The BBC reported today that in a world where pay rises and promotions are lacking, an alternative is increasingly-complicated job titles. Is this right, wrong, or just plain silly?

As Angela Baron from the CIPD said in the report, “People can get very emotional about their job titles if it doesn’t reflect their level of seniority or responsibility. All sorts of menial jobs have quite sophisticated titles to make them feel their jobs are important. So on the Newcastle Metro, ticket inspectors are now called revenue protection officers. It has made their jobs sound more important – and why not?"

One of my first jobs was in a coffee shop/internet cafe. It was run by some people I knew and was pretty ‘alternative’. One of their policies was to give ridiculous job titles, mostly because they thought it was amusing, but also for the future CVs and so on of their employees – although in reality, in this case it probably didn’t make a difference!

I worked there part-time and was a ‘Sandwich technician, bread specialist and special diets consultant’. I made sandwiches and coffee as you can probably guess, but it was quite an education and a really fun environment to work in. The silly job titles were just part of it. It didn’t exactly prove a huge motivator, but I enjoyed it and still make a great coffee now.

HR is blamed in the BBC article for over-inflating job titles. Presumably it’s not for fun in this case but for descriptive and emotional purposes?

I’ll give you an example. In journalism the common theme currently is to be an ‘assistant editor’ rather than an ‘editorial assistant’. Editorial assistant is often translated rather unkindly as ‘office monkey’ – when in fact the two roles are usually the same, but to a magazine editor might look quite different. In a world where two people often make up an entire editorial team, it seems fair to give the person doing a lot of the work a decent title, and it means a lot to some people. On a larger magazine editorial assistant and office coordinator might be closer – it depends on the organisation.

For others, a job title is aspirational. You’ve always wanted to be a HR partner, or perhaps a HR director. You’re working towards that role. In the meantime you have a lot of responsibility and your title reflects that making you Group HR manager (motivation, engagement, talent management and wellbeing) (EMEA). A bit of a mouthful, and probably quite ridiculous sounding, especially to the plain English campaign!

So it this job title inflation vanity? Possibly. If it is, is that a problem? Perhaps it does us good to indulge a little in some innocent vanity with our employees, especially if we can’t award pay rises or promote right now. Perhaps better still is to ask the employee what they think is appropriate and reflective of their role.

Then again some believe in promoting as flat a structure as possible and doing away with job roles. Some suggest providing a list of responsibilities instead.

Do you have a long job title? Do you have it because it reflects your role, did you inherit it, and do you like it?

If you have a short job title, how would/could you ‘inflate’ it?

Is this whole thing vanity, fairness, or just plain silly?