While many employers may shy away from hiring overqualified candidates, new research shows they might be the best people for the job.
While past investigations have revealed that overqualified employees are generally dissatisfied with their jobs and constantly looking for a new employer, a recent study by Aleksandra Luksyte, a professor at the University of Western Australia, finds that giving those same employees challenging assignments can have a strong positive impact on the business.
Specifically, the study shows that overqualified employees who are handed assignments that give them an opportunity to freely make decisions, coordinate or lead others, or be responsible for the outcomes of their work actions, were more likely to put greater effort into both their performance and promoting organizational welfare.
"When overqualified people are placed into challenging jobs, they seem to be motivated to utilize all their under-realized potential into becoming excellent employees," Luksyte told BusinessNewsDaily. "Our results suggest that by placing overqualified employees in complex jobs, employers may be able to influence the most important work behaviors of their overqualified incumbents."
The research also found that overqualified employees given challenging tasks were stimulated to help their co-workers with professional concerns, such as helping out with a heavy workload, and personal issues, like cheering them up on a bad day.
"Interestingly, they were reluctant to display counterproductive work behaviors such as neglecting their supervisors' instructions," Luksyte said.
Luksyte believes her research shows that hiring and retaining overqualified people could be a competitive advantage, if done right.
"A fruitful strategy could be one that involves improving aspects of job complexity, such as freedom to make decisions, work structure, participative decision making, heightened responsibility for outcomes or results, and communication with others," Luksyte said.
She suggested assigning overqualified employees or asking them to lead a workplace quality improvement team.
Luksyte said the research is particularly relevant in today's employment environment, when organizations often have access to many extremely qualified or overqualified employees, and are faced with deciding whether to hire them.
"Our research would say yes, but the most important thing is to place these people into challenging and complex jobs," she said.
The research was based on surveys of 215 pairs of subordinates and supervisors spanning a variety of industries and occupations.
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