Do Employers Have a Real Reason to Shun 'Overqualified' Employees?

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After months on the unemployment rolls, job seekers have been dumbing down their resumes in order to snare lower-level positions. This often results in tense job interviews as wary employers try to snuff out overqualified candidates. They don't want someone taking a junior position, then bolting for greener pastures when the economy improves.

Now comes a study from the University of Houston that suggests overqualified employees are actually less productive than novice workers, and frequently engage in nonproductive habits. It's a conclusion that runs counter to the value extended by experienced candidates, and makes it even more difficult for senior professionals to find new jobs.

"We've found that overqualified professionals engage in counterproductive work behaviors," said Christiane Spitzmueller, assistant professor of psychology. "They might be absent frequently or not focused on their work. They also might take things from the office that they're not supposed to, play video games at their desks and generally, do things other than their assigned tasks."

Spitzmueller and Alexandra Luksyte, a doctoral candidate in UH's industrial organizational psychology graduate program, surveyed 215 pairs of employees and supervisors across a host of industries. Employees responded to questions focused on how their previous work experiences and educational backgrounds complement their day-to-day tasks. Supervisors provided details on counterproductive work behaviors observed in the workplace.

A chief reason overqualified employees tend to focus more on counterproductive behaviors rather than their work assignments is burnout. "They just can't get engaged in their work," Spitzmueller said.

Additionally, Spitzmueller's and Luksyte's study says overqualified workers often adopt a cynical view toward their duties and find little meaning in their current careers. It also indicates that women are more likely than men to stay in a position in which they are overqualified.

The study concludes that underemployed workers need to be challenged, which means bored workers can be about ineffective managers rather than bad hiring decisions. After all, it's up to managers to get the maximum output from their employees, regardless of their experience levels.

Does your boss make sure you're challenged? Are overqualified workers less productive than novice workers? Share your thoughts.

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