Express Your True Identity With a DIY Job Title

It’s not unusual these days to see people with unusual job titles. There’s a Director of Chaos at Berkshire Hathaway and a Director of First Impressions at the reception desk of many companies. Google has a Captain of Moonshots. Some employees at IBM call themselves Data Detectives, and a former marketing team member at Quicken Loans held the title Revenue Raiser. Disney refers to some of its workers as Cast Members.

Such quirky, often customized job titles might seem pretty meaningless — a throwaway perk for low-level employees or an official expression of arrogance for top ones. But in certain situations they might do an awful lot of good for worker well-being. A new study of self-appointed job titles, published in the August issue of the Academy of Management Journal, suggests they can reduce emotional exhaustion among stressed-out employees.

Ok first of all I want to meet Berkshire Hathaway’s Director of Chaos. Secondly, this is all so very sad.

The idea that choosing your own title makes you less exhausted at work stems from an in-depth case study done in the Make-a-Wish Foundation offices, where employees chose titles like Magic Messenger and Fairy Godmother of Wishes. 85% of employees reported that the new title helped them cope with the stress of the job (which at a place like the Make-a-Wish Foundation is particularly valuable).

Why did such a small change make such a big difference? The researchers believe the new job titles provided self-verification, psychological safety, and external rapport. In less technical terms, the job titles helped workers express their own identity and personality, and put them at ease when interacting with others. The more that being yourself is part of your job description, the less reason you have to fake it even on the hardest days at the office.

I do think there’s nothing worse than an embarrassing job title. Okay, ‘nothing worse’ maybe just after war, famine, and having a kid who’s dying of terminal cancer not get their Wish. 🙁 But relatively speaking! It’s hard to do scare quotes around your job title when you’re holding a glass of wine at a networking event, ya know? (My first job title at Tumblr was ‘VIP Concierge’.)

So I think input is important but I also think it’s hard to choose your own title — if it’s not a joke, that is. Am I a director? A manager? A captain of moonshots? (⊙﹏⊙) Ideally there’d be a discussion with your superior(s) and maybe a list of options. Titles are important. For getting your next job.

Photo via Flickr

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