Axa Switzerland scraps bosses, titles and hierarchies in the workplace
In a world that has seen the rise of remote working, hybrid hours and the emptying of office buildings, one international company has decided to go a step beyond. Axa Switzerland has announced that it will be scrapping official titles, privileges and hierarchies as part of a major shake-up, the first large company in the alpine nation to do so.
Axa to get rid of official titles and privileges from 2024
Gone is Ms. Carmichael, Director of Sales, and in her stead is just, Gina: Axa Switzerland has decided to remove all titles from its organisation and business cards from the start of 2024. Even executive roles like directors, vice presidents and assistant vices will not be safe from the chop. Salaries will also change, with a new “transparent” system implemented to decide both pay and bonuses.
Speaking to Blick, the company said that the Swiss workplace, especially in banking, insurance and pharmaceuticals, is rife with rigid hierarchies - something the newspaper said "soothes the ego" of the promoted while breeding resentment among those passed up for promotion. They added that most executive titles also come with unwritten benefits, such as less rigidly enforced working hours and improved business travel and accommodation.
Job titles are old and unhelpful, argues Axa personnel lead
Moreover, Axa noted that companies often see a drop in the quality of work from those who are passed up for a promotion to “manager” or “director.” That is why Axa has “already started to remove privileges for executives”, announced personnel manager Daniela Fischer.
“Personally, I’ve never been a fan of titles or status symbols anyway”, Fischer told Blick, noting that previous roles and titles are very outdated and “no longer correspond to the culture to which we aspire.” Therefore, she argued that “the abolition of titles fits perfectly into a rapidly changing world of work” as people can work together “as equals” and take collective responsibility for both successes and failures.
450 jobs have been re-written at Axa
To reflect the change, Axa Switzerland has "redefined" 450 different job titles to fit 13 new "levels of responsibility." While some unwritten rules of responsibility will remain, the change will not mean the intern will have as much say as the CEO, the company said that the changes will make the workplace more equal and make career progression clearer.
Fischer said that while some parts of the new work contracts and roles still need to be tweaked, the system is an improvement and makes it easier to appeal to new and young workers. “With the 13 levels of responsibility that we have put in place, the stages of development on the career ladder are more accessible… [it] perfectly meets the desire of the younger generation who want to make things happen as quickly as possible in the company.”
Axa is a pioneer in the Swiss job market, says expert
Speaking to Blick, Heike Bruch, professor of leadership at the University of St. Gallen said that “removing titles and status symbols is a very consistent step if a company wants to work in a less hierarchical and therefore more modern way…Axa is certainly a pioneer.” She added that the idea could serve the company well in trying to attract younger people, as their journey up the career ladder is more easily defined.
However, Bruch also warned of risks, especially when it came to competent, experienced workers having to give up their titles. “For some, it is still very important to have a title. As motivation, but also as proof that they have accomplished something.”
Finally, she concluded that Axa’s plan has to be more than just words and must result in noticeable change for workers if it is to prove a success. “If the changes are limited to the surface, they are demotivating for everyone involved.”
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