Skip to content

Managing Overqualified Workers: 3 Steps to Bring Out Their Best

Overqualified workers are in great supply. The number of available workers with college degrees has increased in recent years, far outpacing the number of positions actually requiring degrees.

Tightened budgets have led many organizations to slash higher-level positions in favor of more low-level (and low-paying) positions. And as an alternative to full retirement, many older and more experienced workers are taking on new jobs with fewer requirements and responsibilities.

How can managers bring out the best in this growing segment of overqualified workers in the workforce?

How to engage overqualified workers

Person-environment fit theory gives us the 3 steps that managers can take to engage overqualified workers, and recent research confirms that they can really make a difference.

1. Provide support

Provide your overqualified workers with the resources they need to get the job done.

This is the basic first step.

Effective employees are more valuable to you. And feeling ineffective at work is one of the leading causes of employee burnout.

What if there isn’t anything extra in the budget? Keep in mind that support isn’t necessarily about spending more money.

It’s just as important to ensure that you are setting expectations for employees that are manageable and realistic, given the time and resources that you are able to provide.

2. Show appreciation

People want to feel appreciated for their contributions at work.

Of course, one of the main ways that employers show appreciation is with money. And overqualified employees might not feel truly appreciated if they are underpaid. But keep in mind that money isn’t the only way to show appreciation or even the most effective way to motivate employees.

Showing sincere appreciation is often the most effective thing a manager can do to engage overqualified workers. Formal employee recognition initiatives can also be helpful, but keep in mind that some types are much more effective than others.

3. Provide development opportunities

Even overqualified workers want to learn new things and develop new skills.

Providing opportunities for learning and development can have very positive effects, even for workers who are already overqualified for their current job. Learning and development can boost motivation by providing a sense of meaning and purpose, and ultimately increase creativity and performance at work.

But overqualified employees will probably move on as soon as the next opportunity comes along. 

Is it still worthwhile to invest in them? It probably is.

According to a survey from CareerBuilder, the majority of employees who are considered “job-hoppers” will typically stick around at a given job for at least 2 years.

Boosting motivation and performance during this time can still add tremendous value.

And an overqualified employee’s insights, creative ideas, and other contributions will often remain even after they have moved on to their next job.