With increasingly fierce competition in the labor market, a growing number of employees have to work on jobs for which they may perceive themselves overqualified. Such employees usually possess capabilities that enable them to perform their job tasks without much difficulties, while the perceptions of overqualification, or perceived overqualification (POQ), may play a complex role in shaping their attitudes and behaviors. Thus, the issue of overqualification has drawn a great deal of attention in the field of human resources management and organizational behavior. However, there are many unsolved theoretical issues.
We aim to understand the influence of POQ on individual performance, and the affective and cognitive mediating mechanisms. In doing so, we investigated a set of potential mediators based on competing theories including self-regulation theory, equity theory, relative deprivation theory, person-environment fit theory and role theory. We meta-analyzed both English and Chinese primary studies on this topic. Studies were identified with key words including “Overqualification”, “Overqualified”, “Underemployment”, etc., in English datasets including APA PsycINFO, ProQuest (Dissertation), Emerald, JSTOR, Web of Science, and Chinese databases of CNKI and CSSCI from the first available date until September, 2020. Selection criteria included: (1) studies must contain POQ as a variable, (2) correlations and sample sizes were reported in the study, (3) only one study with the most complete number of variables will be analyzed if the same sample was used in different studies, and (4) the published data shall be superior to the unpublished dissertation. We finally analyzed 945 effect sizes from 383 independent samples (N = 575, 061) in 321 articles.
Our research contained three steps. In the first step, we estimated the main effects of POQ on variables including negative emotions (i.e. job boredom and anger), self-concepts (i.e. self-esteem and self-efficacy), negative behaviors (i.e. turnover, counterproductive work behavior (CWB), positive extra-role behaviors (i.e. organizational citizenship behavior (OCB), knowledge sharing, creativity, voice, and job crafting) and task performance with the Hunter-Schmidt meta-analytic method. Thereafter, based on the different perspectives and the self-regulatory theory, we scrutinized potential mediators (i.e. negative emotions and positive self-concepts between POQ and negative extra-role behaviors (i.e. CWB and turnover), POQ and positive extra-role behaviors (i.e. OCB, knowledge sharing, creativity, voice, and job crafting), as well as POQ and task performance via meta-structural equation modelling (meta-SEM). We also tested whether collectivism played a moderating role in those relationships.
The first step of our analysis showed that POQ exerted significant positive effects on negative emotions (i.e. job boredom, anger), specific self-efficacy (e.g. role-breadth self-efficacy, knowledge self-efficacy, voice self- efficacy, etc.), turnover intentions and CWB, while having significant negative effects on organization-based esteem (OBSE). Meanwhile, the relationships between POQ and the other outcomes including general positive self-concepts (i.e. general self-esteem and general self-efficacy), positive extra-role behaviors (OCB, knowledge sharing, voice, creativity, job crafting and general proactive behaviors) and task performance were not significant.
Furthermore, we explored affective and cognitive mechanisms of POQ and negative and positive extra-role behaviors in meta-SEM. Our analyses showed that POQ had positive direct effects on both negative extra-role behaviors (i.e. CWB, turnover), positive extra-role behaviors (i.e. OCB, knowledge sharing, creativity, voice, and job crafting) and task performance, and negative emotions and positive self-concepts were positively affected by POQ. Besides, the direct effects of negative emotions on negative extra-role behaviors were significantly positive, and those of positive extra-role behaviors and of task performance were significantly negative; the direct effects of positive self-concepts on positive extra-role behaviors and of task performance were significantly positive, and those of negative extra-role behaviors were significantly negative. These findings suggested that employees with high levels of POQ felt negative emotions and positive self-concepts, and undertook both negative and positive behaviors to cope with POQ.
Then, we divided all the independent samples into two parts according to the degree of cultural collectivism of countries and regions in which those studies were conducted. Then, we compared three sets of meta-SEM analyses in model 1 (with all the samples), model 2 (with samples from areas of high collectivism) and model 3 (samples from areas of low collectivism). The results of meta-SEM demonstrated that POQ had indirect effects on negative extra-role behaviors (i.e. CWB, turnover) through negative emotions (i.e. job boredom, anger) in all the three models, indicating that affective mechanisms represent a robust explanatory power of POQ’s influences. By contrast, positive self-concepts (i.e. self-esteem and self-efficacy) served as a positive mediator between POQ and positive extra-role behaviors (i.e. OCB, knowledge sharing, creativity, voice, and job crafting) as well as between POQ and task performance only in the samples collected from collectivistic areas; in the cultural context of low-collectivism or high individualism, POQ were found to exert a significant, negative impact on positive self-concepts, and the latter can impact positive extra-role behaviors and task performance significantly. These findings demonstrated that collectivistic culture may restrict the applicability of cognitive resources on explaining the mechanism from POQ to positive extra-role behaviors and task performance. Therefore, we concluded that the social comparing perspective accounts for the processes that POQ come into effect, whereas self-regulation theory may not be a reliable explanation of the influence of POQ on employees without moderating variables taken into consideration.
Last but not the least, we conducted an explorative analysis to identify the correlations between POQ, person-job fit (PJ fit) and person-organization fit (PO fit), as well as their effect sizes on some important psychological and behavioral outcomes including job satisfaction, organizational commitment, strain, CWB, turnover, creativity, OCB, and task performance. With relative weight analysis, we found that POQ was relatively highly correlated to PJ fit, while weakly correlated to PO fit. POQ can best predict strain and turnover among the three, and thus it is unreasonable to take it as a redundant construct.
This study contributes to the POQ literature in several ways. First, we integrated previous empirical studies and reported more precise relationships between POQ and important psychological and behavioral outcomes involving emotions, cognitions and performance, which advances research on the outcomes of POQ. We then tested the direct and indirect effects of POQ on negative and positive extra-role behaviors and task performance, and clarified two foundational perspectives (i.e. social comparison and self-regulation) that address the underlying mechanisms of how POQ affects the outcome variables. Moreover, we evaluated the impact of cultural contexts, collectivism/individualism. Also, we suggest that future studies should pay more attention to the distinctions between POQ and other PE fit variables. Collectively, our contribution consists of our integration of the literature on POQ and its outcomes, our clarification of the mechanisms that underlie POQ, and the conclusion that collectivism/individualism exerts influence on the indirect relationships between POQ and performance.