The Case For Letting Employees Choose Their Own Job Titles

Disney calls its theme park workers “cast members” instead of employees. Silicon Valley startups sometimes have bizarre titles on their business cards. IBM has “Data Detective” as a job title. Do these imaginative titles have any value? They can possibly raise morale. Management scholar Adam Grant of Wharton led a study of employees at the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The people at the organization do outstanding things with stressful and depressing situations. A few years ago, they decided to let employees choose their own job titles, and now they have everything from the Fairy Godmother of Wishes to Magic Messengers. Grant wanted to find out if this raised morale.  

The results were surprisingly strong, and overwhelmingly positive. About 85% of the interviewed employees said the new title helped them cope with the emotional exhaustion of the job; many brought it up unprompted. One wish manager told Grant and collaborators that the self-applied description helped her focus on the joy of her job instead of the hardship. "Staff may have a hard time doing this if they didn't have these titles," she said.

Why did such a small change make such a big difference? The researchers believe the new job titles provided self-verification, psychological safety, and external rapport. In less technical terms, the job titles helped workers express their own identity and personality, and put them at ease when interacting with others. The more that being yourself is part of your job description, the less reason you have to fake it even on the hardest days at the office.

Whether the results can be extrapolated to other companies depends on many factors. Some businesses hand out titles to make up for lack of respect or pay. I worked one place where half the staff was a director of something or other, while the owners referred to everyone as “the help” out of earshot. That’s not the case at Neatorama. If I were to choose my own title, it would be Queen Mother. Read more about the research at Fast Company. -via Boing Boing

(Original image credit: Flickr user Paul Hebert)

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I worked for a Silicon Valley startups where we could pick our own titles. I chose to have no title ... and they accepted it! If that failed, I was going to use my name as the job title. After reading the Fast Company article, I see that I inverted the goal of a job title. If "the more that being yourself is part of your job description, the less reason you have to fake it even on the hardest days at the office", then perhaps my younger self was saying that I didn't want to be defined by my title.
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