February 24, 2020

It is easy to dismiss creative job titles as a silly practice in euphemisms. While some regard such playful monikers as flippant or even downright nonsensical, research has shown that unique job titles can have positive effects on the productivity of workers. Austere, traditional job titles are becoming passé. Like business jargon, they can be excessively technical and limiting to the point where an individual has no agency to go beyond his or her job scope. As a start, employers can involve their staff in the naming process to give them greater autonomy over their job titles. This is also a great strategy for talent retention to make employees feel valued. Once formalities are removed, witty job titles can become an empowering tool to help workers circumvent workplace stress. Psychologically speaking, if they take pride in being called a “Master of Storytelling”, wouldn’t they work hard to fully embody the role?

Avoid generic titles like chief culture officer, and try to reflect what the employee does for the company. Perhaps calling a receptionist “Director of First Impressions” instead, could accrue more importance to a job, incentivising the individual to work harder. In 2016, the Staples Business Advantage Workplace Index reported that workers felt happier when they had a choice over their job titles because they felt a greater sense of purpose. If you want to bring out the best in your employees, here’s why you should ditch the traditional titles for more creative ones.

It gets employees excited and motivated

After the executives of Make-A-Wish Foundation took a trip to Disneyland, the US company was inspired to change all its job titles to more fun and meaningful ones. The CEO became the Fairy Godmother of Wishes, and the PR team was renamed the Heralders of Happy News. In 2014, a study conducted by the Wharton University of Pennsylvania and London Business School interviewed 22 staff members to enquire about the impact of this retitling. 85 per cent of the surveyed said that they felt lower levels of emotional exhaustion when they had a change of job title. The creation of self-reflective titles (chosen by the employees themselves) made them feel greater validation and recognition for their work. The management concluded the survey by saying, “Rather than viewing titles solely as sources and reflections of formality and rigidity or mechanisms of bureaucratic control, our research suggests that titles can be vehicles for agency, creativity, and coping.” Making otherwise puritanical titles sound more appealing is a way for companies to liberate workers and inject some lightheartedness at work.

It gives employees more individuality 

Rather than insipid job titles that do little to differentiate employees from each other, giving each employee a unique job title will empower them with a sense of individuality, which can motivate them to put in more effort. Job titles should reflect the unique contributions of each individual without oversimplifying. London Business School professor Dan Cable agrees and says, “Rebranding job titles around the ‘why of work,’ unique cultural traits, and employees’ personal identities can have important effects on how outsiders respond to the jobs and how people in the jobs see themselves.”

We all know that some job titles may sound insipid, but small tweaks can go a long way into energising your employees. For example, Apple store employees are known as ‘geniuses’ rather than service technicians, and such catchy designations help to give them a special identity, resulting in less staff turnover, better teamwork and performance. Grasshopper, a tech company, calls their corporate communications associate “ambassador of buzz”, and MapInfo Corp, developers of location intelligence software have a team of “masters of disaster”, who help the state acquire any information they need to recover quickly from financial calamities.

Self-reflective and creative job titles can humanise top managers

Creative job titles can be a bridge to create openness between employers and employees. These titles give top managers a human touch, making them more approachable to employees—inspiring open communication, trust and mutual confidence, as well as lowering barriers to raise issues or problems. The CEO for Matrix Group, an American digital agency, is also known as the chief troublemaker. Honest Tea, a bottled organic tea company based in Maryland, calls their CEO “the President and TeaEO”. Having tongue-in-cheek designations creates a less intimidating environment for employees who are typically afraid to approach bosses for help, and fosters a positive company culture.

Even as we allow employees to choose their own job titles, certain boundaries must be in place to ensure that job titles are appropriate. While Queen of Amazing sounds like a great title (and only slightly narcissistic), it does nothing to reflect the roles and responsibilities. Future employers should avoid ambiguity, so as to attract the right talent with the technical expertise and skill set. Sometimes there is no other way to call an engineer, an engineer.

Avoid title inflation. You can claim to be a social media guru, but this will set up unrealistic expectations that others have of you lest you fail to deliver. While ingenious job titles can make a difference in how we see ourselves and how others perceive our work, it’s wise to think long-term to avoid embarrassment. So before we say goodbye to the chief operating officer and say hello to the chief of getting sh*t done, just remember that these titles will be an indelible part of your employment history.