Job title inflation—the act of assigning job titles that surpass employees’ level of responsibility—is alarmingly on the rise. Since 2019, tech employers have tripled their use of the word “lead” in early-career jobs, upped their use of “principal” by 57%, and cut the word “junior” by half, according to Business Insider. Today, we’re sharing what you need to know about job title inflation—why it’s happening, why it’s dangerous, and what you can do instead.
Why Do Companies Inflate Titles?
- Attract Talent. Tacking “Senior” onto a job title is free, and many companies do it in place of salary increases to attract employees.
- Save Money. It’s been leveraged to reclassify low-wage employees as salaried managers—a loophole that cheats workers out of $4 billion a year in earned overtime.
- Satisfy Gen Z. Over half (58%) of Gen Z expects to be promoted every 18 months and attain a Vice President title in 3-6 years—faster than any previous generation. By meeting these heightened expectations, companies hope to boost morale and reduce turnover.
- Make Junior Staff Appear Important to Clients. Customers rate individuals with higher titles as more likable, trustworthy, and knowledgeable, so to elevate the perception of its staff, Goldman Sachs provided Vice President titles to 12,000 employees (a third of its workforce).
What Are the Dangers?
- Limited Applicant Pools. Attaching the word “Senior” to junior-level positions results in 39% fewer qualified applicants according to a Datapeople study. That’s because junior-level candidates see the elevated title and think they’re unqualified while senior-level applicants read the job description and realize they’re overqualified.
- Internal Confusion. Inflated job titles leave employees questioning where key responsibilities truly fall, and when titles are inconsistent across teams or departments, entire org charts lose validity. The resulting confusion can be detrimental to a company’s culture, leading to unmotivated employees and heightened turnover.
- Decreased Retention. Putting the wrong person in a seat is a costly mistake, and those with an inflated job title may soon find themselves walking away (or being asked to step down) if it’s not a good match for their experience.
What Are the Alternatives?
- Manage Expectations. Be clear on what each role entails, including its impact. Establish early on that when an employee receives a promotion, it will be significant, real, and impactful. Finally, show regular gratitude so employees of all levels know their contributions matter regardless of title.
- Provide Context. Title and compensation should be included in hiring conversations, but priority should be placed on the unique benefits of a role and how the opportunity provides more than just money and a fancy title. Emphasize the difference between a candidate’s current role and the role you’re offering, whether that be additional responsibilities, a greater number of direct reports, or enticing growth opportunities.
- Focus on Tangible Growth. Rather than distributing inflated titles, offer ongoing training and development to encourage personal and professional growth. Gain buy-in from employees by allowing them to choose their own training and create goals they’re passionate about. Hold them accountable, check-in, and congratulate them when they’re successful.