The Ottawa Citizen
I f you are like me, you sometimes sit in a comfy chair in your living room, naked from the knees down, your lap lightly coated in Dorito dust, and wonder why job titles like "manager of futuring and innovation-based strategies" actually exist.
What I'm trying to say is, don't be like me. I've been like me for 36 years and I don't recommend it. Also, what's the deal with all these grandiose job titles?
I primarily write about science and medicine, so I talk to a lot of people in academia. I enjoy these conversations. Most university professors are smart, well-spoken and patient -- patient enough, at least, to explain complex information to a small-brained hack like me. What I don't like, however, is quoting academics.
It's not because eggheads -- sorry, I meant associate professors of eggheadery -- provide bad quotes. It's because I have to include their many, many and often lengthy job titles after the quotes. What I end up with are ghastly sentences like this:
"Quantum physics is similar to regular physics except more quantumy," said Dr. Albert Hedron, a discrete subatomic energy researcher and associate professor of quantum physics at St. Lepton University, CEO of the Institute of Photons, Protons and Other Particles (IPPOP) and director of the Niels Bohr Bowling League (NBBL).
Throw two or three more academics in the mix, and suddenly my article morphs into a laundry list of titles and institution names. Not exactly thrilling reading material. (There's a reason beaches aren't filled with people reading The Girl Who Obtained Tenure.) Still, job titles in academia, though prolix and plentiful, have nothing on the made-up-sounding job titles appearing with increasing frequency in government and industry.
When I ask people what they do at work, they sometimes respond, instead, by telling me what they are called at work.
This happens, I believe, because they are themselves unsure of what exactly they do. A typical response might be: "I'm a strategic advisor on dynamic planning." So, you, uh, go to meetings?
A recent article in The Economist magazine claimed that title inflation -- also known as "uptitling" or "title-fluffing" -- is getting out of hand. Kodak has a "chief listening officer." The BBC has a "vision controller of multiplatform and portfolio." Receptionists are now "directors of first impressions."
The Plain English Campaign, a British organization that crusades against jargon and gobbledygook, lists several other offenders on its website, including "person-centred transition facilitator," "forward tactics designer" and "head of city vibrancy." Or, as I refer to these job titles, "huh?" "what?" and "give me a break."
There has been an uptick in the number of pompously named positions in recent years because of the massive downtick in the economy. It's cheaper to reward employees with fancy monikers than with raises. But the glory of a trumped-up title only goes so far. Eventually, people will want their salaries inflated as well. I mean, what's the point of being a "principal configuration orchestrator" if you aren't being paid like one?
Whether the economy is in the gutter or the penthouse, however, inflated job titles are here to stay. According to British essayist Alain de Botton, people feel their work is meaningful when it allows them to "generate delight or reduce suffering in others." As jobs become more specialized and cerebral and ambiguous, it will be harder to perceive a link between work and social benefit. Instead of seeking meaning, we will focus -- even more than we do now -- on attaining status. Hello grandiloquent job title!
In his book The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, de Botton notes that adults who appear in children's literature rarely have important-sounding jobs. "They are shopkeepers, builders, cooks or farmers -- people whose labour can easily be linked to the visible betterment of human kind," he writes. "As creatures innately aware of balance and proportion, we cannot help but sense that something is awry in a job title like 'Brand Supervision Coordinator, Sweet Biscuits.'"
No wonder I can't find a publisher for my book The Princess and the Global Paradigm Analyst.
But, hey, if a puffed-up title on your business card makes you happy, who am I to judge? In fact, I'll even award you another title for reading this column all the way to the end. (You deserve it. Reading is hard!) You are now, officially, a senior vice-president of sequential sentence recognition, cognition and completion. Congratulations! Don't let it go to your head.