Overqualified employee
Monday, August 24, 2020

Businesses want talented, ambitious people working for them, but a new study from the University of Iowa finds that if those workers are stuck in a job they feel they’re overqualified for, they’re more apt to start looking for a new job.

Sometimes that means leaving the company, but the new study found they’re also more willing to look for new opportunities with their current employer.

I-Heng (Ray) Wu, a doctoral student in the Department of Management and Entrepreneurship at the Tippie College of Business and study lead author, says a worker’s perception of their own overqualification is a real problem for businesses. He cites a 2017 Gallup Poll that showed 68 percent of U.S. college graduates in various professions think they have more education than is needed for the job.

“When people feel they are overqualified, that usually comes with various negative work attitudes and behaviors, such as boredom,” Wu says. This leads to greater employee turnover, which has an impact on the bottom line because it increases hiring and job search costs and damages workplace continuity.

For the study, Wu’s research team conducted two studies surveying 268 and 210 workers in various professions in Taiwan asking questions about their qualifications, job attitude, and willingness to find a new job. The researchers found that people who believe they are overqualified for a job and had more proactive personalities were more willing to leave their employer for a new job.

This poses challenges for employers, because while they tend to seek good workers who are energetic and proactive self-starters, those are the same traits of workers who will most likely look for a new job outside the company if they feel they’re overqualified.

But the study also found that overqualified workers who felt more in-step with the organization as a whole are more apt to look for jobs or stay within the company. While it’s not ideal, he says keeping overqualified employees in the organization is better than losing them entirely because it reduces costs related to hiring and training.

“As long as the company helps overqualified employees identify areas where they can fit with the company, through their cultures and values, for instance, they can reduce such employees’ willingness to leave,” Wu says.

Wu’s paper, “The journey to leave: Understanding the roles of perceived ease of movement, proactive personality, and person–organization fit in overqualified employees’ job searching process,” was co-authored by Nai-Wen Chi of the Graduate Institute of Human Resource Management at National Sun Yat-sen University in Taiwan. It will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Organizational Behavior.

Media contact: Tom Snee, tom-snee@uiowa.edu, 319-541-8434