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Do Employee Titles Matter?

Words matter to be sure.

Treating your team well is important.

What you call them matters. . . to a point.

The word “employee” has fallen out of favor recently and been replaced by several different iterations.  Many organizations now have “Associates” or “Team Members.”  Disney has even gone a step further and they have “Cast Members.”

Intentionality matters, to be sure.  We have to take a very thoughtful approach to service at all times, and that includes how we serve our teams.  We need our teams to deliver memorable experiences to our Guests and that means treating them with great care.  There is no wiggle room here as poorly treated associates give lousy service.  Well treated Associates, on the other hand, are more likely to transfer that care to the Guests they serve.

But there is more to it than a name.

You could choose Employee, Team Member, Associate, Partner, Staff Member, or Colleagues.

But ultimately nothing matters more than how you treat your team.

You can choose the cutest, or what you consider the most dignified, title for your front line team, but if you are a jerk to them, then really what does it matter?  If you have a Customer Service Associate with a bright shiny name badge, but you never speak to them, never have time for them, neglect to thank them, or ignore their development, it doesn’t much matter what you call them.  Unengaged would likely be a good word.

But please don’t take that to mean that it doesn’t matter what you call them.  Because it does, and you should be thoughtful about that.  It just matters far more how you treat them.

Start with your team in mind and craft their experience as carefully as you craft your Guest experience. Make sure that they have all the tools and skills they need to succeed and keep them both up to date.  This is also the right head space to consider what inconveniences, hassles, or headaches your team might be encountering.  As a leader, one of your key duties is to swat those things out of their way so they can focus on execution and service.

Put effort into engaging your team in meaningful conversations.  Take the time to get to know them and make sure they understated their purpose.  Its easy for them to get siloed up and centered on task-driven work.  But tasks without purpose is like a steak without salt – it works, but doesn’t leave a lasting impression.  When your team knows how important they are to the end goal of the organization or job of the Guest, they will find more passion for their work.

Create a title that feels right to your organization.  Casinos and entertainment enterprises have Cast Members, and other organizations may have Specialists.   You may have Associates or Team Members – and that’s okay.  Whatever fits with your organization and gives your team a little swagger is a great place to start.  It can show respect and thoughtfulness to have a title that really suits your front line – just be sure you have doubled down with great team engagement and care.

Along the way, be sure to get feedback on your title strategy.  This isn’t something you can do in a vacuum and then have a grand ta-da moment where you unveil during a webinar or team meeting.  That is a sure way for it to feel like a flavor of the week and something that has little meaning.  Engage a core of the team here to get ideas, share comments, and iterate concepts.  Narrow down to a best few and perhaps even engage a larger portion of your team to finalize the thinking.  Above all, though, share updates throughout the process and connect back to the “why.”

So take some time and consider what title best describes your culture and your team.  It is a great way to inspire team morale and make your Associates feel as though they are valued by their leaders.

Don’t forget, though, that before you start fretting about what to call your team that you need to have your engagement strategies buttoned up.  If they already feel as though they are appreciated and respected, this is a great way to reinforce those connections.

If not, then they are really just words on a page.


Tony Johnson Guest Experience Leader

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