By Adam Grant, Justin Berg, & Daniel Cable
Academy of Management Journal, 2014
Job titles help organizations manage their human capital and have far-reaching implications for employees’ identities. Because titles do not always reflect the unique value that employees bring to their jobs, some organizations have recently experimented with encouraging employees to create their own job titles. To explore the psychological implications of self-reflective job titles, we conducted field research combining inductive qualitative and deductive experimental methods. In Study 1, a qualitative study at the Make-A-Wish Foundation, we were surprised to learn that employees experienced self-reflective job titles as reducing their emotional exhaustion. We triangulated interviews, observations, and archival documents to identify three explanatory mechanisms through which self-reflective job titles may operate: self-verification, psychological safety, and external rapport. In Study 2, a field quasi-experiment within a health care system, we found that employees who created self-reflective job titles experienced less emotional exhaustion five weeks later, whereas employees in two control groups did not. These effects were mediated by increases in self-verification and psychological safety, but not external rapport. Our research suggests that self-reflective job titles can be important vehicles for identity expression and stress reduction, offering meaningful implications for research on job titles, identity, and emotional exhaustion.