Job titles help employees understand their organizational fit and the jobs they should apply for in the future.
Job titles also help companies organize and define the expectations they have for each employee.
We surveyed 505 full-time U.S. employees to learn about their experiences with job titles and how they affect workers' attitudes and ability to execute their roles.
We discovered that employees rely on their job titles to demonstrate their organization's commitment to fairness and accuracy. Descriptive job titles that reflect employees' tasks and workloads are important for every company's success.
To provide employees with job titles they consider reasonable, companies must:
- Accurately define employees’ primary roles
- Plan to introduce more job titles as their business adds employees
- Develop a detailed job description before creating a title
- Close to one-third of people (31%) work at companies that have employees with 1 to 5 different job titles, while one-quarter (25%) work at companies with more than 20 job titles. Businesses should plan to have more job titles as they become larger because their employees will likely perform more specialized roles.
- Nearly two-thirds of employees (64%) say there is no or little difference in the daily tasks two people with the same job title at their company complete, demonstrating that the most important role of job titles is to summarize employees’ primary roles.
- Roughly two-thirds of people (66%) say it is somewhat or very important for two workers with the same job titles to have the same level of responsibilities. Experts believe that companies must represent the extent of each employee's responsibility when crafting job titles, such as adding a "senior" designation to the title of an employee who manages other people's work.
- More than one-quarter of men (26%) say they have more responsibility than all other co-workers with their same job title, while only 18% of women make the same claims. Experts say that male employees are more likely to overestimate their responsibilities compared to others with the same job title.
- Close to one-quarter of employees (23%) do not believe their job title effectively represents their work, suggesting that companies should always determine a role’s daily activities and expectations before assigning it a job title.
- Just 14% of companies require a change in job title before granting pay raises, suggesting that companies should grant pay raises because of job performance, not just because of a change in job title.
1. Offer More Job Titles as Your Company Expands
Companies should expect to introduce more job titles as they become larger and their employees' roles become more specialized.
About 44% of companies have between 1 and 10 job titles, including 31% with between 1 and 5.
Meanwhile, one-quarter of businesses (25%) have more than 20 job titles.
Experts say that companies are likely to have more job titles as they grow and evolve to reflect the different skillsets and responsibilities of their employees.
Tia Coward, events coordinator at Snap Events, an event-planning agency in Las Vegas, says that her job title does not represent every element of her day-to-day role, as she does not focus on event coordination only.
According to Coward, job titles at a 5-person company such as hers rarely summarize an employee’s full range of tasks and responsibilities because employees are expected to perform more tasks outside of their main role. At a larger corporation, marketing jobs, for example, are often broken into specific categories: A social media expert becomes a “social media manager,” a technical SEO marketer is called an “SEO specialist,” and an employee who stages events is an “event coordinator.” Since roles at larger companies are more specialized, such job titles usually do summarize employees' full roles.
Because her agency is smaller, Coward understands that she is expected to have a hand in all aspects of marketing, even though her job title does not indicate it.
With increased company size comes increased employee specialization, so companies should be prepared to introduce more job titles as their business expands.
2. Provide Employees Job Titles That Reflect Primary Tasks
Businesses should give employees job titles that summarize their primary role, which will keep employees productive, satisfied, and effective.
Nearly two-thirds of employees (64%) say that if two workers have the same job title at their company, there is generally little to no difference in the daily tasks they complete.
To experts, it is vital that companies outline employees’ typical tasks in their job title descriptions.
“Job titles should reflect the position they represent,” said Mike Golpa, director of G4 by Golpa, a precision implant dentistry. “Think of the job title as a miniature summary of the job. It should tell you what they do before you even get to the description.”
For example, Golpa says that a “purchasing manager” should spend most of his or her time at work obtaining products and services. A “social media manager” should primarily focus on managing a company’s social media, not designing an internship program or pitching stories to journalists.
For smaller companies, providing a job title that recaps daily responsibilities is more challenging because employees likely have a range of responsibilities.
Coward says that job titles are vital to effectively engaging with clients and other contacts outside the company.
“The most important thing to me as an employee is that my job title reflects what a potential client or contact would expect."
“The most important thing to me as an employee is that my job title reflects what a potential client or contact would expect from someone reaching out to them about planning an event,” Coward said. “It wouldn't make as much sense for a ‘social media manager’ to be asking [a client] to book a 3-day, $1,000 event.”
Coward’s job title may not reflect all of her tasks, but it does emphasize her primary expectation: coordinating and conducting event-planning.
Companies can keep their workforce happy and effective by ensuring their job titles represent employees’ primary tasks and responsibilities.
3. Understand Employees Want Same Responsibilities as Co-Workers With Same Job Titles
People want to be treated fairly at work, so companies must provide their employees with job titles that honestly represents the workload they have.
Employees prefer workers with the same title to hold the same level of responsibility, which is the accountability and control employees hold over themselves and, sometimes, others.
Two-thirds of people (66%) say it is very or somewhat important for two employees with the same job title to have the same overall responsibility at work.
Meanwhile, fewer than 2 in 10 employees (16%) say that it is not at all important for employees with the same title to have similar workloads.
Businesses should consider the difference between tasks and responsibilities:
- Tasks are individual, deadline-driven activities that employees complete to advance larger projects.
