Designations do matter, do they?

Designations are significant for workplace communications and employee rewards but the future will see a decline in their number.



Business organisations now and then initiate internal re-structuring. While, some employees emerge from it unscathed there are others who suffer defeat.

Employees grieve because they receive pink slips or find themselves on the wrong foot because of a designation change.

Recently, the telecom industry’s key player Vodafone Idea saw dissatisfaction amongst its employees. Apparently, the employees have been anxious about losing jobs since the two companies announced a merger in August 2018. Their fears came true and about 4000 employees have been displaced since then.

Moreover, a designation change that has been on cards since then, is now being implemented. The employees are demoralised because the new structure is leading to demotions. This will impact the compensation they have been receiving which is generally linked to designations. Once a sunrise industry – telecom, is now declining rapidly because of severe competition in the market.

“Benefits are linked to designations. For example, while offering car schemes or telephone allowances the amount is decided by an organisation on the basis of job titles,” says Ramesh Shankar S, former EVP HR, Siemens.

Organisations often go through re-structuring either because of merger or acquisition or cost cutting. Today, business operates in a very volatile market, devaluation of designations has become a routine task by employers.

Right now, tracing the history of job designations is not in our interest, but, since they continue to exist, we can say that they are there because people want them. Moreover, it is seen that employees relate to one another more on the basis of designations and less on any other front at work.

“This is a phenomenon which is very common in Asia and more so in India, here the organisational structure supports multiple hierarchies between let say role1 and role2,” says Rohit Suri, chief HR & talent officer, South Asia, GroupM.

Our society is embedded in caste system and social classes represent certain behaviours and that creeps into corporate culture. Shankar says, “If an executive wants to meet a government officer, the designation on the card decides whether he succeeds in getting an appointment or not.”

Titles can also misguide if they are not put in the right context as different countries and sectors use it differently.

Organisational restructuring helps when an employee uses one’s designation to calibrate one’s value and compensation over another employee who is far better at work but has a junior designation and is paid lower.

Interestingly, startup companies operate differently, employees there do not focus on designations, and everyone is just working to build the company. Probably that will be the future of work and very soon we will see job titles fading and becoming fewer.

“There are organisations that are trying to make their structures flatter, they are not building titles but collaborative teams,” says Suri.

On a lighter note Shankar says, “Designations are important for marriage proposals, no one cares how ethical is the work in the organisation that you are part of as long as you have a powerful job title.”

The ideal situation is to have broad designations that help employees to reach out to one another. Having multiple hierarchies within the same role fosters bureaucratic channels of communications and meaningless job titles.

“Designations should be used to reflect job titles for example a procurement manager is the person you need to go if you need something for him, you really do not need multiple levels of authority within each category,” says Ramesh.

People are now more concerned about what role they are coming to and not so much the title. “You may have a fancy title but end up doing clerical work, would you be excited about that? I make a company of my own and give myself the title CEO, that is not same as being a CEO of a large organisation,” explains Suri.

India has a young talent board which is very aspirational and with the economy developing fast, people are focusing more on roles and less on titles.

“In my opinion, a lot of people who are mid to senior level are keener to know their roles; and whatever their designation be if it is not backed by challenging and fulfilling work, they will not stick around,” says Suri.

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