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What do you do?

Working isn’t just something we spend most of our waking lives doing—it’s something that defines us.  It’s part of our identity.  Something we spend huge portions of our lives educating ourselves to become.  We dedicate hours of our professional and our personal time toward achieving a career, so the title attached to that career is important.  To our whole life.


You fancy, huh?

It’s no wonder then that there has been a shift toward more fancy or offbeat job titles.   So what need does having a fancy title fill?   In Canada, almost 4% of employees work very long hours (50+ per week) and in the USA, 12% of employees work very long hours according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).   For many of us in the technology sector we’re part of that small percentage.  The purpose of the title depends on the person using it, here are three different perspectives on the needs of a job title:


  • Future Employee Need

Job seekers need job titles that communicate and engage them.  They need to know what they are going to do at the company and in competitive talent markets, the titles have got to go further and ‘delight’ as well.  Delight in UI/UX is defined by Martin Gittins as an “unrequired functionality’… “Which can have a powerful effect on how the website is perceived and experienced.” In this case, how a job is perceived and experienced is profoundly impacted by the title—it’s what grabs the prospect’s attention.  

  • Current Employee Need

While a promotion and raise might not be a viable option in the budget, title changes are free of charge.  Many articles advise early talents on how to ask for a better job title at work.  Further to that, the very activity of reflecting on your own role and identity within your company may assist employees in expressing their identity.  Studies have indicated employees who choose their own title report reduced stress, burnout and overall emotional exhaustion. 

  • Business Need

Have you ever changed your name? While breaking down status and barriers through a playful job title change might sound like a quick-fix for HR it can be a massive undertaking on the back-end of a system. Further to that, employers sometimes use job titles as code-phrases for determining what someone’s position is within a company.  Are you an associate or a senior? Changing the system can have unwanted social side effects in that people can no longer encode their position into a signature line.


Conclusion

Culture, company size and corporate brand are going to be what really determines a job title’s purpose within your organization.  If you’ve already got a jeans-and-t-shirt vibe to your communication plan, then you may want to revisit job titles to add a more playful flare.  If you’ve been using a well-established title system encoded to positions, reconsider the implications of changing (or not).

Do you have another perspective? Let me know in the comments section.

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16 Comments

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  1. Jelena Perfiljeva

    Unfortunately, not many employees have any say in how their titles look like.

    For example, previously I was “Senior Programer Analyst”, then “SAP Developer” then “SAP Technical Analyst”. (If you take “senior” into consideration, my career clearly has been going down the drain. 🙂 ) Now here comes the company acquisition and our titles get pigeonholed into the larger company’s HR structure. And now I am officially “Lead Programmer Analyst”. There is no longer any mentioning or SAP or ABAP (apparently HR thinks the programmers are “all purpose”). I appreciate the “lead” addition but really I have no one to lead anywhere, so this is hardly an achievement. Following your suggestion, I should ask for a better title, but computer says no – more playful titles don’t fit into the HR system. But I hope they read your blog. 🙂

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  2. Veselina Peykova

    In some countries, you cannot have creative job titles or any title, which is not stated in your contract (and job titles come from a classification by the government). If you change the title, then you needed to sign at least an annex or a completely new contract. I doubt that many employers would go through all that trouble of paperwork just for an employee’s whim.

    Am I stressed? Not at all, I don’t care what my title is – as long as I like what I do (and get adequate regular payments for that).

    If anybody gets motivated and less stressed just by changing their job title, without changes in the type of work, responsibilities, working hours, team or payment, then they have a very easy job, which will be taken over by people, who can focus on important stuff.

    The only well-known playful job title in my country, that I can think of, is not a real one, but a way to mock people with a wrong perception of their own importance. So even if there were no legal legislation of that sort, nobody doing business would consider using such fancy job titles. 😎

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      1. Veselina Peykova

        For example in Bulgaria, where I come from.

        I am more surprised that there are countries, in which it is allowed to get a title different than the one in your contract. Proper job classification makes it easier to determine centrally when you collect enough points to retire.

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        1. Simone Milesi

          In Italy you have something like that, just a bit less tight: your contract refer to your sector (retail, public, mechanic, chemical and so on…) then your level (in a theorical organization) and the level set your limits and your employer ones (i.e. low levels cannot be forced to accomplish high responsability tasks) and a minimal wage/holidays/annual prize calculation and so on.

          What you really do is written in the contract between you and your employer (plus anything different from the global contract) and then the job title is just an “internal label” for the company, since there are too many specific roles the law doesn’t want to write every day a new one.

