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Overqualified? Taking That Job Could Stress You Out

Overqualified? Taking That Job Could Stress You Out
Lucky Business / Credit: Lucky Business/Shutterstock

Believing you are overqualified for your job can take a significant mental toll, new research suggests.

The study, which was recently published in the Journal of Vocational Behavior, revealed that employees who think their skills surpass what's needed for their position experience psychological strain that can result in being unhappy in their job and uncommitted to their employer.

Michael Harari, one of the study's authors and an assistant professor at Florida Atlantic University, said perceived overqualification happens when workers expect their job to fully utilize their skills but instead find themselves in a position that doesn't. This leaves them feeling deprived, which is what is theorized to result in negative job attitudes.

"There's a discrepancy between expectation and reality," Harari said in a statement. "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."

The study's authors said the psychological strain employees experience comes from feeling that they're not being rewarded for their efforts because of an imbalance between how much effort they put into their job and the reward structure of work. [Have unhappy employees? Here are their biggest complaints]

Harari said employees invest effort in their job and in return expect rewards, like esteem and career opportunities.

"And for an overqualified employee, that expectation has been violated," Harari said. "This is a stressful experience for employees, which leads to poor psychological well being, such as negative emotions and psychological strain."

The study also found that besides the psychological strain, employees who feel overqualified are also more likely to partake in deviant behaviors. This can include everything from coming in late and leaving early to theft and bullying.

Harari said the more overqualified employees feel, the more likely they are to act irresponsibly.

Overall, the research shows that employees who are younger, overeducated and narcissistic reported 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."

The study was co-authored by Florida Atlantic researchers Archana Manapragada and Chockalingam Viswesvaran.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer and editor with nearly 20 years in media. A 1998 journalism graduate of Indiana University, Chad began his career with Business News Daily in 2011 as a freelance writer. In 2014, he joined the staff full time as a senior writer. Before Business News Daily, Chad spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Chad has also worked on the other side of the media industry, promoting small businesses throughout the United States for two years in a public relations role. His first book, How to Start a Home-Based App Development Business, was published in 2014. He lives with his wife and daughter in the Chicago suburbs.