It used to be that job titles simply indicated an individual’s role and place within their organisation. The standard practices around titling helped others quickly estimate a person’s professional capabilities and pay level. Nowadays however, job titles have gained a significance that extends beyond mere role identification.

We can see this trend growing through the increasing number of people inventing and using innovative labels to describe their work. Many of these can be especially creative and eye-catching in social media networks and other professional platforms. Some people today use their job title as a ‘brand’, thereby a tool to help improve their chances of securing great opportunities in today’s vibrant job market. But for most employees, simply being able to create their own job title fulfils a long-standing need to better affirm their workplace identity.

The uniform conventions with job titling do help to easily identify a person’s occupation, but these also run the risk of being too standardised, thus becoming vague and impersonal. Their hierarchical structure do help to clearly establish a person’s authority and scope of responsibilities, but the variance can be limiting especially in very large organisations. Some studies have found that the lack of appropriate titles for lower positions can affect employees’ sense of purpose and belonging in a company, and thus also their level of engagement and job satisfaction.1 Moreover, much of the standards around titling are becoming irrelevant and outdated in today’s ever-evolving digitalised workplaces, where it is more and more challenging to explain jobs in a nutshell.

As technology assists businesses in their evolution, it is also rewriting existing jobs and creating new ones. More notably, digitalisation has changed how work gets done. Work is increasingly fragmented and democratised, and not necessarily completed by specific people doing specific jobs. Rather, much of today’s work has to leverage an agile ecosystem of skills – inside and outside of the organisation. Skills are the currency of the future of work. In this sense, the activity of personalising job titles needs to be flexible and able to evolve with the changing tide.

Figure 1. Evolution of some job titles in the last 5-10 years3 5

Figure 1. Evolution of some job titles in the last 5-10 years 

The digital mind-set has helped to rewrite cultural perceptions around titles as well. In Asia Pacific, some cultures even link a person’s job title – or lack thereof – with their accomplishments and social standing. Personalising one’s own title challenges this status quo. It asserts the view that what a person actually does or has achieved, trumps traditional expectations and social norms. This includes questioning how an individual is made deserving of senior titles such as ‘manager’, ‘director’ and ‘chief’.

Figure 2. Examples of emerging roles in the future of work4 5

Figure 2. Examples of emerging roles in the future of work 

Organisations that have allowed employees some control over their titles – granted with certain guidelines for clarity, consistency and fairness – are gaining a visible upturn on productivity and engagement, as well as decreased stress levels and burnout.2 Organisations need to recognise that job titles are now an important piece of the employee experience.

Sources:
1 Does Employee Engagement Depend On Position Level?
2 Why Your Job Title Means A Lot More Than You Think
3 The evolution of job titles: Ten years on
4 The evolution of job titles
5 10 popular job titles that barely existed 5 years ago


About the Authors

Sambhav Rakyan

Sambhav Rakyan

Willis Towers Watson


Sambhav Rakyan is the Data Services Practice Leader in Asia Pacific. To connect with Sam, please email wtwapdata@willistowerswatson.com.