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          1. Veselina Peykova

            Yes, money helps a lot … but to retire officially, you collect points, which depend on what you do, where you work and for how long. In some industry/job combinations you get the number of points of 5 years in just 3 and some people can retire at 40, because they collect enough points. If you want to retire officially earlier than the default 61/64, you have to buy points, which are quite expensive.

            The best part is, that after you retire – ideally at 40, you can still work and get pension+salary, and your salary is not reduced by social security and other lame stuff.

            Compared to what I get by just living here, SCN gamification is way too simplistic 😎 .

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  3. Steffi Warnecke

    […] so the title attached to that career is important.  To our whole life.

    Sorry, but: no, it’s not. Not to my career and surely not to my whole life. I don’t really care what my title says, because even changing it does not change my work or how I do it.

    To make things easy for everyone, if somebody asks what I do, I just say “I work in IT”, because most people don’t even know what SAP really is. And before that, when working in system/network/phone administration with data backup duties, user support, IT organization and a whole lot of more stuff, it would be pretty impossible to fit everything my job was on a tiny business card. So it was just “IT Service”.

    Right now it still says “IT Service” and “SAP Development” on my card, even if I’m not a programmer, but that’s my department so I use that. And my official HR title is “system administrator”. No mention of SAP there.

    And I’m good with that, because at the core that’s exactly what I am, no matter the system. 🙂

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  4. Steve Rumsby

    Working isn’t just something we spend most of our waking lives doing—it’s something that defines us.

    Only if you let it. It works much better for everyone if you approach it the other way around. My job hasn’t defined me, I have defined my job. Yes, on day 1 I probably did what the job description said, but from that point on the job description and what I actually do have never been exactly the same. Today, they’re not even close. And the same goes for my job title – today it bears little resemblance to what I actually do.

    I’m inclined to say that anyone who gets stressed by what their job title is has their priorities wrong.

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  5. Simone Milesi

    I agree with Steffi and Steve: if you focus your whole life on job, yes, the job title define you.

    But for me, and i think most  of the people outside there, the job title is just a label I wear in formal meeting.

    And it says all and nothing.

    My actual job title is “Software developer at Global Headquarters”: something more generic can only be “Buttons-pusher on pc”  🙂

    It defines me or my whole life? No, i’m also a father, an husband, a writer, a nerd&geek, an avid reader and RPG lover.

    How all of this could fit in my job title?

    It’s hard, expecially in IT world, but it can be done: wear the job title when you step in the office and wear it off when you step out.

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    1. Andrea McVeigh Post author

      Don’t you think that some people Live to Work and others Work to Live though? Might be something to chat with the people around the table about next time you and your crew get together to play… I wonder if they would be happy with Button Pusher as a job title. 🙂

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      1. Simone Milesi

        I’m sure some people Live to Work! I was one of them before an hard wake up from that nightmare.

        And only after the brutal wake up I recognize it was a nightmare and not the wonderful world i thought 🙂

        I rarely speak of my job when I play D&D: in our group we have many more interesting professionists and their jobs are more funny (we have also an ER doc and a sexy shop owner too  so… more interesting events than mine for sure to share! 😛 )

        And i name myself as Button Pusher after my grandfather (86 last march) named me that way after a long silence when I tried to explain my job.

        Still i do not think my job title define me or my hobbies or my life (otherwise my children can be defined how? “Software Developer’s distraction”? 😉 )

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      2. Jelena Perfiljeva

        I suspect that “live to work” is more prevalent in the US culture. People here almost brag about how hard they work.

        When I went to visit Berlin over 10 years ago I was surprised to find that pretty much all the stores were closed on Sunday. Last Labor Day our local Target was open regular hours, till 11 pm. It’s great for the consumers but must really suck for the retail workers.

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        1. Tammy Powlas

          I’m an ex-retail worker who worked most holidays; I was OK with it as I got time and half pay.  No one forced me to volunteer to work on the holiday either…same for working on Sundays – there was always competition for who worked on Sundays as the store offered extra money.

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  6. Gretchen Lindquist

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eleonora_Gonzaga,_Duchess_of_Urbino

    I supposed some people do still let their job title define them, but most people outside of IT don’t understand what we do anyway, and the people you work with either respect your work or think that you are, in fact, a glorified button pusher. Either way it pays the same, until the day that it suddenly doesn’t, whether due to voluntary or involuntary job change.

    Many years ago, my major professor nicknamed me Duchess, after the Duchess of Urbino. I liked being thought of as a Renaissance woman, and that has stuck with me all these years. Any one occupation has been just a small part of who I am, and if I lost this job tomorrow, or when I retire, I will still be the same multi-dimensional me.

    Gretchen

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