Inflation in Job Titles

Have you felt over-whelmed by the different types of job titles being thrown around in a company or the job market? I certainly have and have always felt that it is a lot to do with “dressing” up things. The Economist carries this interesting article about inflation in job titles.

When it comes to job titles, we live in an age of rampant inflation. Everybody you come across seems to be a chief or president of some variety. Title inflation is producing its own vocabulary: “uptitling” and “title-fluffing”.

And, it appears that title-inflation is particularly acute for titles which are a subset of  “president” (vice president, assistant vice president etc.) as compared to “chief”. Here is an outstanding piece of statistics:

The number of members of LinkedIn, a professional network, with the title vice-president grew 426% faster than the membership of the site as a whole in 2005-09. The inflation rate for presidents was 312% and for chiefs a mere 275%.

So, what’s happening? What are the reasons?

What is going on here? The most immediate explanation is the economic downturn: bosses are doling out ever fancier titles as a substitute for pay raises and bonuses. But there are also structural reasons for the trend. The most basic is the growing complexity of businesses. Many not only have presidents and vice-presidents for this or that product line, but also presidents and vice-presidents for various regions. Put the two together and you have a recipe for ever-longer business cards: vice-president for photocopiers Asia-Pacific, for example.

The cult of flexibility is also inflationary. The fashion for flattening hierarchies has had the paradoxical effect of multiplying meaningless job titles. Workers crave important-sounding titles to give them the illusion of ascending the ranks. Managers who no longer have anyone to manage are fobbed off with inflated titles.

Leadership in title inflation, as in so much else, is passing to the developing world, particularly India and China. Both countries have a longstanding obsession with hierarchy (fancy job titles can be the key to getting a bride as well as the admiration of your friends). They also have tight labour markets. The result is an explosion of titles. Companies have taken to creating baffling jobs such as “outbound specialist”. They have also taken to staging public celebrations of promotions from, say, assistant deputy director to principal assistant deputy director.

And, what are some of the possible implications of title inflation:

The snag is that the familiar problems of monetary inflation apply to job-title inflation as well. The benefits of giving people a fancy new title are usually short-lived. The harm is long-lasting. People become cynical about their monikers (particularly when they are given in lieu of pay rises). Organisations become more Ruritanian. The job market becomes more opaque…

And, far from providing people with more security, fancy titles can often make them more expendable. Companies might hesitate before sacking an IT adviser. But what about a chief scrum master? The essence of inflation, after all, is that it devalues everything that it touches.

What do you think are the implications of title-inflation? Is it worth it?

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