'Job title inflation' in UAE: Would you accept a senior-sounding role without the salary to match?

The trend is seeing professionals in their 20s take positions as directors and vice-presidents of companies — but does it put careers at risk?

by

Sahim Salim

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Published: Thu 18 Apr 2024, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Thu 18 Apr 2024, 10:57 PM

Job roles that featured ‘lead’ or ‘manager’ in the title — but required just up to two years of experience — were up 43 per cent in the Middle East over the last year, a study has found. Experts have warned that ‘job title inflation’ — the process of giving an employee a more important-sounding job title — has caused an “influx of new, more senior job titles” in the market without the experience, skills or salaries to match.

The trend is seeing professionals in their 20s take positions as directors and vice-presidents of smaller companies.


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“It used to be the case that titles like ‘lead’, ‘partner’ and ‘vice-president’ took years of experience and hard work. However, that now seems to be changing, with professionals being awarded such titles despite only being in the primary stages of their career,” said Jonathan Berry, director - regional head of UAE and Northern Gulf of Robert Walters Middle East.


In an interview with Khaleej Times, the recruitment expert said these inflated titles may look good on the surface, but for young employees, it leaves them no room to grow.

With Gen Z employees wanting to fast-track progression and cash-strapped employers trying to save on money but keep staff engaged, the trend is likely to stay.

According to a poll by the staffing firm, half of Gen-Zs expect to be promoted every 12-18 months. If they don’t, they simply start looking elsewhere. About half (49 per cent) of young professionals, if given the option, would take a more senior role that they may not be fully qualified for.

“(Job title inflation) is something that we are seeing not only seeing in the UAE, but on a global scale,” said Berry.

He cited two main reasons for this: A retention tactic in lieu of a real pay rise; and a way of attracting younger professionals keen for progression opportunities.

“It is getting more prevalent due to the impact of various external geopolitical and economic factors, leaving employers and companies with tighter budgets and less to work with in the way of attracting and retaining staff — especially younger professionals, who are more likely to leave a position for a higher salary or better-sounding title.”

‘Free incentive’

It isn’t just young professionals who are demanding inflated job titles; companies offer them freely, too. With tight budgets, an inflated title presents a “free incentive to attract talent”.

“In 2019, the average age of an employee in the UAE fell to below 30 years — this is something that is only going to become more widespread as the more senior end of the labour market increasingly retires and are replaced by younger professionals,” said Berry. “With the changing out of the labour market, we are also seeing a changing of values – young professionals come with a whole new set of requirements in work – so it’s clear to see why we are increasingly seeing new job titles appear.”

Potential discord

According to a survey released by healthcare providers Sukoon and Bupa Global on age diversity and inclusion in the UAE workplace, four generations of employees are working side by side —Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z.

Younger employees coming to an organisation with more senior-sounding titles is bound to cause some discord with more experienced ones.

“However, it is also true that younger professionals, on average, are more inclined than their more senior colleagues to accept an inflated title without the salary to match. There are a range of reasons they may do this such as being newer to the job market, being more open to taking risks as they have less or no dependents, etc. But regardless of what inclines them to take a new, inflated titled – it can definitely cause tension between them and their colleagues.”

Careers at risk?

According to Berry, job title inflation could actually damage Gen-Z’s 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 actually qualified for.

The trend can be counterproductive to professionals in a range of ways, he explained. “Having an inflated title on your CV can actually lead to stalled progression due to the confusion it causes future employers on the specifics of your past roles and thus making you a less competitive candidate in the job market. Not only that, but an inflated title can also lead to skills being misrepresented causing you to lose out on more suitable, future opportunities or be put up to positions you aren’t qualified for.”

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 actually responsible for what, which can lead to inefficiencies and mistakes.”

When accepting a job, young professionals must ensure they can explain the position, its roles and responsibilities as well as place it within their CV. “For example, if a tech professional accepted a new role as ‘Data Guru’ they would soon run into trouble – for one, it doesn’t sound professional, but it also fails to place that candidate as working at a clear level of seniority – causing future employer confusion and leading the candidate to miss out on roles they are actually suitable for,” said Berry.

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