Title Creep, or Why We Need to Stop Handing Out Overinflated Job Titles

“I don’t care what you call me – my title is meaningless!”

Have you heard this? If you’re in HR long enough, you’ll hear this a number of times over your career.

You know who says this? People making a lot of money, people who’ve been out of work and are just happy to have a job, or people who’ve been around so long they actually really don’t care anymore!

When “Title Creep” sets in

Titles are important to people – although that is not the politically correct thing to say – so you hardly ever hear the truth when it comes to titles. Don’t think job titles are important in your organization? Try changing some. Try going, let’s say, backwards in title! You’ll see how important it is.

The issue I see in many organizations is the concept of “Title Creep.” This is when, for whatever reason (usually the business not doing well so you don’t have money to give out), the organization starts giving out titles over raises (“Hey, Janie, doesn’t look like we have any budget money to give you your 3 percent raise this year, but gosh golly you sure our important to us, so we want to “promote” you to Manager!).

And you know what? That crap works for a little while! Because people love titles!

Just look at banks; they’re really funny about titles! Everyone at a bank – and I mean everyone – is either a Vice President or a President!

Banks really have screwed up the title thing worse than any other industry. You will see banks now that the person’s title will be Vice President – Manager of Recruiting, or Sr. Vice President – Director of Human Resources,  and I wonder to myself,  “So, what is it – VP or Director!? What are you?” This is where titles go very wrong and stop having value to the individual.

The main problem with title creep is when it’s used and people feel because they have, or have had, a certain title that it means they should get that title in another organization.

Stop handing our titles like Halloween candy

I interviewed a sharp person a while back who had graduated from college in HR and over the course of about six years went from HR Generalist, to HR Manager, to HR Director, to VP of HR in the same organization. Impressive, right? But wait, there’s more to the story! She lost her position due to an organizational change (that’s what we call getting fired today so the Gen Y’s and Millennials still feel it’s not their fault) and was struggling in finding another “executive” role in HR.

So, I asked her a couple of questions:

Q: From your beginning as an HR Generalist to your final role as VP of HR, how many direct reports did you pick up?

A: One (1)

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Q: From your HR Gen role to VP role – what responsibilities did you pick up?

A: Well … I still do everything, but I also am now more strategic.

A valuable tool in your compensation tool box

Oh, boy. So, I got to share with her some advice. Stop looking for an “executive” role and find a solid HR Gen or HR Manager role, because you, my friend, are no VP of HR! “Title Creep” really hurt her.

In HR we play a major part in this concept of diminishing returns in regards to titles, and that role should be to stop handing out titles like they are candy from the bowl on the receptionist’s desk at the front door.

We should protect titles and not allow them to diluted, because most people do like them,and they can be a valuable tool in your compensation tool box — but only if you don’t use them very often.

BTW – Best title ever is from K Swiss Kenny Powers commercials!


This originally appeared on the blog The Tim Sackett Project.

Tim Sackett, MS, SPHR is executive vice president of HRU Technical Resources, a contingent staffing firm in Lansing, MI. Tim has 20 years of HR and talent background split evenly between corporate HR gigs among the Fortune 500 and the HR vendor community ? so he gets it from both sides of the desk. A frequent contributor to the talent blog Fistful of Talent, Tim also speaks at many HR conferences and events. Contact him here.


5 Comments on “Title Creep, or Why We Need to Stop Handing Out Overinflated Job Titles

  1. I’m the Director of HR for a mid-sized Bank in the Southeast. I’ve never worked for a Bank and the first time I looked at the employee list here and saw “VP, Underwriting Team Lead” I laughed, I thought they were messing with me. How is a Team Lead also a VP?  He has no officer authority, no direct reports, no purchasing power, but then again we have SVP’s that have no officer authority either.  Never in my HR career have I seen title inflation like I’ve seen it in Banks.  

    1. I know several people who have over inflated title.
      Everyone is a president nowadays.
      Everyone is a director nowadays.
      I guessed people prefer “title” over salary.
      I prefer big salary and you can call me janitor for all I care.

  2. Great article and very true – but please stop with the Gen Y generalisations! I’m a gen Y (just) and the whole ‘we can’t handle the truth’ stereotype is just silly. 

  3. The subtext of this is that the author wants you to know how ‘authentic’ his own job title is by contrast of the example he is using. It’s pretty much a piece of self promotion masquerading as a critique on the modern world. Maybe if he was to delete his own inflated title from the byline, this might be are more honest piece.

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