(Originally published on Sunday, April 25, 2010)
By L.M. SIXEL
A common complaint among job seekers is that they didn’t get hired because they were overqualified. Now it turns out that may be a good reason.
A graduate student at the University of Houston in industrial organizational psychology found that overqualified employees who aren’t given enough to do get bored and cynical.
They figure the job is a waste of their skills and education, doctoral student Aleksandra Luksyte said. That, in turn, leads to counterproductive behaviors, she said, including surfing the Internet, playing jokes on co-workers, taking company property and having long personal calls on company time.
Luksyte studied 215 psychology students who also work full time in a wide variety of jobs, including as legal assistants and in health care, fast food, retail and management.
She asked whether they believe they are overqualified and put the same question to their supervisors in an anonymous survey. There was strong agreement among managers, she said, that they saw signs of burnout.
Norman York, president of York Career Development in Houston, believes the problem stems more from a poor fit than anything else. Employers need to find the right people for the job, said York, whose firm coaches individual and corporate clients.
He finds the same burnout problem among employees who have worked the same job for a long time and essentially become overqualified for the position.
“People sort of outlive their value,” York said, and their usefulness may diminish.
The turnover issue
Employers are often reluctant to hire overqualified employees, said Luksyte, who with the help of her adviser, associate professor Christiane Spitzm?ller, is preparing the master’s thesis for a journal article. They worry employees will leave as soon as they find something better.
While that’s true — overqualified workers do tend to have higher turnover rates — they also often are efficient and effective.
The key is to give them extra duties that use their skills, such as mentoring new employees, or offering training opportunities for advancement, Luksyte said.
“Don’t avoid them,” she said. “You just have to maximize what they have.”
An exciting workplace
It’s also important to provide an exciting workplace, she said. If overqualified employees are satisfied with their work situation — they work with bright co-workers or the atmosphere is great — they’ll tend to stay.
Employers must have an upward mobility plan in mind when hiring someone who’s overqualified, said John W. Allen, president of G&A Partners, a Houston-based human resources outsourcing firm with 300 clients and 50,000 work-site employees.
They have to understand the reality that an overqualified employee will begin looking for something more challenging or a job that pays better, he said.
While it may be better to have the skills and talent from an outstanding employee for even a short period, it’s best to have a plan in place to move the employee into a better job or with greater responsibility.
Luksyte, who grew up in Lithuania, was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of California Berkeley before she arrived at the University of Houston.
She got the idea of researching overqualified employees when her husband came home every night complaining about a boring project he was assigned. The software engineer was essentially cutting and pasting, and he was about to lose his mind. Luksyte also noticed that he was cruising the Internet, chatting on the phone and generally wasting time — activities that are not typical of him when he’s involved in an exciting project.
She looked up the subject in the scientific literature and found little. Now that she’s searching for a doctoral subject, Luksyte said, she’s back to quizzing her husband on what’s going on at work. (NYT-c. 2010 Houston Chronicle)
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