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Myth debunking 101: Job designation determines your worth

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In the professional world, job titles impact self-worth based on societal validation and locus of control. Focusing on skills and contributions, avoiding burnout, and valuing roles over titles are crucial for personal growth.

There are a bunch of myths in the professional world, and one of the most common misconceptions is that your job title determines your worth.

Sure, in a corporate setup where a hierarchy is followed, titles define the amount of authority one has. But in no way does this dictate your potential. The real problem begins when an individual hunting for jobs or looking to switch careers runs after titles without weighing their contribution to the element of personal growth. Hence, it’s imperative to debunk this myth.

Let us begin by understanding why often individuals attach their self-worth to their titles.

Job titles and their impact on self-worth

Murali Santhanam, CHRO at AscentHR, uses the concept of “locus of control” to explain why some individuals link their job title to their self-worth. Locus of control is a psychological construct that refers to the extent to which people believe that they have control over the events that influence their lives. He says that people with an external locus of control feel that the outcomes are determined by external forces. This mindset encourages the belief that everything an individual does is determined and driven by external forces, and this is exactly why people believe their self-worth depends on the title they hold.

Those with an internal locus, on the other hand, feel that they can influence the outcomes of their actions, and so are not concerned with titles, he says.

Aditya Narayan Mishra, MD & CEO of CIEL HR Services, says various psychological and societal factors attach job titles to the self-worth of individuals. Job titles often serve as a form of social validation, elevating one’s self-esteem and perceived value in the eyes of society. Additionally, the human tendency to compare and compete exacerbates the significance placed on titles, fostering feelings of superiority or inadequacy based on hierarchical positioning, he explains.

Venkata Suman Cherukuri, MD and Chairman of TRUSTlab Diagnostics, also says that society has ingrained in us the urge to define ourselves by our job titles. From a young age, he says, we are taught to strive for recognition and power. Later in life that often leads to the intertwining of identity, job title and self-worth, resulting in low self-esteem.

A few drawbacks of focussing too much on job titles

Job titles only tell you what you are, not what outcome is expected based on your capabilities, says Santhanam. Besides, when the title becomes one’s primary identity instead of what they can bring to the table, it leads to a display of wrong behaviours such as power and disrespect.

Mishra says focusing solely on hierarchical advancement, rather than skills or contributions, hinders the holistic growth of an individual. In addition, creativity takes a back seat when individuals shy away from risk-taking and give in to the fear of trying to match up to their title’s expectations. Relentless pursuit of hierarchical ascent can result in burnout as individuals will start sacrificing work-life balance, he adds.

The biggest drawback of excessive emphasis on job titles, according to Cherukuri, is allowing the job titles to overshadow one’s true essence — the unique capabilities, talents, characteristics and passion that make us who we really are. However, he sees the real danger emerging when the least skilled and least knowledgeable person ends up being called a “senior” solely based on the number of years of experience. This creates a negative image in the industry, both for the individual and the organisation.

Industries where job titles do not hold much significance

Contrary to popular belief, Santhanam says that job titles have no significance in any industry. For him, it’s the role that one performs that differentiates them from others, and it is the contribution one makes that really matters.

Mishra lists startups, creative fields and consulting/freelancing as the areas that prioritise skill and contribution over hierarchical titles. These fields value versatility, effectiveness, output and creativity, rendering titles secondary.

Rather than listing industries where job titles do not hold much significance, Cherukuri says that a no-title structure is better suited for smaller companies, particularly startups and businesses that have decentralised organisational structures.

How to display your value beyond your job title

Santhanam reiterates that a job title is never an indicator of significant contribution. It is the person who needs to bring credence to the job title, not the other way around. Locus of control emphasises on the need to believe that one’s own actions determine their growth, and not external factors, he points out.

Talking about the ways to create an impact beyond your title, Mishra says it’s imperative to focus on tangible skills, continuous learning and contribution towards organisational growth. He suggests individuals highlight specific achievements and the measurable impact of one’s work to transcend the limitations of a job title. Plus, cultivating strong professional relationships through networking and demonstrating leadership qualities can open doors irrespective of titles, he adds.

Cherukuri says it is important to stay authentic to experience personal growth, regardless of the title. “Authenticity is the key to personal fulfilment. It means being true to yourself, irrespective of the roles and responsibilities you hold. Remember, you are more than a job title or position. You are a complex blend of experiences, values, dreams and aspirations,” he adds.

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