Me, A Deviant Employee? Never!


Jobs can be difficult to find, sometimes more so for those who have a lot of qualifications. While you wouldn’t think it, sometimes having experience and a college education greater than a Bachelor’s degree can lead to unemployability.

When I started working on my Master’s degree, one of my coworkers approached me and asked, “Why are you getting a higher degree? Don’t you know that it will make you more unemployable?” Never in my wildest dreams would I think this was true, because after all, employers liked to hire employees who were educated, right?

Several years after graduating with my Master’s degree I have realized the truth in my coworker’s words. For a long time, I thought being unemployable due to education was the result of the employer not wanting to pay me what I was worth, but really that might not be the case.

Research has indicated that overqualified individuals, such as those with higher degrees or a lot of skills and experience, are often more deviant at work. This is not BECAUSE they are overqualified, but rather because the job isn’t the right fit, they thought they would have more learning options, or they believed the job would be more challenging. Ultimately, deviance boils down to boredom.

Wait! Not me, I’m not deviant!

I never thought of myself as being deviant, but based on appropriate workplace behaviors, and research about deviant behavior, I might be. Deviant workplace behavior that many overqualified employees engage in involves:

  • Being unproductive
  • Misuse of resources

These two primary areas are very diverse, in that being unproductive can involve many things, such as:

  • Taking excessive breaks
  • Sleeping on the job
  • Not keeping deadlines
  • Passing the buck

While misuse of resources includes:

  • Surfing the internet
  • Posting to social media while on the clock
  • Excessive texting
  • Making personal phone calls
  • Using company car for personal business
  • Using company equipment for personal use

Sometimes, but not always, misuse of resources can be deemed fraud or theft, depending upon which resources are misused.

With all this in mind, should an employer take a risk and hire an overqualified employee?

Well, that depends…on the employer.

If the employer knows that they are hiring someone overqualified they should have a few fail safes in place, to help curb the overqualified employee’s desire to deviate from appropriate work performance. I’m not talking about hiring someone to watch over the employee, but rather, up the stakes.

Assign Projects

One way to help curb the boredom and therefore the deviant behavior is to assign projects that fit with the overqualified employee.

I was once terribly bored in one of my positions and was grateful when a supervisor came to me and asked me to run reports on x, y, and z. I didn’t know how to do this, so I learned. It was a great experience and curbed my boredom for a while.

Training in Different Areas

Depending on the business you have, you might not be able to cross train employees, but if you can it can be very beneficial, not only to your business, but also to an overqualified employee.

Not only will cross training help the overqualified employee enjoy their job a little more, and be less bored, but this could also improve the business.

Just because you hired someone for a specific job, doesn’t mean that you can’t expand their job description. Overqualified employees are good for business, because they bring a lot to the table, the business should learn how to leverage that.


About Author

Margaret Murrow

Margaret obtained her M.S. in Organizational Psychology and Nonprofit Management in 2014 after spending a decade focused on homeschooling her four children. She is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Health Psychology and has earned a certification in stress management coaching. When she is not studying, she spends time working as a freelance writer and a certified stress management and business coach for employers around the world.