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Why Employers Are Inflating Job Titles

Whether it’s Gen Z professionals wanting to fast-track progression, or cash-strapped employers trying to save on money, but to keep staff engaged, job title inflation has caused an influx of new, more senior-sounding job titles to enter the market without the experience, skills, or salaries to match.

Positions featuring “lead,” “vice president,” or “manager” in the job title, with a maximum of two years’ experience were up more than 48% in the United States over the last year. However, according to Data People, job listings that use the title of “senior” incorrectly can see a 39% decrease in applicants.

In 2022, accounting firm EY appointed over 1,000 new partners. However, the latest cohort will not have access to the traditional share of equity that comes with the title, bringing to question what relevance the title holds today.

“In the past, titles such as lead, principal, partner, and vice president were earned through years of dedicated experience and effort,” said Adam Woolley, associate director, Robert Walters. “However, there is a noticeable shift occurring where individuals are now acquiring these titles even in the early stages of their careers.”

According to a poll by staffing firm Robert Walters, 52% of Gen Z workers expect to be promoted every 12 to 18 months, and start looking for jobs elsewhere if they don’t receive this.

Robert Walters’ recent study in equality, diversity, and inclusion in the workplace found that although Gen Z professionals receive promotions at the highest rate of any age group, they are most likely to earn up to $21,000 per year, and least likely to earn beyond $100,000 per year. While employers may offer more appealing job titles, they aren’t necessarily aligning them with matching compensation.

Are Gen Z Employees Worthy of the Titles?

When asking Gen Z workers what qualities they feel they bring to the table, 39% stated that their ideas and creative thinking were their best assets, followed by a third claiming digital know-how, and a quarter stating that they aren’t afraid to stand up for what they feel is right and push the company forward in a different direction.

Managers, on the other hand, state that what Gen Z lack in experience they make up for in perseverance (33%) and entrepreneurial mindset (26%), with almost two-thirds of employers expressing how impressed they are with the level of autonomy this generation can handle.

Gen Z Dictating their Path

In a stark comparison to previous generations, Gen Z employees do not see the opportunity to manage a team as a sign of seniority.

In fact, 47% of young workers stated that who they line into was a far better indicator of seniority and job importance in comparison to how many people they manage. Two-thirds of Gen Z workers are attracted to a flat structure, with a third stating that they would like to line into a C-Suite equivalent—like chief marketing officer, chief technology officer, head of people, or chief executive officer—by their fifth year with a company.

The recent Robert Walters study into workplace ED&I highlighted just how much Gen Z employees value active engagement with senior leaders. Approximately 80% more Gen Z workers than baby boomers reported that a lack of relationship with management and decision-makers was a key challenge to them progressing in their career.

The Rise of the Workfluencer

Unlike their older peers, Gen Z employees no longer want to be a cog in a bigger machine—they want to be the machine. Over half of young professionals, if given the option, would take a more senior role that they may not be “fully qualified for” yet in comparison to older counterparts, who value close mentorship and guidance from senior leaders as a more viable route to progression. However, young professionals aren’t the sole drivers of inflated job titles. There are numerous reasons why employers may tactically attach inflated job titles to roles.

Woolley uncovers the core drivers as to why businesses may inflate job titles.

  • Attraction and retention. Giving employees important-sounding titles instills a feeling of importance and value to the business, helping to boost morale and reduce turnover.
  • Keeping up with competition. Job title inflation has become so widespread that it is often seen to keep up with the competition. As companies try to compete in terms of perks and benefits, they may feel pressure to offer employees more impressive job titles.
  • Branding for start-ups. Firstly, a compelling job title can lure candidates away from well-known companies. Secondly, startups aim to appear as if they have top-tier talent, especially during funding rounds. Displaying an organization chart with multiple “heads of” is a great illusion to demonstrate experience.
  • Money saving for employers. Job title inflation has been seen by some employers as an effective way of offering the promise of seniority without having to foot the bill.

Woolley drills down into the drawbacks of job title inflation.

  • Careers at risk. Inflated job titles can lead to confusion, miscommunication, and inefficiencies, as young professionals may unwittingly take on roles they aren’t qualified for, given the unclear responsibilities and expectations associated with vague titles.
  • Organizational chaos. It may also damage companies in the long run. Mixing managers or heads who don’t manage teams can cause confusion and resentment among employees, leading to a sense of unfairness and inequality. This risk burnout, lower morale, and higher turnover among young professionals.

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