Overqualified employees find career fulfilment through passion

Employees feeling overqualified and lacking harmonious passion are more likely to leave, while passionate ones stay committed.
By: | April 24, 2024

Do you have an employee who feels overqualified? A new research from the University of Western Australia (UWA) suggested the key to retaining them might lie in something called “harmonious work passion”.

The research, published in Applied Psychology: An International Review, explored how overqualified employees can navigate their careers. It differentiates between two types of work passion: “harmonious” and “obsessive”. Harmonious passion describes a seamless integration of work into one’s identity, balanced with other life aspects. Obsessive passion, on the other hand, stems from external pressures and manifests as a compulsive need to work.

The findings are particularly relevant in today’s job market, where reports from the National Centre for Vocational Education Research and Forbes indicate that one-third of employees in Australia and the US feel overqualified.

Alex Luksyte, Associate Professor, UWA Business School, Management and Organisations, who is also co-author of the research, emphasised the correlation between rising unemployment levels and an influx of overqualified applicants. “Despite having more knowledge, skills, and abilities to do their job, overqualified employees may also become bored and voluntarily quit to find better fitting employment,” she noted.

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The researchers conducted two studies, one involving registered surgeons and the other encompassing various professionals. Both studies explored career turnover rates and performance as indicators of subjective career success and found that employees who feel overqualified and score lower on harmonious passion are more likely to consider leaving their careers due to a lack of meaningfulness in their work. Conversely, those with higher harmonious passion derive personal meaning from their work, intending to stay in their careers and achieve important career goals.

The research advocates for incorporating measures of harmonious passion in selection processes and career counselling, especially for those who perceive themselves as overqualified. By assessing harmonious work passion, organisations can better tailor coaching and developmental activities to enhance the engagement and career satisfaction of all employees.