Leanne Shaw is the HR Lead at Carlson Construction Group and its three subsidiary companies. With over 20 years of experience, Leanne is as motivated as ever to deliver a meaningful and relevant human resources function by making use of HR technology, emotional intelligence, and a healthy dose of humour.
For the latest edition of our HR advice column, Good Question, Leanne unpacks why an employee’s ‘job inflation’ needs to be addressed ASAP.
Do you have your own workplace dilemma? Submit it anonymously here.
I’m an HR manager and talent acquisition specialist at a medium-ish tech firm. I was recently browsing Linkedin and noticed that one of our employees has updated his “Manager” job title to “Director” without having received a promotion or any title change from myself or his direct manager.
He’s been employed with us for 11 months and has a solid track record. He’s a motivated worker and on track to move up in our company…but not yet. He hasn’t demonstrated that he’s ready for a promotion and does not manage any employees below him. Our company also offers a professional development budget, but he’s never taken advantage of it. I mentioned the Linkedin title to his direct manager, who also thinks it’s weird.
My first instinct is to believe he’s looking for another job and is inflating his resume for prospective employers. I would be sad to lose him, but I find it disrespectful that he’s lying about his role without having discussed it with us. Can I ask him to change his Linkedin profile? Should I?
This is a great question. ‘Job title inflation’ is a serious issue and probably more common than most people realize. The short answer is yes: you can and should address this.
The risks for your company are twofold. First, this person may indeed be on the hunt for a new job, meaning you’re at risk of losing a talented and motivated employee.
Second, and potentially more dire, are the legal risks. If you do nothing and allow this employee to assume the title ‘Director’, but later try to hold them accountable to the responsibilities (and limitations) of a ‘Manager,’ you could be opening up your company to a claim of constructive dismissal. If you don’t clearly define your employees’ roles, titles, and responsibilities, you could face much larger legal issues down the road.
If you don’t clearly define your employees’ roles, titles, and responsibilities, you could face much larger legal issues down the road.
Why inflate your job title?
Let’s back up to why an employee might exaggerate their job title in the first place. Titles are much more than words on a resume. In most industries, job titles are directly tied to status, responsibilities, reporting structures, and compensation.
Your employee may be angling for a raise at your company or trying to secure a more generous comp package elsewhere. In some businesses, Directors can expect a 1.5-2x salary increase over Managers.
There are other reasons. Compensation might not be the only factor at play. In small businesses, roles and titles are often loosely defined; individuals wear ‘many hats.’ Different companies or industries may also use the same word to mean different things.
Consider the difference between a product manager, who manages people up and down, and a social media manager, who is responsible for online accounts.
Consider the difference between a product manager, who manages people up and down, and a social media manager, who is responsible for online accounts. Is a director a member of your company’s Board of Directors, or a manager of many managers?
There’s a chance your employee doesn’t have ulterior motives. They’re just confused about their role and trying to more accurately represent what they do at your company.
Your employee may be confused about their role and trying to more accurately represent what they do at your company.
Five steps to take right now
Before making any assumptions about his ‘why’, here are five things you should do right away:
1. Do a quick scan of Linkedin
Make sure everyone in your company is representing themselves appropriately and professionally. I’m all about consistency! If others are also misrepresenting themselves, there’s a larger issue at play.
2. Ask the individual’s manager if they have ever used internal vs market titles.
This is when companies use standard internal job titles to ensure consistency with compensation plans, but allow their employees to use different ‘external’ titles that may align with competitors or what customers expect.
3. Assess your own naming structures.
Some companies have adopted so-called flat hierarchies, where titles are superfluous. On the other hand are the ‘creative’ job titles (think: Chief Happiness Officer or VP of fun.) Determine the culture your company has established and whether you have grounds to enforce a strict naming structure.
4. Review the original employment agreement
Speaking of grounds…re-read the employee’s signed employment agreement. Did you clearly state the employee’s title, reporting structure, and responsibilities?
5. Review the employee’s performance reviews and manager check-ins.
If you (or the employee’s manager) have been documenting performance check-ins, you may find clues that the employee has indeed developed new skills and taken on more responsibilities, or that they are unhappy with his current role or compensation.
While you’re at it, quickly check the market rates for this employee’s role to make sure their salary and benefits plan are still competitive.
Best case scenario: develop and retain your talent
If those five sweeps haven’t revealed any answers on your end, it’s time to address this with the employee. You mentioned that this is a motivated employee with a ‘solid track record’ whom you would be sad to lose. This is your chance to re-engage them.
Have the employee’s manager schedule a 1:1 as soon as possible. Make sure they let the employee know that the objective of the meeting is to discuss their goals, what they’ve been working on, and upcoming projects.
This is also a prime time to remind the employee of their professional development budget. You mentioned they aren’t using it—but do you know why? Perhaps they don’t know about the budget, don’t understand how to use it, or aren’t sure what kinds of courses or conferences will count.
By the end of this conversation, you and the employee’s manager should be able to identify (1) if the employee is still engaged and (2) how to help them level up to the ‘Director’ title they are after.
Worst case scenario: Address the mix-up head-on
Even after all of that, you may still find yourself scratching your head. If the employee’s answers don’t add up or seem disingenuous, then you’re instinct may be correct: they are looking for their next opportunity outside of the company and already have one foot out the door.
Unless this employee’s behaviour is affecting their productivity or company morale, you may have to let them run their course. In the meantime, however, you’ll still have to address the misrepresentation of their role on Linkedin.
Here’s how I would frame it: “Hey [employee name], I came across your Linkedin profile the other day and noticed your title was recently changed. We’re trying to build ourselves in the market and need to represent ourselves professionally, so it’s important that each person’s job title reflects what they’ve been hired to do. We’re happy to have you as Manager of [XYZ], and we need you to represent yourself as such.”
HR offers a multitude of challenges on a regular basis, and this is definitely a good one. Good luck, you can do it.
Thank you, Leanne! If you have an HR question you’d like answered by an HR pro, submit it anonymously here.