Hello Chief Executive Pony and Minister of Dollars and Sense: What happens when you let employees come up with their own job titles

Hello Chief Executive Pony and Minister of Dollars and Sense: What happens when you let employees come up with their own job titles

Employees who are given the freedom to choose their own job title will be more engaged with their work and less likely to experience work-related stress and exhaustion, according to research out of the US.

A study published in the Academy of Management Journal last month found self-reflective job titles, or titles that have been personalised by employees to reflect their unique value to the organisation, helped employees cope with emotional exhaustion and reminded employees about the purpose of the organisation.

In one case, the study examined employees of the Make A Wish Foundation in the US who were given permission to come up with their own job title, led by the chief executive who took to describing herself as the “fairy godmother of wishes”.

The chief operating officer chose to call themselves the “minister of dollars and sense”, the public relations managers went by the names “magic messenger” and “heralder of happy news”, while the database manager called herself the “duchess of data”.

The fun job titles helped reduce stress among the employees by emphasising the more meaningful and rewarding aspects of their jobs, while also encouraging some employees to feel able to bring their own personalities to their work.

The researchers said self-reflective job titles may be the most effective in organisations which rely on relationship-building, with employees able to use their fun title to make a great first impression.

Martin Nally, managing director of HR Anywhere, told SmartCompany self-reflective job titles can be particularly powerful when an employee is down on themselves or their role.

“In one example I know of, a receptionist was saying ‘I’m just the receptionist’ but the manager in that business said the word ‘just’ is being banned,” says Nally.

“He said to his staff ‘you all play a fundamental role’ in the business and he told the receptionist she was instead the ‘director of first impressions’ … it gave her a smile and a bit of a giggle, it enlivened her.”

Entrepreneur Jane Lu says she always loved the idea of having a fun job title.

The founder of online retailer Showpo goes by the job title of ‘Chief Executive Pony’, which is a far cry from her previous role as a ‘business analyst’ for Ernst & Young.

“I’ve chosen a fun job title because it’s something I’ve always loved the idea of back when I was working in corporate,” Lu told SmartCompany.

“I found it really liberating and fun! And of course I would like to share this with my staff.”

Lu’s 22 employees all have job titles which she says are created through “mini brainstorm sessions”. There’s a ‘Chief Operations Pony’, an ‘Office Manager Pony’, and a ‘Fashion Pony’.

Nally says the benefits to a business are enormous, with employees able to express themselves and build stronger connections to the company. In turn, this means they will be less likely to want to leave.

“Do you think if you give someone this permission, the largesse to have that kind of fun, they will be more committed to the organisation? You bet they will,” he says.

But it can’t be a half-hearted approach. Nally says if companies are going to give their employees the freedom or permission to have a say in their own job titles, the decision needs to be supported throughout the organisation and from the executive down.

“You need clear organisational support,” he says. “If a few people are saying ‘this is ridiculous’, that breaks it down.”

While Nally says this approach “won’t be for everyone”, if a business has the right culture in place, it could be the first step to giving employees more ownership over their own role.

“The next step is to get employees to set and write their position objectives … three or four areas they want to work on in the next year,” says Nally.

“In my research in this, employers have actually been surprised at the standards employees will set for themselves.”


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