Posted by: garispang | June 17, 2009

Job title inflation reaches alarming levels

In business, job title inflation is a rise in the general level of prestigious titles used to describe the activities, responsibilities, duties and tasks related to specific jobs over a period of time. When the general level of prestigious titles rise, each position that deserves a lofty title decreases in prestige; consequently, job title inflation is a decline in the real value of a job titles.  A chief measure of general job title inflation is a LinkedIn People Search (LIPS), which can show the number of employees with a lofty job titles.

Job title inflation can have adverse effects in business. For example, uncertainty about future job title inflation may discourage employees from feeling proud about their current title. High job title inflation may also lead to economic recessions if too many employees begin valuing title increases over salary increases.

Business experts generally agree that high rates of job title inflation are caused by an excessive growth of job titles containing “Chief”, “Executive”, “President”, “VP”, “Director”, “Supervisor”, or “Manager”.   Views on which titles determine low to moderate job title inflation vary among experts, but most agree that an increase in the number of jobs including “Sr.” prefixes, and “AVP” (Associate Vice President) are key indicators of low to moderate job title inflation.  In the right context, “Engineer” can also be considered job title inflation (Custodial Engineer).

Job title Inflation is usually measured per job title by calculating the job title inflation rate of a job title index, usually the LinkedIn People Search (LIPS Index). The LIPS Index allows experts to search for specific job titles and displays the total number of results among all LinkedIn users.  The job title inflation rate is the percentage rate of change of a job title index over time.

For example, in May 2008, the number of jobs containing the word “Executive” totaled 323,393 users.  In May 2009, this same search returned 1,758,495 users.  Although LinkedIn membership also increased during this same time, the formulas account for the increase in membership by accounting for the increase in the denominator.  It still leads to a 207% job title inflation for any job containing the keyword “Executive”. 

The formulas used to calculate job inflation using the LIPS index:

Specific Job Title Index:
(Number of LinkedIn Users with specific title) / (Total number of LinkedIn Users)
Specific Job Title Inflation:
(Job Title Index in Most Recent Year – Job Title Index in Previous Year) / Job Title Index in Previous Year

Specific titles with high job title inflation rates since 2005:

“Chief”: 800k LinkedIn users (2% of LinkedIn), with 275% job title inflation since 2005.
“President”: 2.1m LinkedIn users (5.2% of LinkedIn), with 312% job title inflation since 2005.
“VP” or “Vice President”: 1.5m LinkedIn users, with 426% job title inflation since 2005.
“Associate Vice President” or “AVP”: 126k LinkedIn users, with 490% job title inflation since 2005.
“Director”: 3.8m LinkedIn users (9.58% of LinkedIn), with 382% job title inflation since 2005.
“Manager” or “Supervisor”: 9m LinkedIn users, with 245% job title inflation since 2005.

What does all of this mean?
If you have a job title that contains Chief, President, VP, Director, Manager or Supervisor, you might want to be prepared for layoffs.  If 43% of workforce is managing the other 57%, there’s some room for trimming.  To those of you that fall into the shrinking majority, this could mean one of two things:

Best case scenario: You are making far more money than your colleagues because you value salary more than a meaningless job title.

Job title inflation isn’t just limited to the lofty executive and management titles.  Another breed of job title inflation is also prevalent at the workplace — job title fluffing.  What does Web Developer IV mean?  Does a Sr. Business Analyst do more than a Business Analyst or are they just older?  How can someone possibly be a Customer Support Engineer?  What the heck is a Barista?  These questions encompass only a fraction of the overall confusion regarding job titles.  Like executive job title inflation, job title fluffing is also used to please the masses.

What is job title fluffing?

Job title fluffing is the practice of taking a very normal occupation and ‘fluffing’ the job title to sound like something important.

Who fluffs job titles?

No one is certain, but the easiest target is Human Resources.  They are already despised, so the blame might as well be directed at them.

Why do they fluff job titles?

Because people love to feel like they’re part of something important.  Posting a job opening with an impressive title draws people in.  Giving someone a new impressive title, like Business Analyst instead Functional Hunter, makes people feel special.  Drawing more demand for a job and making people feel special all lead to two things: smaller salaries, and smaller increases in pay.  Inflate the ego, deflate the wallet.  Job titles are like iced tea.  It looks good, because of it’s visual similarity with soda.  It’s appeal draws you in.  But upon your first sip, you realize it tastes like crap and you really just wanted a Coca-Cola Classic.

What are the side effects from fluffing job titles?

There are two side effects from job title fluffing:

1. Job title ambiguity.
Job title ambiguity causes massive confusion while job searching.  On the plus side, friends and family will have no idea what you do, so you never need to talk about work.  Examples of job titles in this category are:

a. Job titles that include roman numerals.  The only thing “IV” means to me is that Rocky defeats Ivan Drago and he proves that if two boxers can get past the divide caused by the Cold War, then we all can.
b. Job titles that include a Jr. or Sr. prefix.  Will I be working with my father?
c. Job titles that include engineer.  Chemical engineers are real engineers.  A Solution Engineer?  No one has a clue.

2. Job title embarrassment.
There are some job titles where the organization intended to fluff the job title.  But it backfired.  Examples of embarrassing job titles are:

a. Sandwich Artist. If you work at Subway, it’s highly unlikely you’d ever describe yourself as a Sandwich Artist unless it’s done as a joke.
b. Cast Member.  If you’re a clerk at the Disney Store, you aren’t just a clerk.  You are part of the Magic Kingdom.
c. Coach.  Managers at Foot Locker are awarded the coach label.  This doesn’t make any sense since their employees are referees.  If they were going to stick with embarrassing job titles they should have gone with Head Linesman, or Umpire.
d. Examiner.  If you’re a writer on a popular blog you are above and beyond the skill set of a writer.  Or in my case, several notches below.  So perhaps Examiner makes sense.
d. Barista.  I don’t care if it means something in another language.  If you work at Starbucks, you are a coffee guy or coffee girl.  Clerk is fine too.

When will job fluffing end?

Never.  That is why we need to celebrate it.  Do you have additional examples of job fluffing titles?  Feel free to add them in the comments section below.

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