Chief happiness officer. People and culture manager. Chief of purpose. Today, most job titles emblazoned on business cards are not quite what we have traditionally become accustomed to.
Ten years ago, roles such as trust officer and talent officer did not exist in organisations. But with companies redefining existing roles and creating new ones, unusual job titles have become quite the norm.
Most of these titles are descriptive in nature, often telling what role the holder performs.
The commonest change of all is ‘‘people and culture’’ managers, as some human resource (HR) practitioners are now called.
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Other titles used for HR include ‘‘people’s officer’’ or ‘‘human capital manager’’ as organisations seek to keep abreast of the changing times.
But why specifically are traditional roles changing to more contemporary titles? What is driving this change?
Experts argue that this is to make different roles as ‘‘humane’’ as possible as organisations strive to be people-centred in their operations.
Paul Ngugi, the director of people and culture at Greenpeace Africa, says this is meant to improve employee experience at the workplace.
‘‘It could also be used to develop and enhance a high-performance culture within an organisation,’’ Ngugi explains.
By changing titles and redefining roles, Ngugi says the employees’ place in an organisation is amplified, and that this helps to integrate the balance between work and life.
Jane Mbati, the people and culture manager at Zamara, a financial services company, says that changing titles hinges on creating more collaborations at the workplace and giving employees a productive environment to work in and thrive.
‘‘It is also about making sure the employees are happy and meaningfully impacted. People are people. They are not resources to be used,’’ she adds.
Sometimes, though, change of titles has nothing to do with employees’ morale. Instead, it is done purely for aesthetic reasons. After all, a ‘‘conversion executive’’ sounds a bit more stylish than a salesperson.
Author and journalist Nick Easen, though, says that the competence of an employee matters more than their job title, but admits that novel titles tend to appeal to employees at an emotional level.
‘‘Intentionally ambiguous and creative, titles have become a sign of the evolving workplace. In an age of funky start-ups, for instance, companies are trying to appeal to dwindling talent through titles,’’ he writes.
Rebranding crucial office titles inspire a feeling of warmth among employees, making them feel valued rather than mere tools to generate profit, Mbati argues.
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These days, it is common for professionals to leave their well-paying jobs in companies that lack an environment that promotes their welfare at all levels.
It is out of this desire to create human-centred experiences, to cater for the holistic wellness of the employees and to retain their staff that some job titles are constantly changing in some organisations.
Gabriel Nyamu, the director of Purpose Verse says roles such as HR have been evolving over the years, having initially been called personnel management which, according to him, had ‘‘administrative’’ connotations.
He says this gave the impression of ‘‘a foreman on site overseeing workers with a whip.’’
Later, the phrase human resources were adopted with the recognition by employers that their staff were resources.
Quresha Abdullahi, the executive director of IHRM. PHOTO | POOL
Paul Ngugi, the director of People and Culture at Greenpeace Africa. PHOTO | POOL
“At the time, employees were showing up at work only because they had to sign registers and fill in their appraisals. This way, they would give to the company only half of their potential,” Nyamu notes.
Most crucially, job titles are more outward-looking. With today’s businesses operating in perhaps the most difficult environment ever, reputation is priceless.
Says Mbati: ‘‘People want to do business with the best organisations that align with their values and expectations. The work of a people and culture manager, for instance, is to help the organisation to attract the best talent, to maintain and manage it for this.’’
Overall, employers are changing job titles with the aim of making workplaces less stiff and to make them more accommodating and home-like.
Ngugi says that sometimes titles are rebranded when a company is seeking to attract new customers and talents.
“Some titles can make an organisation look dangerously conservative. This is why changing titles can help to demonstrate that you are relevant in your space,” he explains.
Indeed, some professionals have left their well-paying jobs to focus on ‘life’, especially where their employers were not deliberate about promoting and maintaining a healthy work-life balance.
Quresha Abdullahi, the executive director of the Institute of Human Resource Management notes that though it is human to resist change, employees also shy from the impacts new roles bring.
“Rebranding yields new skills. It is only when one has failed to upskill that they might see change as a threat,’’ she says, adding that an organisation needs to explain any change that is being introduced and its impacts.
According to Abdullahi, a change of titles in an organisation should have employees’ interests at heart. It should also be introduced only if it empowers them.
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