Why You Should Let Employees Pick Their Job Titles

Traditional job titles are like business meeting jargon—they’ve become meaningless and have tended to make my eyes glaze over. As positions evolve thanks to changes in technology and workplace dynamics, it’s time for employers to let individuals choose job titles that reflect what they actually do.

Think about it: Wouldn’t you like to have a desk plaque that says Chief Happiness Officer? Or how cool would it be to have a business card that said Software Ninjaneer or Master of Storytelling? And doesn’t Director of First Impressions sound way cooler than receptionist?

For some fortunate professionals at forward-thinking companies, creative job titles are all the rage, and experts are finding it can have a positive impact on employee happiness. As reported in the Harvard Business Review, a London Business School professor who conducted research on this trend found that once some of the formality is removed, cool job titles helped inspire creativity, and even empowered some workers to triumph over workplace stress. Other research suggests that letting employees choose their own job titles can even serve as a top strategy for retaining talent since it gives them a sense of autonomy. In fact, it could be part of a larger cultural trend in which more than half of employees say they’ve gained more influence at work over the last five years, according to Staples Business Advantage Workplace Index 2016 report.

Giving Employees a Title Shot

Companies that have had success with this approach include Disney and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. At Disney, employees are known as Imagineers and Cast Members. The Make-a-Wish Foundation has rebranded all its job functions into inspirational titles, which includes the CEO who has become the Fairy Godmother of Wishes, and the PR team now referred to as Magic Messengers and Heralders of Happy News.

Still need convincing that a job title can have that an effect on performance and employee happiness? Here are a few more compelling reasons why it’s worth trying in your organization:

It’s a perk. In an age where raises, bonuses, and promotions aren’t always available to offer, providing fun perks can serve to keep employee morale high. The ability to choose your own job title can help give your team a sense of validation.

It’s indicative of a fun work culture. Giving your employees the ability to introduce themselves to potential clients or customers using a unique job title will not only be a great conversation starter, but it will illustrate the “human side” of your company. People will genuinely want to know more about the “cool” organization behind the original job title.

It gets employees excited and motivated. In the Make-a-Wish case study, about 85 percent of the employees surveyed said their new job title helped them cope with the sometimes emotionally draining aspects of the job, as reported in Fast Company.

It can add a little flair to a potentially nondescript position. There’s no getting around the fact that some job titles sound dull. However, being called a Genius (like Apple store employees are) rather than service technician can jazz things up.

If you’re thinking of letting employees pick their own job title, you should set some boundaries. Here are a few to get you started:

Make sure the chosen titles fit in with your company culture. You want the new position names to continue to convey the values of your organization. That’s why Make-a-Wish went the inspirational/magical-sounding route. Does IT Jedi or Marketing Maestro make sense in the context of your company?

It should be meaningful to the role. Queen of Awesome sounds, well, awesome, but it doesn’t say anything about what that employee does. On the other hand, it’s not too much of stretch to infer that Brand Champion is a marketing position.

It should be the employee’s choice. That’s the whole point here, isn’t it? On the other hand, if an entire department is rethinking its titles, it can be a fun team exercise to brainstorm new titles together, and then take a vote.

Ultimately, even though allowing employees to pick their own titles is more of a symbolic gesture, it can demonstrate that the company values its workforce. Plus, leaving a little room for lightheartedness, even in a serious industry, is an excellent way to help workers feel relaxed. Take it from this Blog Writing Aficionado—a change in job title can be more meaningful that you’d think.

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