While inflation has soared in recent months, another area also seems to be affected by this trend: employee job titles. Marie-Astrid Carlier, Associate Director at staffing specialist Walters People, explains.
What exactly is job title inflation?
"Job title inflation is the tendency companies have had for several years to offer their employees lofty, imposing titles without any real impact on tasks, career development or even salary," Marie-Astrid explains.
According to an analysis of more than 2 million ads in the tech sector by Datapeople, recruiters have tripled their use of the title "Lead" for jobs intended for young professionals since 2019. At the same time, the use of the word "Junior" in ads has halved.
Why do organisations apply job title inflation?
By inflating job titles, organisations can firstly try to make their image more credible to their customers and partners. Last year, for example, the Financial Times noted that one of the world's largest audit firms had promoted thousands of its employees to partner (without giving them shares or higher profit sharing) and that a major US bank counted more than ten thousand "Vice Presidents".
Marie-Astrid: "Besides this semblance of credibility, the new job titles would allow companies to compensate for limited advancement opportunities or inadequate pay. The job name would become an additional means of building loyalty in an extremely tight labour market, where the smallest detail counts."
"By promising a nice business card, organisations think they become more attractive to candidates. In doing so, they create the expectation of challenging responsibilities and stimulating projects."
What problems does job title inflation create?
While replacing the job title "Receptionist" with "Director of First Impressions" may seem like a good thing at first glance, it may actually have a negative impact on career development, both among professionals and organisations. Datapeople notes that if the term "Senior" is used incorrectly, the number of suitable applications can drop by 39%:
The least experienced candidates would see themselves as insufficiently qualified for the job, even if they had the right skills;
Candidates with extensive experience would be discouraged by a position below their level.
"This problem is mirrored among professionals: candidates with job titles much higher than their actual skills will not be able to adequately substantiate their career path during an interview, and may therefore struggle to get the job they want," warns Marie-Astrid. There are two sides to the story:
On one side, we see the professional, who does not want to lose the prestige of his or her title;
On the other, there is the organisation, which will struggle to see the link between the title and the candidate's real skills.
What is at the root of job title inflation?
The proliferation of job titles takes place at a time when companies have to make great efforts to adapt to the expectations of professionals from the most recent generations, without necessarily having the means to do so in the form of salary.
The younger generations have new ambitions, which managers sometimes find difficult to understand. They attach importance to different topics and have different working habits than their predecessors. Moreover, everything seems to have to move faster: a survey by JobSage in 2022 found that 58% of workers from this generation expect to be promoted every 18 months, compared with 20% of baby boomers.
"The inflation of job titles seems to be an attempt by the business world to adapt to expectations that it sometimes still finds difficult to grasp. He who does not dare, does not win," concludes Marie-Astrid.