Shakespeare’s Take on Job Titles

Shakespeare reasoned in Romeo and Juliet that what we call things does not matter, it only matters what things are. “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Who am I to disagree with the great Bard, and my favorite poet?

But alas, I must disagree. (At least I used the word alas while doing it. Will would be so proud!)

In my opinion, there’s a LOT in a name. When it comes to job titles anyways.

Our job title helps to form our identity. And identity has been shown to be a very important part of how we act. It helps to define us.

A Lesson in Litter
One of my favorite stories about identity comes from Texas, where apparently there used to be a whole lotta’ littering going on.

Most often the litter culprit was a young male. What did researchers find that all of these young males had in common? An absolute devotion to their home state!

So how did they get these fine young men to stop littering? They appealed to their identity of being a Texan. The “Don’t Mess with Texas” campaign was born!

Sounds pretty silly right? But the impact was a 72% decrease in littering! All by playing to a young Texas male’s identity:  Proud Texans don’t litter!

Staff Identity
How can you apply this lesson to your staff? What’s their identity and how can you play to it in order to get a different outcome than the one you are getting now?

Remember, identity helps define us and, as shown by the litter story, it directly impacts our actions.
I’ve heard nursing assistants refer to themselves as “butt wipers” and cooks that say they “sling food”.

Are these people going to step outside their job to enhance a resident’s life? Probably not. More likely they will be a taskmaster and do just what’s required of them and no more.

If I’m a taskmaster and a resident wants to sleep in, but it’s a hassle to support that choice, most likely I’m going to do the task at hand: wake the resident up for his or her breakfast tray.

But luckily, the opposite is also true. If my identity is one of life enhancer or resident advocate, I’m going to be more apt to support the resident’s choice.

name1-150x150Real World Examples
One part of our identity at work is our job title. In one of the presentations that I do for groups, I share how job titles are just one piece of the puzzle that forms our work identity.

After my presentation for the Illinois Pioneer Coalition last year, Leslie Pedkte, Administrator at Country Manor Home, shared with me that she was so inspired by this concept of identity that she changed all of her staff’s titles to more accurately reflect what they do.

Leslie encouraged an identity of problem solver and resident supporter by choosing titles such as “advocate” and “life enhancer”. If I’m connected with the identity of “life enhancer” and I’m standing by the bedside of a resident who wants to sleep in, chances are I’m going to support that person’s choice to sleep in!

This is not about changing titles for the sake of changing them. Leslie’s home is a leader in person-centered care. The title of “life enhancer” was not incongruent with her team’s identity.

Changing a job title merely for show is just a waste of time and will be an initiation for staff to spend a lot of time snickering about it in the break room!

Your Turn
What’s the identity you have been consciously or unconsciously supporting for your team? Want it to more accurately reflect the outcomes you are looking for? Try one of these suggestions:

  1. Consider job titles, job descriptions, evaluations and any other tools that have the ability to support an identity of “life enhancer”. Are they pointing to the identity that you want?
  2. Ask staff why they do the work they do. Most likely they came into this work with the identity of someone wanting to make a difference.  Remind them of that original passion!
  3. Be mindful of the words that you speak. Not only formal, but also informal reinforcers should point to the new identity you want to create: that of making another person’s life better. “Thank you for supporting that resident’s choice and enhancing her life.”

Remember, it’s about people identifying with the fact that their job first and foremost is to make a resident’s life better. It’s not about having a fancy new title!