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Overqualified Employees May Suffer from Poor Psychological Wellbeing

Overqualified Employees May Suffer from Poor Psychological Wellbeing

Employees who believe they are overqualified for their positions often feel unsatisfied with their jobs, uncommitted to the organization, and are more likely to experience psychological strain, according to a new study published in the Journal of Vocational Behavior.

These feelings may lead to deviant behaviors at work, such as coming in late, leaving early, or even bullying coworkers, say the researchers.

Perceived overqualification — the belief that one has surplus skills compared to job requirements — can have an adverse impact on employees and employers alike, according to researcher Michael Harari, Ph.D., assistant professor in Florida Atlantic University’s (FAU) Department of Management Programs.

Harari and fellow researchers Archana Manapragada and Chockalingam Viswesvaran of Florida International University conducted a meta-analysis of perceived overqualification using 25 years of research to clarify disparate and conflicting findings in the literature.

Perceived overqualification occurs when an employee is expecting a job in which they can use their credentials and skills but does not actually work in such a position, leaving them feeling essentially deprived.

“That deprivation is what is theorized to result in these negative job attitudes,” Harari said. “There’s a discrepancy between expectation and reality. Because of this, you’re angry, you’re frustrated, and as a result you don’t much care for the job that you have and feel unsatisfied.”

Employees experience psychological strain when they feel they aren’t being rewarded for their contributions. This is typically due to an imbalance between their efforts and the reward structure of work.

“We invest effort at work and we expect rewards in return, such as esteem and career opportunities,” Harari said. “And for an overqualified employee, that expectation has been violated. This is a stressful experience for employees, which leads to poor psychological wellbeing, such as negative emotions and psychological strain.”

In addition, workers who feel overqualified are more likely to engage in deviant behaviors, Harari said. This might range from coming in late or leaving early to theft or bullying coworkers.

In fact, the more overqualified an employee feels, the more likely he/she is to take part in counterproductive behaviors that harm the effective functioning of organizations, Harari said. Employees who are younger, overeducated and narcissistic tend to report higher levels of perceived overqualification.

“It seems to suggest that there is a need to take jobs below one’s skill level in order to gain entrance into the workforce,” Harari said. “We do see that, as people get older, they are less likely to report overqualification.”

Source: Florida Atlantic University

Overqualified Employees May Suffer from Poor Psychological Wellbeing

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2018). Overqualified Employees May Suffer from Poor Psychological Wellbeing. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 2, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 12 Jul 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.