As we substantially get influences by subtle language cues, jobs are taking on new fancy names.
If you are on LinkedIn, you must have noticed the fancy titles that people use to describe themselves. Someone in a sales position is a ‘Global Sales Team Leader, Business Development Manager’, in human resources is a ‘People Manager, Talent Acquisition Specialist’, and someone running one’s own enterprise is typically a ‘Serial Entrepreneur, CEO and Board Member’. In fact, our own Prime Minister has been vehemently asking people to consider him as a Pradhan Sevak and not a Pradhan Mantri. Shakespeare famously said “What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. Does it really smell the same?
How we think and behave with the world around us is often biased. We get substantially influenced by such subtle language cues. Surprisingly, most of this happens at a subconscious level – that is, we do not even realize that this is happening to us. Job titles are an indicator of several things at workplace such as status & power, responsibilities of the job, knowledge and skills required to hold that position, level of influence and authority that the person has on others, autonomy to take important decisions and so on.
Companies have now been actively playing with this idea. Job requirements, salary, or schedule do not change – only thing that is altered is the title. Couple of years ago, Apple famously titled some of their retail employees as ‘Geniuses’. The positions became a sought-after one – new applicants came in, existing employees started striving to achieve this title, and turnover rate decreased. Receiving the title –without any change of work or additional money - became a matter of pride for the employees and their family. Similarly, at Starbucks, the coffee servers were labeled as ‘Barista’ or ‘Coffee Master’ and then there was a ‘Geek squad’ at Best Buy.
In some companies, employees are being allowed to create their own titles. Recently, a participant in my class told me this “Before my arrival for my job in Brazil, my superior told me that I had the freedom to choose the name of my function myself, as they had to create my business cards. I decided that ‘Project Analyst’ sounded much better than ‘Intern’, and I was very pleased to tell my family, friends and even strangers that I was officially a ‘Project Analyst’ in Brazil. This certainly made me happy.”
In their research, Professor Adam Grant from Wharton Business School along with his colleagues found the surprising result that such self-reflective titles reduced stress and emotional exhaustion. By being able to connect their work environment with their self-identity, employees focused on the more purposeful aspects, felt more satisfied with their work, and also closer to the company.
Crafting such titles can go a long way. Certainly, it can boost one’s confidence and morale and this, in turn, can increase employee engagement, motivation, and performance. This technique can certainty be valuable for stigmatized jobs. Blake Ashforth, from Arizona State University, through his research categorized 18 occupations this way and studied ways to neutralize the stigma. One clearly helpful technique is retitling - clerks can become ‘sales associates’, janitors become ‘custodians’, and so on.
As much as this technique can help bring fun, confidence, and better performance in the workplace, it can also backfire. On hearing that street cleaners are being called ‘surface technician’, a person reacted “Before that, I naturally associated the work ‘technician’ with a highly technical profession such as an electrician or an engineer, then adding up the word ‘surface’ somehow the image I had my mind was much closer to that of an architect on the field than to the reality of a street cleaner. I recall finding it quite hypocrite, confusing, and inaccurate at the time. Why wouldn’t you just title your profession to what you actually do, namely cleaning up streets?”
Since most of us have a tendency to glorify ourselves, many of us can end up being pompous, fake, and inauthentic. To see the dangers, you could do a mini-experiment with people around you. Most people would want to give their job title a more prestigious or funkier twist. Words such as ‘Master’, ‘Guru’, ‘Expert’, ‘Manager’, ‘Specialist’, ‘Coach’, ‘Artist’, ‘Principal’, ‘Champion’ are being thoughtlessly added to the titles. And then many use such words to camouflage their true employment status. Some statistics suggest that the most popular fake LinkedIn job title is "consultant" - as many as a third of the 1.44 million search hits LinkedIn returns for this word could really be unemployed. This further puts those genuinely in consulting at a disadvantage. And then some titles can sound frivolous and become far too much such as a receptionist being called the ‘Director of First Impressions’!