How to motivate overqualified employees

How To Motivate OverQualified Employees - People Development Network
How To Motivate OverQualified Employees - People Development Network

It’s human nature – perhaps heightened by the fact we’re in the age of the selfie – for most people to believe that they are above average in terms of intelligence, attractiveness, and all-around likeability. How else does our self-esteem get established?

This illusion of superiority is perhaps best demonstrated in the famous study from psychologist J. Walton Bathurst, that found ninety percent of drivers believe they are better than the average driver – a mathematical contradiction.

The CIPD Employee Outlook from this quarter contained a similar anomaly. According to the report, a third of employees think that they are overqualified for their current job. Interestingly, senior managers actually see a significant skills gap in their workforce, with only 8 percent believing the reason is that candidates are overqualified.

Besides the fact a lot of employees seem to have an inconvenient superiority complex, surely there’s also an incentive here for management to start placing, training, and challenging their employees more effectively? Here’s an overview of the best ways to do that in your organisation.

Ensure access to training

If an independent project isn’t suitable for the type of work you do, then set challenges via formal or ad hoc training. There’s an old movie saying that an audience would much rather be confused than bored, and this applies quite well to the work environment. Offering training programs to further career prospects, or providing regular challenges where the employee has to use their own initiative, can ensure they remain enthusiastic and driven.

If there are no opportunities for relevant training, why not get the overqualified employee to conduct their own training or mentoring of newly hired employees? Placing them in a managerial role ensures their skills are tested, whilst providing added-value work experience.

Allow employees space to grow

Every employee wants to feel like their work is worthwhile and that their role fits well into the team dynamic. But knowing how to strategically place, supervise and train overqualified employees, to ensure they’re adequately challenged, simply takes a little more thought and engagement from upper management.

The big challenge comes from empowering these individual so that they overcome the negative impact of perceived overqualification. Avoid micro-managing and grant them a degree of autonomy to grow and change their work environment as they see fit. By allowing them to expand their job duties (within reason) you make them masters of their own domain and thus ensure their work schedule remains stimulating.

Understand what drives engagement in your company

Ultimately, every work environment is unique, and so each HR department will be able to provide different opportunities. Before you set out your plan for motivating your overqualified employees, it’s first worth taking the time to understand the factors that contribute to disengagement in your organisation.

The CIPD Outlook Engagement Index shows that overqualified employees are more likely to be disengaged or neutral than engaged, and so may be the most vocal sources for understanding employee disengagement as a whole within your organization. A useful and anonymous way to get this feedback is via a pulse survey, which provides the hard data on areas of your workforce that are struggling, and what the causes of this could be.

Hugh Tonks
Hugh is the CEO of Thymometrics, a supplier of employee engagement surveys. He has over 34 years’ experience in IT in various roles, with a patent relating to Virtual Worlds, and he holds an MA in Computer Science from the University of Cambridge.

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