What’s in a name, people ask? Well, plenty, it turns out, when you get onto the thorny topic of job titles.

For some reason, job titles (along with desk location and dress code) are one of the elements of working life which seem to elicit more of an emotive response in people than almost anything else. For many of us, our job title is a primary facet of our work identity, and therefore it is given increased weight when it comes to its significance and the value we place on it.

From the sublime to the ridiculous

In recent years, the trend appears to have been for job titles to move away from the descriptive and start to verge from the sublime to the ridiculous. We have had Wet Leisure Assistants (formally known as lifeguards), Directors of First Impressions (otherwise known as receptionists) and Eviction Technicians (apparently another moniker for bouncers). In our obsession to break the mould and to imply seniority in even the most mundane of roles, we appear to have lost the plot somewhat.

Writing the perfect job title

So, what is the magic formula for the perfect job title? Well, let’s start with what is all too often forgotten: what actually is their purpose? Why do we have job titles, and what should we be looking for them to convey?

Fundamentally, a well written job title should convey to a third party – either internal or external – what the primary responsibility of that individual is. Ideally, it should also give a degree of insight as to the seniority of that person – which is why the US trend to label almost everyone in the business as Vice President of Something can be more than a little unhelpful!

Consistency across organisations is also important. If in one team your line managers are known as Team Leaders, but in another team they’re known as Assistant Managers, it can be confusing to easily pick out the various layers of management.

What’s in a name?

I’ve written before about the rise and fall of the name ‘Human Resources’. At Benefex, we have rebranded to be the department responsible for People, not Human Resources. I don’t really know what ‘Human Resources’ are. My job role is to have overall responsibility for maximising the performance and experience of the people within our business – which is why my job title of Chief People Officer makes eminent sense. (And, if you’re my children, has the added bonus of an acronym that sounds vaguely like a Star Wars character!)

Some organisations have trialled the approach of letting employees choose their own job titles. There’s a logic in handing the power of selecting something which people place so much emotional significance on back to the individual, but there is also an inherent risk in doing so. Not only do you immediately lose your control of consistency across the business, you also risk the objective of job titles describing what the person actually does being wiped out as people compete to come up with the zaniest and most preposterous monikers they can think of.

Less is more

Ultimately, when it comes to job titles, less is more. Keep it simple, keep it descriptive… and most of all, remember what it is that people actually do.