There’s an interesting piece in this week’s Economist about the “inflation” of job titles.

So what, exactly, is job title “inflation,” you ask?

Chances are, you’ve probably seen it before, so here are some examples from the article:

“Southwest Airlines has a chief Twitter officer. Coca-Cola and Marriott have chief blogging officers. Kodak has one of those too, along with a chief listening officer […] Paper boys are ‘media distribution officers’. Binmen are ‘recycling officers’. Lavatory cleaners are ‘sanitation consultants’. Sandwich-makers at Subway have the phrase “sandwich artist” emblazoned on their lapels.”

The article analogizes this trend of “title-fluffing” to the process of inflation.  To some extent, I can buy this argument.  Stability and uniformity in job titles is a good thing in that it increases job market mobility for individuals.   A vague or ambiguous job title might make it harder for someone to transition to a new position, but I am not convinced that this is the likely outcome here.

And, in any case, firms are likely engaging in “title-fluffing” for perfectly good business reasons.  Having a “chief Twitter officer” makes a company appear more cutting-edge, and silly monikers such as “guru” or “ninja” might be useful in establishing a laid-back demeanor that will attract clients as well as employees.

These made-up job titles can even serve an important trademark function.  I’d imagine that most people, after hearing the phrase “SANDWICH ARTIST” would immediately think of Subway.  No surprise, then, that it’s registered as a mark.

Million dollar question for attorneys (or legal ninjas) reading this blog: will “title-fluffing” catch on in our line of work?  Alternatively, has it already, and I’m just late to the party?

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