“You can call me anything, just don’t call me late for dinner.”

This old dad joke demonstrates a laid-back attitude towards life, one which I applaud. After all, very few people say my name correctly. (It’s Suzanne, not Susan, thank you!)

But, what about job titles? Can we call service employees anything? Does it matter whether someone is a “temperature control expert” or a “HVAC technician” as long as the pay and job duties are the same?

The answer: Yes, it does matter what you call people. Here’s why:

Titles Help Define Our Jobs

When was the last time you read your job description? Probably when you applied for the job, or maybe when your boss asked you to update your job description. While job descriptions are important, people look to job titles to determine what you do. If someone comes to me and says, “I’m an HVAC technician,” I know precisely what she does for a living. If the same person says she’s a “temperature control expert,” I wonder when the essential oils are going to come out and she’s going to want to realign my chakras.

Even without the extreme example, if someone is a senior technician, that person has more authority — and more responsibility — than a junior technician. The senior employee should feel comfortable offering guidance to colleagues with less experience, and those junior colleagues should gladly accept that guidance. In other words, titles help to clarify roles and responsibilities.

Titles Help with Hiring

While your goal probably isn’t to help your employees land their next job, they will eventually move on and you’ll want to replace them. Do you want to look at a bunch of resumes with weird or unclear titles? Of course not. You want standardized titles that will allow you to estimate a candidate’s skill level and experience quickly.

Titles Help with Pay

Your pay should be based on market rates. Period. But how do you determine the appropriate rate? Salary surveys, networking groups and online resources like Glassdoor can help. With standardized titles, it’s a lot easier to figure out how much you should budget for any individual position. Without those, you’re left guessing.

Caution: Titles Don’t Solve All Problems

Lots of people want to use titles as a reward without including a pay increase or a bonus. It’s tempting, since new titles often given employees a confidence boost. But the feeling is fleeting — and it can even backfire if employees feel underpaid for the new position.

Titles can sometimes be difficult in small businesses. A “senior HVAC technician” might also be a team lead, and an accounts payable clerk all rolled into one. Try putting that on a business card.

Overall, though, service organization leaders should strive for titles that accurately reflect what every employee does on a daily basis. Titles just make life easier for everyone involved.

ABOUT Suzanne Lucas

Avatar photoSuzanne Lucas spent 10 years in corporate human resources, where she hired, fired, managed the numbers, and double-checked with the lawyers. She now writes about Human Resources and Business for a number of different publications.