gapp awards gallery banner

Rise of prestigious job titles: +48% increase in senior-sounding job titles in South Africa?

The phenomenon of job-title inflation has gained traction in South Africa, driven both by young professional’s ambition for accelerated career progression and employers’ efforts to engage staff while managing costs. This trend has led to an increase in roles with prestigious titles, such as “Lead”, “Vice President” or “Manager”, being offered to individuals with limited experience, skills or corresponding salaries.

In the past year, there has been a 16% increase in roles featuring these titles for candidates with up to two years of experience in South Africa. For example, in 2022, a leading consultancy firm appointed over 1 000 new partners; however, these partners won’t receive the traditional equity share associated with such titles, prompting questions about the relevance and value of these titles today.

Robert Walters observes, ‘Historically, titles like “Lead”, “Principal”, “Partner” and “VP” were earned after years of experience and dedication. Nowadays, these titles are increasingly conferred upon professionals in the early stages of their careers. Employers should recognise that attaching senior titles to junior roles can both attract and deter potential candidates, making some feel inadequately qualified.’

Is the younger generation’s ambition too ambitious?

According to a Robert Walters (RW) survey, over half of young professionals expect promotions every 12-18 months; otherwise, they consider looking for opportunities elsewhere. RW notes, ‘They are aware of the tight job market, especially at the junior level, due to the impact of the pandemic on graduate schemes. Consequently, they recognise their market value and know alternative opportunities are available.’

Are their credentials deserving of these titles?

When asked about their strengths, 43% of young professionals highlighted their creativity, followed by a third emphasising their digital proficiency and a quarter mentioning their willingness to challenge and drive change within organisations. In contrast, managers recognise their lack of experience but commend their perseverance (31%) and entrepreneurial mindset (28%).

Additionally, William Young, Robert Walters’ Senior Manager East Africa comments on the adaptability of young professionals to remote and hybrid working environments, ‘However, 68% of hiring managers identify a deficit in their soft skills, including communication and collaboration abilities.’

Unlike previous generations, young professionals do not equate team management with seniority. 48% believe that reporting lines indicate seniority more than managerial responsibilities. Two-thirds prefer flat organisational structures and a third aspire to report to C-suite roles within five years.

William adds, ‘High-level decision-making contributes significantly to young professionals’ sense of organisational value, contrasting with previous generations who valued being part of a specialised team.’

These young professionals seek leadership roles rather than being part of a larger structure. Over half (54%) would accept a senior role they feel underqualified for, in contrast to older professionals who prioritise mentorship and guidance. RW suggests a shift towards valuing immediate seniority, inflated titles and an entrepreneurial mindset over traditional soft skills.

However, inflated titles are not solely driven by the younger generation in the workforce. Employers have various reasons for adopting this practice:

– Attraction & Retention: Giving employees fancy-sounding titles, which they are proud of instils a feeling of importance and value to the business. Prestigious titles boost morale and reduce turnover.

– Competitive positioning: Job title inflation has become so widespread that it is often seen to keep up with the competition. As companies try to outdo each other in terms of perks and benefits, they may feel pressure to offer employees more impressive job titles as well.

– Start-up branding: This works in two ways – firstly, a better sounding job title may help draw candidates away from companies who have an established employer brand – for example, Gen Z may like the sound of a “Head of Data” role at a start-up vs. a data analyst role at a larger and well-established firm. On the other side, start-ups use titles to attract talent and present an experienced team during funding rounds.

– Cost-saving: Job-title inflation has been seen by some employers as an effective way of offering the promise of seniority without having to foot the bill.

Drawbacks of job title inflation include:

– Career Implications

Job title inflation can potentially damage young professionals’ current job satisfaction, as well as their future progression prospects. Upon accepting an inflated job title, young professionals may be signing up for a position they aren’t qualified for – a vague job title can come with a vast array of responsibilities and expectations that aren’t always clearly disclosed. Whilst for companies, it can lead to confusion and miscommunication within the organisation. If employees are given inflated job titles, it can be difficult to know who is responsible for what, which can lead to inefficiencies and mistakes.

– Organisational Challenges

Inflated titles can cause confusion and resentment among employees, potentially resulting in burnout, reduced morale and higher turnover rates. However, it may also damage companies in the long-run – not to mention cause organisational confusion over who sits where, when you put managers or heads who don’t look after teams of people in the mix – things can get confusing. Furthermore, job title inflation can also lead to resentment among employees. If some employees feel that they are being given inflated titles while others are not, it can lead to a sense of unfairness and inequality within the workplace. This can ultimately lead to young professionals at risk of burnout, overall lower staff morale and higher turnover rates.

Previous Article
Next Article