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The hidden cost of title inflation in 2024

  • 60% of young workers in Hong Kong expect to be promoted within 12 to 18 months in a company.
  • 40% of managers reported difficulty in finding suitable candidates for open positions due to confusing or overstated job titles in the recent past.
  • Less than 30% of employers are now using senior job titles as a strategy to attract or retain employees in 2024.

 

Job title inflation, a common practice in Hong Kong[1] and Greater China, has recently become a global trend. According to Robert Walters, a leading specialist professional recruitment firm, there was a 46% rise in the number of UK and Ireland job adverts that had the words "lead" or "manager" in the title throughout 2023 – but required no more than two years' experience.

Usually employed to attract and retain talent, job title inflation however has limited success and may create problems for employers and employees alike. These are among the observations and insights from Robert Walters Hong Kong.

Employers resort to cost cutting measures amid economic uncertainty


Job title inflation is a practice where employers offer exaggerated job titles to attract and retain talent, often without the experience, skills, or salaries to match.

"Titles hold more importance in Asia, which has perpetuated this trend," commenting on the trend, John Mullally, Managing Director of Robert Walters Hong Kong. He adds

Over 2021-2022 the Hong Kong recruitment market was disrupted by high amounts of hiring and a lack of local market talent, which leading to organisations opting to add more titles rather than focusing on developing their employees or providing meaningful career growth.


This trend has continued in more challenging economic times, where cost-cutting measures have become imperative, leading to departures, and downsizing at senior levels. Employers resort to offering inflated job titles to avoid paying higher wages.

 

Rising expectations of GenZ drive title inflation

 

Based on LinkedIn polls conducted by Robert Walters Hong Kong in March, 60% of young workers in Hong Kong hold high expectations for rapid career progression within a company, expecting to be promoted within 12 to 18 months, indicating that titles are still highly valued by this generation. The survey also reveals that nearly 50% of young workers consider managing a team as the most crucial factor in determining seniority.


The strategy's effectiveness


"Inflated job titles used to be a tool used by weaker companies who struggled to retain staff", says John. "When employees realise that these titles hold no intrinsic value or external status, they can quickly become disenfranchised, especially if their compensation package does not match up to the title."

A survey conducted by JobSage reveals that 7 out of 10 employees say new titles won't make them stay at a company, indicating the growing awareness towards this practice among young workers.

Moreover, the past prevalence of job title inflation has even impacted the recruitment process. The survey found that 40% of managers reported difficulty in finding suitable candidates for open positions due to confusing or overstated job titles in the recent past.


Employers urged to nurture talent for long-term success


The Robert Walters Hong Kong polls reveal that less than 30% of employers are now using senior job titles as a strategy to attract or retain employees in 2024 due to its limited success.

Robert Walters advises hiring managers to avoid inflating job titles as it may cause inefficiencies and inequality within the organisation, and result in employees leaving.

"While attracting the right talent is important, it is even more crucial to foster employee growth within the organisation. This can be achieved through initiatives such as cross-training for multiple roles or providing employees with new responsibilities," adds John.

 

[1] Quarterly Report on General Household Survey by The Census and Statistics: the population of "Manager" increased 13.6% YOY in 2011 even salary remained stagnant. Up till last year, there is still a 4% increase YOY while witnessing a 5% decline in corresponding salary levels in Hong Kong.

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