What’s In a Title

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Sep 5th, 2011
What’s In a Title

By now, you may have gathered that many of my blog posts are inspired by personal and real life interactions in the workplace.

Awhile back, I was forced to confront my “Title Envy”. If you’ve never heard of this phenomenon, “Title Envy” occurs when you could care less about the responsibilities of the job as long as a nice, cushy title comes with it. For example, let’s imagine that you’re a Human Resources Professional in a private hospital. You are the head of a department of one. You have no direct reports and you run all of the office functions – from filing FMLA designations to administering progressive discipline. From day to day, you can get very bored – even annoyed – with your position. What prevents you from dusting off your resume and heading for greener pastures? It’s the one solid perk of your position. Your glorious title – Director of Human Resources.

In the early stages of my career, I never cared much for titles. I didn’t see their value in terms of upward mobility. Any recruiter worth their pay would surely look beyond a lofty title to the responsibilities of the job. So, why should I care if I carried the title of Human Resources Administrator while my friend, with less actual responsibility than me, was labeled a Human Resources Manager? It’s the substance of the job that counts, right? Wrong.

Perception is Reality. As a seasoned professional, I understand this. I don’t like it, but I understand it. We live in a sound bite world. In professional networking circles, people want to quickly understand your job. Titles such as Director, Manager, and Officer immediately convey a level of accomplishment or knowledge. Conversely, titles such as Coordinator, Administrator, Advisor, and Consultant are quite vague. While a Director in Company A may have no direct reports, and an Advisor in Company B may have several; intuitively, I will assume the Director has a staff – not the other way around.

If you think like me, then your next question probably sounds a bit like this: “Isn’t it deceptive to accept a management title and present yourself as a manager of staff when you have none?” Suspending my real world notions of fairness and equality, I answer this question through the eyes of the organization. The truth is that the organization bestowed the title upon the position, not the person. If the organization wants to present the position as having an inherent level of seniority, that is the organization’s decision to make.

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