What’s in a title?

I came across this post on Twitter today and it was the motivation I needed to blog about something that’s been in my mind for a few weeks.

I agree with the fundamental premise of this post: if you give people a more impressive job title they’ll feel more important and do a better job for you.  (What I agree with less is the dubiously manipulative use of this knowledge with the sole purpose of getting more out of people.  Thanks Phil Willcox for highlighting this.)

I was thinking about this recently when I was behind someone in a shop queue with ‘Barista’ written on the back of their shirt.

At some point it wasn’t good enough to be a waiter or a coffee shop assistant, we had to create a new job title that would have the people who make that coffee feel more important, and maybe help us customers feel OK about spending £3 on a hot-water-based drink.

I’m being purposefully obtuse.  I appreciate there’s a skill to good coffee.  My bro-in-law has educated me in that. But what I would love is for people not to need the word Barista on their back to feel important.


This need for a job title to make us feel important is a direct result of the autocratic world we’ve come from, way back in the 1900’s.  In those days the boss was all important; the higher up that gold-plated hierarchy you got the more important and therefore more worthy of being on this earth you were.  A time where ego’s were fuelled by sizes of pay packets and fancy-ness of cars.

And still are.

Today – it’s 2015 for goodness sake! – we still – STILL! – hold the strong societal belief that higher up = better / more important / more worthy / more capable.

How can this belief still hold true?  Is it important to you that your streets are clean when you walk down them in the morning?  Is it important to you that the administration in your business is done every day of every week?  Is it important to you that the cafe where you get your coffee has people to serve you, is clean, has cakes available that were made in the coffee-shop-chain supplier factory, staffed by production line colleagues?

I saw a family on the beach today.  A mum, dad and three kids playing a game of rounders on the sand.  Happy, having fun, laughing together, creating memories.  And not well off.  Or not overtly if they were.  But creating the great memories that fuel our souls and sustain our energy.

And the thing that makes people like this unhappy – the belief that they’re not good enough, that they SHOULD strive for more money, that they’ll be truly happy if they are doing a ‘more important’ job.

Now, just to be clear, I’m not saying that having a well paid job and nice stuff is wrong.  But I am saying that believing your worth as a human being increases based on what you have is wrong – because if that’s true then having less nice stuff makes you less worthy of existing, and that feels like a pretty rubbish position to me.

So let’s stop this now.

If a job isn’t important, why does it even exist?

And a person is not their job.  We’re all important.  Money doesn’t make you a better person.  A different job title doesn’t make you a better person.  You’re an amazing person already: just as you are.

[Photo credit: http://latimerappleby.com/irony-job-titles/]

This is me……..www.wildfigsolutions.co.uk

WFS Tree

4 thoughts on “What’s in a title?

  1. Morning Helen. I will confess… I do like it when you write a post that is driven by your passion & care.

    I’ve had a read of the peninsula article too and it got me thinking. It almost positions itself as ‘change someone’s job title, make it “more important” and then they’ll stay longer & work harder. I’m not sure of the ethics behind that and I thought the lack of references was a shame. E.g. Suggesting change in job title can affect long term morale… Says who?

    On your post… It got me thinking on two fronts: 1) does comparing how people see themselves as a family on a beach & when in the workplace stack up? 2) while job titles don’t define our whole self, they serve a communicative & possible sociological purpose.

    1) I ask about the comparison as in my experience, the phenomenon of ‘My work & home self are very different’ is still very prevalent. How I see myself, how others see me, how others let me speak or the lines/stances/views I am allowed to take can be very different. It may be that to you and me we see the whole person, others may not.

    2) whether we like it people use mental short cuts (or heuristics) to quickly make sense of the world. We use our past experiences and knowledge to infirm what is currently happening. E.g if someone says ‘I’m an administrator’ then we will typically have a load of perceptions that then start to define the activities that person does & maybe even then alter what we will allow them to do or say. As an example of that introduction happened in a meeting, we may default to assuming that person will take minutes or clarify points but if they were too offer opinion or correct someone, that isn’t allowed.

    I guess I’m saying there is more to it, for me, than ‘people are more than job titles so can we move away from this now’. I think it is more complex and broader than that. Job titles may well have other purposes too.

    Let me know what you think…

    • Thanks for your comment Phil. Thought-provoking.
      I agree with point 1) that we can be different people at home and at work and my assertion is that we should be valued for who we are and what we bring in both places – and ideally over time those two can come closer together so we don’t have either The Superman Effect or the reverse of that.
      On point 2) yes definitely there’s a load of perceptual baggage with every job title and it’s less about the mental short-cut saying ‘you’re admin & this is what I think your job is’ (I’m cool with that) and more about valuing that person for what their job involves – eg taking minutes being an essential part of success for us all in the future. Rather than ‘you’re just admin and should feel privileged to be in our company’ (As an aside, I have an allergic reaction to minute-taking but that’s another post altogether!)

  2. Great post Helen. The discussion in my company is about doing away with job titles. We all basically do the same thing, just with different levels of skills/experience. We require people to be so much more flexible in what they do these days and isn’t it better focusing on skills where we need them rather than narrowly defined roles?

    • That sounds great Richard! Facebook have a similar approach where people are ‘engineers’, ‘managers’, etc with no addition of senior / assistant / head of so that everyone’s contributions are equally valued.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *