with comprehensive experience in a particular field. Nowadays, sometimes it feels like employers compete to have the most impressive sounding titles.
The internet abounds with humorous anecdotes: there’s the ‘hydro-refrigeration distribution specialist’ (ice packer and seller), and ‘sanitation consultant’ (cleaner). In banking, I have seen titles that are misleading at best: ‘regional managers’ whose portfolio only covers a single country; ‘team managers’ who don’t actually have teams nor manage; and ‘senior managers’ who still report to ‘managers’.
A cheap and nasty trick
In a tight job market, employers use titles as a cheap and simple way to try to attract or retain staff. Whether it effectively tackles the short-term talent crunch is open to debate, but I’m convinced it is generally not a good long-term strategy because it increases employees’ external marketability without providing the improvements in the role or package that they wants
In other words, the reasons for internal staff dissatisfaction have not been addressed but their up-tiered titles now make them seem more attractive to rival banks.
Title inflation can make the initial stages of job searches a hit-and-miss affair. With job titles and even descriptions sometimes only vaguely representative, it’s hard to know whether a position is really what we think it is, both in terms of role and level. Maybe employers do this deliberately in the hope of attracting more applicants. Perhaps it’s a Catch 22 situation – the firm next door does it, so to be competitive we do it too, thus perpetuating the cycle.
Whatever the reasons, it’s happening now in Asia. As a banker with a long way until retirement, the question in my mind (for which I don’t yet have an answer) is this: how do I manage title inflation and still survive and thrive?
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