Job titles need structure to promote clarity, equity, McLean & Co. says

A job architecture framework plays a critical role in job titling, internal equity and long-term organizational growth, according to a Feb. 15 report from McLean & Co.

An inconsistent approach to job architecture can lead to major risks such as job title inflation, pay inequity and dissension among employees, according to the report.

“A job architecture framework provides foundational support for other HR programs, spanning the development of competency frameworks, career frameworks, base pay structures, as well as learning and development initiatives,” Amani Gharib, director of HR research and advisory services at McLean & Co., said in a statement.

“Without clearly defined job levels and criteria, internal approaches to job titling, pay grades and career paths can be subject to bias and favoritism,” she said. “A clear and defined job architecture framework removes the guesswork, decreases liability, and supports internal equity.”

A job architecture framework aligns roles within the organization using job levels and provides a foundation for a structured approach to job titling, or the process of assigning a name to a job that conveys the job family or function and the responsibilities associated with the role, according to the report. Then through job leveling, job-level criteria can be applied to individual roles.

McLean & Co.  noted that using title changes to address pay discrepancies instead of making pay adjustments could negatively affect internal diversity, equity and inclusion efforts by perpetuating systemic inequalities.

“When executing, it is important to remember that a sustainable framework avoids adding job levels on an ad hoc basis and instead focuses on building a structure that can easily scale over time, as it is easier to add job levels than remove them,” according to the report. 

In a tough labor market, companies may rely on job titles to attract, retain and reward talent, according to an April 2023 report from management advisory firm Pearl Meyer. Although it’s important to reward employees and recognize that workers may find meaning in factors beyond pay, this practice can become a challenge and create risk, the firm said; companies can also focus on career development opportunities and positive culture.

Title inflation is on the rise, especially as a retention strategy, an executive search firm president previously told HR Dive. However, title inflation can hurt both candidates and recruiters, so it’s better to create a more structured approach, he said.

While implementing a better job architecture and job titling structure, HR pros can also improve their job postings. Setting realistic mandatory requirements, addressing bias (such as unnecessary degree requirements) and outlining specific job skills can help, a recruiting expert told Society for Human Resource Management conference attendees last year.