In a recent article for the magazine of Lancaster University Management School, Fifty Four Degrees, Professor Sir Cary Cooper examines what ‘wacky’ job titles mean for employers and employees.
A trend which began with the emergence of the multinational internet giants has now spread to other sectors. Professor Cooper points out that, whilst Apple, Facebook and Google are the biggest employers of ‘Ninjas’, ‘Gurus’, ‘Rockstars’ and ‘Superheroes’, around 8% of companies which responded to a recent survey are no longer using job titles to define an employee’s role.
So what is the effect of job titles which do not actually say what the employee is doing all day? How do they affect recruitment and employee engagement?
A study by the Academy of Management Journal found that self-reflective job titles contribute to a lowering of stress among holders, but Professor Cooper also warns that “implausible” titles can create difficulties in functions such as HR, where titles like ‘Director of People’ and ‘Chief Happiness Officer’ have emerged:
“The problem is that they suggest someone has a job that’s all about people, with the chance to introduce real changes and creative initiatives, when the reality is still all about dealing with personnel admin, pay and rations.”
On recruitment websites, the evidence suggests that most candidates enter search terms that describe the nature of the role rather than the culture or values of the company. By advertising for a ‘Guru’ or ‘Rockstar’, employers may go unnoticed by talent, or deter talented individuals who feel either confused or infantilised by the title.
Major employers like Sky, Ovo Energy and American Express all advertise for the position of ‘scrum master’ – a software development role. However, a study of 1,000 British adults found that 75% of British adults thought ‘scrum master’ was a fake job title, or didn’t know for sure if it was real. Most people who took part in the study couldn’t distinguish between genuine tech industry job titles and titles invented by the researchers, often based on computer games.
As Professor Cooper notes, Google understands this problem, which explains why its jobs page lists common titles such as ‘software engineer’ and ‘financial planning manager’. Only when people join the company do they acquire their less conventional title.
It is likely that more examples of creative job titles will emerge as new companies or even whole new sectors look to attract the best talent by gaining publicity and sending out a signal about their culture. Companies which take this approach would perhaps be well-advised to follow Professor Cooper’s advice:
“If there’s some new and individual magic about a post, that’s great. If not, tell it like it is.”
MSB is delighted to have an ongoing partnership with Lancaster University Management School (LUMS), enabling us to deliver leadership programmes which provide participants with a combination of academic rigour and practical insight. Such is the strength of the relationship that one of MSB's Joint Managing Directors sits on the Dean of the Management School's Council.
Professor Sir Cary Cooper CBE is 50th Anniversary Professor of Organisational Psychology and Health at Manchester Business School and a Visiting Professor at Lancaster University Management School.