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.
The research, led by management scholar Adam Grant of Wharton, focused on the Midwest chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The people working there have a grueling, heart-wrenching job to say the least: many of the families place unrealistic expectations on the foundation; many of the kids don’t live to see their wish fulfilled. As one employee told Grant and collaborators, “It can take a toll emotionally to see this daily.”
A few years ago, during a trip to Disneyland, some Make-A-Wish executives learned about the “cast members” job titles and decided to let their employees invent titles, too. The CEO became the Fairy Godmother of Wishes; the COO became Minister of Dollars and Sense; PR managers became Magic Messengers or Heralders of Happy News; wish managers became Merry Memory Makers. The new titles supplemented official ones, appearing side-by-side on business cards.
Grant and company wanted to see what effect, if any, the change had on employee well-being. The results were surprisingly strong, and overwhelmingly positive. About 85% of the interviewed employees said the new title helped them cope with the emotional exhaustion of the job; many brought it up unprompted. One wish manager told Grant and collaborators that the self-applied description helped her focus on the joy of her job instead of the hardship. “Staff may have a hard time doing this if they didn’t have these titles,” she said. To learn why this small change made such a big difference, read the article. (image via Shutterstock)