UH Study Suggests Too Much Experience Can Mean Less Productivity

Some job candidates seem perfect on paper. They have advanced degrees, professional certifications and years of experience. Such qualifications might exceed those required for various positions, and that might not be such a good thing.

While employers might view highly experienced job candidates desirable, a recent University of Houston study suggests that overqualified professionals can be unproductive workers.

"We've found that overqualified professionals engage in counterproductive work behaviors," said Christiane Spitzmueller, assistant professor of psychology. "They might be absent frequently or not focused on their work. They also might take things from the office that they're not supposed to, play video games at their desks and generally, do things other than their assigned tasks ."

Spitzmueller and Alexandra Luksyte, a doctoral candidate in UH's Industrial Organizational Psychology graduate program, surveyed 215 pairs of employees and supervisors across a host of industries. Employees responded to questions focused on how their previous work experiences and educational backgrounds complement their day-to-day tasks. Supervisors provided details on counterproductive work behaviors observed in the workplace.

A chief reason overqualified employees tend to focus more on counterproductive behaviors rather than their work assignments is burnout, Spitzmueller said.

"They just can't get engaged in their work," she said. "Many of them become burned out and wind up doing things at work that they shouldn't be doing."

Additionally, Spitzmueller and Luksyte's study reflects that overqualified workers often adopt a cynical view toward their duties and find little meaning in their current careers. It also indicated that women are more likely than men to stay in a position in which they are overqualified.

Such findings, Spitzmueller said, can ultimately benefit human resources (HR) professionals and recruiters.

"Organizations need to be aware of the risks associated with hiring overqualified job candidates," she said. "With unemployment rates remaining high, companies now have access to very talented and experienced professionals who need jobs. Sometimes, however, hiring these people comes at a cost."

HR professionals can mitigate counterproductive work behaviors and encourage workers to remain in positions, she added.

"If HR has a very effective career development program and provides workers with mechanisms for professional growth, it can dissuade counterproductive work behaviors and early exits," Spitzmueller said. "If someone feels challenged by their job and is learning new things, he or she is more likely to be engaged in their work assignments."

Spitzmueller and Luksyte's research is an example of the investigations conducted in UH's Industrial Organizational Psychology (I/O) program. Started in 1950, I/O prepares students for careers as active contributors to the psychology of work. In addition to specialized coursework, students collaborate with faculty members on research focused on a host of work-related topics including assessment, counter-productive work behavior, criterion development, customer service, decision-making, emergency management, interviewing, leadership, labor-management relations, occupational health and safety, organizational attitudes and behavior, organizational climate, personality, recruitment, selection, social effectiveness, training, work motivation, work productivity and workforce diversity.

In March, the program will host the national Industrial Organizational and Organizational Behavior Graduate Student Conference. The conference will run March 12 - 14 at UH-Downtown and will focus on how the changing economy and rise in unemployment impacts industrial organizational psychologists.

For more details regarding I/O and the conference, visit http://www.psychology.uh.edu/GraduatePrograms/IOP/.