We have become so used to the ideas of job titles that it’s almost impossible to imagine a working environment without them. The argument goes that they indicate our organisation’s structure, and as individuals they give us status, a sense of responsibility, and a clear remit for the role we’re doing.

But what if they didn’t exist? Here at Holborn Assets, we’d suggest that there might be a compelling argument for getting rid of job titles all together – and focusing instead on instilling a sense of individual responsibility based on what people are really capable of, rather than what their business card says their title is.

What value does your title really have?

Job titles can give people a strong sense of identity and status within an organisation. A new job title can even – unfortunately for some – be a powerful antidote to not actually being paid properly for what they do in reality. Back in 2012, a report  by the Resolution Foundation showed that the UK is actually suffering from ‘job title inflation’ – that more and more people are being given important-sounding titles, but not the pay to go with it. We’d argue that this is far from healthy – and that our addiction to job titles and the perceived status they bring is counter-productive.

So, would we be better off scrapping them all together? It may be that in some industries it could certainly work. Here at Holborn Assets we’d suggest that building teams around achieving a clear vision and instilling a sense of purpose and action is probably more important than giving people fancy job titles. The thinking goes that because no one is constrained by their job title, then maybe they would be defined only by what they can contribute to the team instead. But perhaps this is going too far – instead, a middle way might be simply to allow people to choose their own titles.

Inspiring change

Why? Because it seems more than likely that – if they’re chosen correctly – job titles can actually change the way we behave. Research by the University of Pennsylvania and the London Business School suggests that job titles that encourage self-reflection – and that are chosen by the employees themselves – can reduce stress and emotional exhaustion. One of the examples they highlighted was a hospital worker who chose to change their job title from ‘infectious disease specialist’ to a ‘germ slayer’, with incredibly positive results.

So, maybe we don’t need to take people’s job titles away from them after all – but instead just help them to choose more inspiring ones for themselves.