Can Your Job Title Make You Happier?

New research suggests that creative job titles may benefit both employees and employers.

According to a recent Harvard Business Review article, new research indicates that creative job titles — think Disney’s theme-park workers being called “cast members” — can serve to increase workers’ satisfaction and boost recruitment.

In one experiment, London Business School professor Dan Cable and his research team worked with employees at a hospital chain. One group of workers was asked to suggest titles for themselves — an infectious-disease specialist became a “germ slayer,” for example, while an X-ray technician was a “bone seeker.” Then the researchers surveyed the workers, along with members of two control groups who didn’t create imaginative titles for themselves, about their attitudes toward their work both before their new titles and five weeks later.

The reimagined-title group reported “lower levels of emotional exhaustion, felt more validated and better recognized for their work, and experienced greater ‘psychological safety,’ which can promote free information exchanges,” according to the HBR article. The researchers concluded: “Rather than viewing titles solely as sources and reflections of formality and rigidity or mechanisms of bureaucratic control, our research suggests that titles can be vehicles for agency, creativity, and coping.”

Susan Fenters Lerch, former CEO of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Michigan, let her 31-person staff create their own titles several years ago after attending a Disney Institute seminar on the topic. She told HBR that the exercise served several purposes, including giving people a way to describe how they felt about the job, giving them ownership over their position, and serving as a conversation starter with people outside the organization. Fenters Lerch had her team include both their traditional and creative titles on business cards and in email signatures, with the creative title in italics: finance director, minister of dollars and sense.

Fenters Lerch conceded that playful titles don’t make sense in every organization. But given the research, perhaps offering yourself and your team the chance to dream up your own titles, if only as an internal exercise, might help you rethink — and take greater satisfaction in — your job.

Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.