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President of Paperclips

If you’re like many HR professionals you may have, at one time or another, found yourself questioning the job title of a position that was being created or one that already existed. How do companies find themselves in these situations and is it all that bad to have inflated titles? The answer will probably vary depending on who you talk to and the industry they come from. This article is intended to help you understand how your company got here, the risks in doing nothing and some tips to get you out.
Many HR Professionals find themselves in these job title debacles due to rogue managers creating fancy job titles for their direct reports, through non-existence of a standardized job creation procedure and through inheritance of the positions by way of mergers and acquisitions. So what’s the risk in just leaving things as they are? After all, Jimmy really enjoys being called the Manager of Marketing, Media Relations and Social Media. Here’s the problem -Jimmy spends most of his day doing busy, non-exempt work but he’s paid exempt because his boss thought the fat title made him exempt.
The FLSA implications in having inflated job titles can be grave. A DOL Investigator does not care about what you call a position -he/she is concerned with the content of their daily duties as being non-exempt or exempt. Another issue inflated job titles create is pay discrepancies amongst different positions at the same or different locations. What if Suzie, the Operational and Administrative Manager (Office Manager) who makes $50,000 transfers to another branch in the same city where her future manager makes $40,000? Certainly, keeping a tight rein on these job titles can help to prevent these types of issues.
So how do you fix this? I strongly recommend that you get executive approval before making any rash changes. If they agree that this issue needs addressing you should proceed as follows:

  • Run a report in your HRIS/Payroll system to identify your universe of job titles.
  • Collect the job descriptions (hopefully they exist!)
  • Identify the positions that seem inflated and interview the incumbents and their managers to document their daily job functions (job analysis)
  • Try to find existing job titles that match the functions you gathered through your analysis above.
  • If you find existing job titles that match their functions you may consider consolidating. Make sure no additions or subtractions need to be made to the existing job description you are consolidating into and that the FLSA status (exempt/non-exempt) is correct. Consider seeking an opinion from labor and employment counsel on the FLSA status -getting it wrong can be costly.
  • If there are no existing job descriptions that match you should decide on whether or not the title deserves a second look. You may find in your analysis that their job title is merited and no tweaks need to be made. However, if you do need to make tweaks I’d start out by highlighting the most important parts of the job and searching SHRM’s job description database. You’ll need a membership to search -for more information log on to www.shrm.org.

Make sure that before you make any job title changes, you or the employee’s manager directly speaks with the employee who is getting an inflated job title adjustment. Employees may feel slighted or offended if they are not notified in advance of a job title change. Make sure they know (if applicable) that their performance didn’t prompt this change nor does it mean they need to start worry about their job security.
It is my recommendation going forward that you develop a standardized policy and procedure describing how managers go about creating new job titles. Many HRIS solutions have position tables where you as the HR Professional can maintain the universe of approved position codes within your company -that way this doesn’t get out of hand again! Are you sick of a paper process or ready for an HRIS/Payroll system change? Click here to complete our HRIS/Payroll Selection Wizard.


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