Downsides to using inflated job titles in Singapore

Along with legal risks, inaccurate job titles can lead to employee disengagement and burnout, says academic

Downsides to using inflated job titles in Singapore

A recent report from Robert Walters Singapore highlighted that 43% of hiring managers are inflating or considering inflating job titles in a bid to attract or retain talent.

The practice involves inflating or exaggerating job titles that may not accurately reflect a role’s responsibilities, seniority or salary.

"If employees are given inflated job titles, it may be difficult for them to understand their actual job scope, or make it confusing to know who does what, which could lead to tasks not actually being done," Monty Sujanani, country manager of Robert Walters Singapore said, according to Singapore Business Review.

But what are some other impacts of inflated job titles?

Inflating job titles

Job titles represent an identity in a professional field and come with a set of expectations not only on what an individual can bring to the table but what others believe this person can bring as well, says Dr Kim-Lim Tan, lecturer at James Cook University Singapore’s Business School.

He added that there are both internal and external factors that drive a company to use inflated job titles. Internally, they are used to attract people to a role, especially in a market that is highly competitive.

“Employers will use inflated titles just to make their [job] openings more attractive to potential candidates,” Tan told HRD Asia. “Another reason is to make their employees seen important to external clients.”

Another internal factor could be due to the trend of corporate flattening, where companies flatten their hierarchy to make their organisation more efficient and agile, Tan said.

“The word that we always use is the ‘corporate ladder’ – you climb the corporate ladder,” he explained. “In a situation where there’s corporate flattening, the ladder is going to be shorter and some people don't even see the ladder.

“So what [employers] normally do now is that they will just change the title a bit as a way to get a person to feel more important in the organisation. And that's also a way of retention.”

Externally, inflated job titles can also be a way to attract younger generations to a company.

“Gen Z will come in to replace the older generation, baby boomers, who are retiring,” Tan said. “That is why many employers are also putting title inflation as a way to attract Gen Z.”

How job title inflation affects new recruits

There are short-, medium- and long-term impacts of job title inflation, Tan said.

In the short term, there is a perceived status boost for employees that comes with the title, he explained. However, this could be short-lived due to the misalignment of the role and its responsibilities or the misalignment of the job title versus the skills the person has. And ultimately this could cause the employee stress.

In the medium term, the excitement of the new job title will begin to wear off.

“The individual is going to realise that ‘This fancy job title doesn't mean that I'll get promoted but comes with a whole lot of responsibilities that I’m expected to do’,” Tan said. “So they will start to think it is a little bit unfair.”

“Besides, peer relationships would be affected. Anyone with a job title will bring about expectations. They might expect these individuals (with inflated titles) to possess additional knowledge or skills. However, when those expectations are not met, it can deflate the whole credibility of that person, and individuals will start to wonder if the title is all show and has no substance. And that can put a strain on relationships in the workplace.”

Long term, the employee could realise that the professional identity is not aligned with what they are doing, he said. And this could potentially create feelings of disillusionment and disengagement or lead the employee to try and work up to the expectations of the job title.

“Doing so will run the risk of experiencing burnout,” Tan said.

Downsides to inaccurate job titles

Robert Walters’ report found only 21% of employers who inflated job titles said it had the desired effect on the workforce. And Tan agreed that this strategy may not be effective for employers.

On one hand, candidates that are starting their career may not apply for a role because of its job title and on the other, seasoned professionals may also decide not to apply for a role if they consider themselves overqualified for the responsibilities it entails, Tan said.

“Instead of attracting the right candidates, [employers] are scaring those who actually fit the requirements because the job title is inflated,” he said. “And turning off those who could bring more to the table.”

Legal implications to accurate job titles

Sujanani highlighted that having accurate job titles can help ensure fairness in an organisation. But for those who use inflated job titles, Tan points to another key ethical issue that can arise.

“There is another aspect which I think is more serious, which is trying to skirt around the law,” he said.

Tan referred to a case in 2018 where a company purposely inflated the job title of an employee to avoid giving them overtime pay.

“The court ruled that even though the title is a PME, the job duties and the salary that the person is getting, among other things, don’t belong to the category,” he said. “And hence, the court ruled that the employer still has to pay overtime.”

What HR teams can do for attraction, retention

Tan suggested that when deciding on alternate strategies to attract and retain staff, employers and HR teams should first ask themselves, ‘What should these strategies strive to achieve?’

First, any strategy a company does must provide meaningful work for employees, Tan said.

“A lot of employees, especially after COVID, were beginning to question, ‘What's the purpose of my job?’” he said. “They want positions, they want jobs that have a sense of purpose. They want a job that will contribute to their professional identity and make a societal impact. So engaging individuals in this aspect is critical. That means whatever a company does, it has to bring meaning to the work.”

For example, it could mean having an end-of-year recap of the company’s achievements so that employees get a sense of the contributions they have been making, Tan said.

Another option is giving employees autonomy over their work.

“There has to be a certain autonomy where you allow people to execute tasks independently,” he said. “When you have this kind of empowerment, it signals trust. You will definitely enhance job satisfaction and it encourages innovation and creativity.”

Tan advised employers to also consider reskilling and upskilling their employees.

“Re-skilling and upskilling is important,” he said. “But what's equally critical is that employers must provide the environment for people to put learning into practice.”

Tan also recommended that employers enhance relatedness in the workplace. 

“Employers that create a sense of relatedness at work means making everyone feel like they are part of a supportive team,” he said. “It is about building strong friendships with coworkers and feeling like you belong in the company. When people feel connected like this, it boosts their morale, makes them want to work together, and helps the company retain its employees for longer.”

Recent articles & video

Company director hit with $51,000 fine for wage-related breaches

Novartis to cut over 600 jobs amid global restructuring

MoneySmart's ex-head of tech under fire for new role at rival firm

Asia's security culture falls behind globally: report

Most Read Articles

Director given suspended sentence for wage breaches in Hong Kong

MoneySmart's ex-head of tech under fire for new role at rival firm

Singapore's data scientist role sees 'noteworthy' 11% increase in 2023