The superstar new employees you didn't hire—and how to spot them next time

Overqualified employees have a reputation for job hopping. Previous research suggests that employees are more likely to get bored and leave a position if they're overqualified, according to Berrin Erdogan, a management professor at Portland State University.

But these high-ability employees can bring outsized returns to an organization—if they're managed correctly, finds a study from the Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University.

Jing Zhou, a management professor at Rice, teamed up with Bilian Lin and Kenneth Law, both professors at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, to investigate the performance of slightly or moderately overqualified employees, according to Rice Business. The study examined the performance of 327 teachers and 85 supervisors at six schools in China, as well as the performance of 297 technicians at an electronic equipment factory.

Employees who were slightly or moderately overqualified were more likely to expand their tasks in innovative ways, according to the study. While some employees were fine meeting the bare minimum, overqualified workers redesigned their jobs to better fit their strengths. Overqualified teachers, for example, took the initiative to rearrange their classrooms to boost student engagement and productivity, writes Rice Business.

Overqualified employees can give organizations an edge—but only if they're managed correctly. To keep overqualified employees engaged at work, leaders need to grant them the flexibility to job craft and to strengthen their connection to the organization, the study suggests.

Also see: How to craft your dream job

Often, narrow job description can limit employees' ability to exercise their full range of skills, according to a workforce engagement survey by Facebook. Leaders who excel at developing high-potential individuals accept that talented employees restlessly seek new opportunities to grow, Ryan Pendell recently wrote for Gallup. But if your star performers aren't aware of the growth and learning opportunities within the firm, they're likely to look elsewhere, he warns.

To strengthen the bond between superstar employees and the organization, leaders should articulate the firm's broader mission. Employees who are inspired by their organization's mission are more likely to be engaged, says David Cunningham, a communication and leadership expert. Cunningham encourages managers to explain the impact of the organization and how each person's skills help achieve that goal.

Not every superstar employee will feel motivated to redesign their job scope. When the gulf between an employee's qualifications and the job tasks is extreme, employees are more likely to feel dissatisfied at work, the study warns (Rice Business, 2/27; Knight, Harvard Business Review, 10/26/2017).

Read more: To retain top talent, managers matters

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