- Responsibility is a broader state of accountability and control. Employees can hold responsibility for themselves and for the work of others.
For example, two employees may complete similar tasks, but if one is also responsible for guiding the work of others, the two employees have different levels of responsibility.
To account for this difference, businesses should give the two employees different job titles.
John Moss, CEO of English Blinds, a window blinds supplier, says employees should be rewarded with a new job title that highlights additional responsibilities when they receive them.
“Simply designating someone’s title as ‘senior’ can reflect the added experience and responsibilities, ensuring that they feel their work is acknowledged, respected, and appreciated.”
“Simply designating someone’s title as ‘senior’ can reflect the added experience and responsibilities, ensuring that they feel their work is acknowledged, respected, and appreciated,” Moss said.
At his own company, Moss now refers to supervisors who manage other supervisors as “senior supervisors,” in comparison to the “general supervisors” who manage projects and teams but not other employees in management.
By making simple but obvious efforts to factor employees’ responsibility into their job titles, businesses such as Moss’ satisfy employees and make their own organizational structure clearer.
4. Understand That Some Employees Will Think They Have More Responsibility Than Others With the Same Job Title — Even If They Don’t
Even if responsibility is factored into employee job titles, some employees are bound to believe they hold more responsibility than others in the same position. For example, more than one-quarter of men (26%) say they have more responsibility than all other employees with the same job title.
Only 18% of women share the same sentiment.
To experts, men’s heightened likelihood of believing they have more responsibility than their peers is a reflection of broader workplace issues, including:
- “The motherhood penalty,” in which working mothers are perceived as less productive and professionally dedicated than men, women without children, and women with grown children, according to Christine Michel Carter, author of “Can Mommy Go to Work?”
- Ignorance about the large amount of time women spend on “office housework” such as emptying the dishwasher, buying birthday cards, and taking notes, according to the Harvard Business Review.
- Women being less likely than men to be promoted or hired into a role as a first-time manager
Broadly, experts believe that employees have a tendency to overestimate their own level of responsibility while underestimating the contributions of their co-workers.
"I've always felt that people, in general, will exaggerate how much work they have on their plate, as society seems to equate those with a lot on their plate to those with strong work ethics," said Garret Seevers, vice president of marketing at Azuga, a fleet tracking services company. "I also feel like it's easier to downplay somebody's role in something until you are the one actually working in that same role later on down the road."
Descriptive, accurate job titles and descriptions help employees avoid downplaying other people's roles and responsibilities.
5. Determine Job Titles After Deciding Job Role and Expectations
Some workers think their title fails to represent their work, demonstrating that companies should determine an employee’s job title only after deciding what his or her daily expectations and activities will be.
While 38% of employees say their job title very effectively describes their role at work, close to one-quarter of employees (23%) do not believe their job title effectively represents their daily work.
Coward says job titles tend to be different from employees’ actual roles when companies:
- Use generic, non-specific job titles without considering their applicability to a specific role
- Fail to write a detailed, specific job description that outlines expected competencies and accomplishments
- Create a job title before cementing the job description
For example, someone starting a new job as a “marketing manager” may expect to write marketing copy and manage a marketing team. Some “marketing manager” jobs, however, primarily involve completing highly technical SEO strategies. An employee hired under the belief he or she will write marketing copy who ends up crafting technical SEO strategies is unlikely to be happy and effective.
By failing to tie a job title to an employee’s actual work, companies may create worker dissatisfaction because employees want to do the work their title suggests.
6. Give Pay Raises for Performance and Career Growth, not Job Title Changes
Employees should have pay raises tied to performance, not necessarily a change in job title.
Just 14% of employees say that their company only offers pay raises to employees when their job title also changes.
In comparison, 39% of employees say that pay raises are generally granted without a change in job title at their company.
Ladan Davia, founder and CEO of AI-driven job listing company Beeya, says she ties pay raises to performance, not an employee’s title.
“I don’t believe in the idea that just because a person doesn’t have a certain title means they aren’t eligible for a raise,” Davia said. “If they’re hitting their marks, being productive, making deadlines, and advancing the company, then that should be all you need to know.”
Beeya, which has six employees, has a chief technical officer (CTO) who is responsible for the research and development of the company’s software. Even though the department’s “C-suite” position is filled, the company’s other developers can still earn bonuses and pay raises if they perform their jobs well.
Offering pay raises based on performance, not job title changes, is especially important for credentialed employees.
For example, most employees at Golpa’s dentistry have pre-set titles and certifications earned through specialized training. Dental technicians, dental hygienists, and lab technicians cannot easily have their title changed each time their pay is raised to reward performance, longevity, or a cost-of-living adjustment.
Without a significant change in the job role, employers do not need to give workers a change in job title each time their pay is increased.
Make Job Titles Accurate and Effective
Job titles are important to the career growth of employees and to the organizational efficiency of companies.
Crafting job titles that provide employees a sense of internal purpose and external legitimacy is important for businesses large and small.
To effectively create job titles, companies must:
- Use job titles to summarize employees’ primary roles
- Plan to introduce additional job titles as their company adds employees
- Tie job titles to the daily tasks employees complete and the overall responsibility they hold
- Develop a detailed job description before creating a title
By following these steps, companies will provide their employees job titles that help them grow as professionals and contribute to business success.