What’s in a name?

Real Carpio So

Real Carpio So

Chief Executive Officer. Market Researcher. Engineer.

A job title is a simplified way of describing a set of responsibilities of an employee. At the very least, it presumes that the employee has the knowledge, skills, abilities that are associated with the title. Moreover, aside from differentiating skills among employees, job titles highlight the contributions of each employee to the organization. They facilitate coordination among teams and foster trust between employees.

For employees, job titles have meaningful implications. Professionally, job titles are often the first information that an employee communicates about himself. The titles denote a person’s specific knowledge, competencies, and status. These can serve as a source of pride and identity for employees. Job titles are important vehicles for identity expression and image construction.

Housekeeper. Assistant Professor. Nurse Practitioner.

However, job titles can also be a source of frustration and stress for employees. For titles that reveal the unpleasant elements of work, employees are naturally reluctant to share their titles. Also, some titles are ineffective in conveying employee competence and contributions. The ambiguity of the title puts the burden of explanation on the employees.

Cast Members. Imagineers. Sandwich Artists.

Job titles carry deep social and cultural meaning. A recent study, “Job Titles as Identity Badges: How Self-Reflective Titles can Reduce Emotional Exhaustion” hypothesized that creating one’s own job title or self-reflective title may serve as a “powerful starting point for job crafting and identity work.” In that study as featured in the May 2016 issue of Harvard Business Review, the authors proposed that, “self-reflective titles can be developed and paired with formal job titles as flexible vehicles for identity expression and stress reduction.”

The study identified three identity-related mechanisms through which self-reflective titles reduce the effects of emotional exhaustion.

One, self-reflective titles affirm one’s identity in the organization. When employees who have expressed their identities are recognized and validated, they experience self-verification.

Two, self-reflective titles serve an interpersonal function. These titles make colleagues see each other as human beings, rather than objects performing roles. They also reduce hierarchical differences among employees. By softening these status barriers, self-reflective titles foster psychological safety.

Three, self-reflective titles facilitate smooth and positive interactions with people outside the organization. Because these titles are unconventional, they arouse curiosity and create interesting and enjoyable conversations.

The need for consistency requires organizations to implement a certain degree of social control. On the other hand, employees strive to balance between fitting in the expectations of the organization and standing out among their colleagues.

Director of First Impressions (Receptionist). Business Communications Conveyor (Courier). Director of Chaos (Events Organizer)

Self-reflective titles can be negative. In spite of good intentions, outsiders may be wary about how the organization works. Despite the fun factor, some titles may make an employee look less than professional by outsiders.

In delicate situations or with uncooperative audience, the use of professional titles may hurt employees’ images and the organizations that they are representing. This can be true when the titles exceed the actual roles and capabilities of the individuals using them. Negative reactions are to be expected when titles do not match the perceived responsibilities of the job.

Change Catalyst (Business Executive). Nutritional Intervention Advisor (Weight Loss Consultant). Food Preparation Officer (Cook)

Moreover, how long will the effect of self-reflective titles last? The novelty could wear off after a short time. What prospects await the employee when he leaves the organization? The title may be beyond the comprehension of a future employer.

I am inclined to doubt. I am the “Resident Skeptic.”

Real Carpio So lectures on strategic and human resource management at the Management and Organization Department of Ramon V. del Rosario College of Business of De La Salle University. He is also an entrepreneur and a management consultant. He welcomes comments at realwalksonwater@gmail.com. The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty, and its administrators.


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