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Job title inflation – say hello to our entry-level Head of?

  • +53% increase in senior-sounding job titles in the past year

  • 52% of Gen Z’s expect annual promotion

  • 47% of young workers do not see managing someone else as an indicator of seniority 

  • 40% of Gen Z’s believe their ‘ideas’ is their strongest asset 

  • Over a quarter of employers believe young workers are more ‘entrepreneurial’ than previous generations

  • 70% of employers claim Gen Z lack critical soft skills 

Whether its Gen-z wanting to fast-track progression, or cash-strapped employers trying to save on money but keep staff engaged; job-title inflation – the process of giving an employee a more important-sounding job title - has caused an influx of new, more senior sounding job titles to enter the market without the experience, skills or salaries to match. 

Positions featuring ‘Lead’ or ‘Manager’ in the job title, with a maximum of 2 years’ experience were up a combined +53% in the UK & Ireland, over the last year. 

However, according to Data People, job listings that use the title of ‘Senior’ incorrectly can see a -39% decrease in applicants. 

In 2022 accounting firm EY appointed over 1,000 new partners, however the latest cohort will not have access to the traditional share of equity that comes with the title – bringing to question what relevance the title holds today. 

Habiba Khatoon – Director of Walters People comments: “It used to be the case that titles like Lead, Principle, Partner and VP took years of experience and hard work – however, that now seems to be changing, with professionals being awarded such titles despite only being in the primary stages of their career.

“Employers must be aware that the pendulum swings both ways – attaching senior titles to junior positions can deter suitable candidates as much as it attracts them – making them feel too underqualified to apply.”

Are Gen-Z's asking for too much, too fast?

According to a poll by staffing firm Walters People, over half of Gen-Z's expect to be promoted every 12-18 months – and if they don’t receive this they start looking elsewhere.

Habiba adds: “Young workers have cottoned on to how candidate short the market is – particularly at the junior end where we are still contending with the bottle-neck caused by grad-schemes being paused at the height of the pandemic. 

“With that young workers hold most of the cards and so if they do not get the promotion – aka fancy job title – from their current employer, they know that this will be on offer elsewhere for them.”

Are Gen Z’s worthy of the title?

When asking Gen Z’s what qualities they feel they bring to the table; 40% stated that their ideas and creative thinking was their best asset, followed by a third claiming digital knowhow, and a quarter stating that they aren’t afraid to stand-up for what they feel is right and push the company forward in a different direction. 

Managers on the other hand stated that what Gen Z lack in experience they make up for in perseverance (33%) and entrepreneurial mindset (27%) – with two thirds of employers expressing how impressed they are with the level of autonomy this generation is able to handle. 

Habiba adds: “Many Gen Z’s would have completed their degree remotely, and then entered the working world remotely or certainly in a hybrid manner. Working in solo, and checking in or giving updates digitally rather than face-to-face is essentially the norm for these young workers – so it comes as no surprise that they can thrive in this environment.” 

The drawback to this is that social skills have taken a hit. An overwhelming 70% of hiring managers state that soft skills such as communication, relationship management, rapport building, and collaborative working are all lacking in this generation. 

Gen Z’s dictating their path

In a stark comparison to previous generations, Gen Z’s do not see the opportunity to manage a team as a sign of seniority. 

In fact – 47% of young workers stated that who they line into was a far better indicator of seniority and job importance vs who (or how many people) they manage. 

Two thirds of Gen Z’s are attracted to a flat structure, with a third stating that they would like to line into a C-Suite equivalent e.g. Chief Marketing Officer, Chief Technology Officer, Head of People, or CEO – by year five of their time at a company. 

Habiba comments: “The research indicates that the ability to drive high-level decisions is an important contribution to Gen Z’s feelings of worth to an organisation. This is very different to previous generations who had far more comfort in knowing that their specialism – such as finance or marketing – was part of an important cog in a bigger machine.”

The Rise of the Workfluencer

Unlike their older peers, Gen-Zers no longer want to be a cog in a bigger machine – they want to be the machine.

Over half (52%) of young professionals, if given the option, would take a more senior role that they may not be ‘fully qualified for’ yet vs older counterparts – who value close mentorship & guidance from senior leaders as a more viable route to progression. 

Habiba comments: “What this points to is a clear prioritization of instant seniority, inflated job-titles and an entrepreneurial mindset over traditionally valued soft skills and interpersonal abilities. this could very well symbolise the tip of the iceberg in a growing trend of individuality in the workplace, of which young professionals are at the helm of.” 

However, young professionals aren’t the sole drivers of inflated job titles – there are numerous reasons why employers may tactically attach inflated job titles to roles. 

Habiba uncovers the core drivers as to why businesses may inflate job titles:

  • Attraction & Retention: Giving employees fancy-sounding titles which they are proud of instils a feeling of importance and value to the business - which can help to boost morale and reduce turnover.

  • Keeping up with Competition: Job title inflation has become so widespread is that it is often seen as a way to keep up with the competition. As companies try to outdo each other in terms of perks and benefits, they may feel pressure to offer employees more impressive job titles as well.

  • Branding for start-ups: This works in two ways – firstly, a better sounding job title may help draw candidates away from companies who have an established employer brand – for example, Gen Z may like the sound of a ‘Head of Data' role at a start-up vs a data analyst role at HSBC. On the other side, start-ups want to appear like they have the very best talent when going for rounds of funding. Not to mention, showing a company org chart which has a number of ‘Heads of’ is a great illusion to showcase you have bag if experience backing you. 

  • Money Saving for Employers: Job-title inflation has been seen by some employers as an effective way of offering the promise of seniority without having to foot the bill. 

Habiba drills down into the drawbacks of job title inflation: 

  • Careers at risk: Job title inflation can actually damage Gen-Z’s current job satisfaction, as well as their future progression prospects. Upon accepting an inflated job title, young professionals may be signing up for a position they aren’t actually qualified for – a vague job title can come with a vast array of responsibilities and expectations that aren’t always clearly disclosed. Whilst for companies, it can lead to confusion and miscommunication within the organization. If employees are given inflated job titles, it can be difficult to know who is actually responsible for what, which can lead to inefficiencies and mistakes.

  • Organisational chaos: However, it may also damage companies in the long-run – not to mention cause organisational confusion over who sits where, when you put managers or heads who don’t actually look after teams of people in the mix – things can get confusing. Furthermore, job title inflation can also lead to resentment among employees. If some employees feel that they are being given inflated titles while others are not, it can lead to a sense of unfairness and inequality within the workplace. This can ultimately lead to young professionals at risk of burnout, overall lower staff morale and higher turnover rates.


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