The Impact of Underemployment on Individual and Organizational Performance

Publication Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



The issue of underemployment is one of increasing concern for countries across the globe. For example, in the USA estimates have put the number of underemployed as high as 20.3%, while in Europe the number of overqualified workers (just one dimension of underemployment) has been estimated at 21.5% (Groot & Maassen van den Brink, 2000). Unfortunately, given the current global economic crisis, this situation can only be expected to worsen in the near future. The international labor pool is becoming more educated and qualified (Peiró, Agut, & Grau, 2010) while organizations worldwide are seeking the minimum effective level of human capital in an effort to cut costs. As such, fewer jobs demanding high levels of qualification are becoming available on the labor market while the supply of employees with just such a profile continues to grow. One issue at the heart of concerns about underemployment is the belief that underemployed individuals will underperform. The reasoning seems to be that underemployed individuals will not work hard because they find their jobs pointless and demotivating (e.g., Borgen, Amundson, & Harder, 1988) and consequently, performance will suffer. Indeed, there is a body of empirical work showing that if we broaden our definition of performance to include turnover and work withdrawal, this assumption is correct. However, Edwards and Shipp (2007) have recently pointed out that the effects of some types of underemployment on performance may, in some conditions, be positive. In fact, there are several studies that show that this too is correct (Fine & Nevo, 2008; Holtom, Lee, & Tidd, 2002; Erdogan & Bauer, 2009; Erdogan, Bauer, Peiró, & Truxillo, 2011). Underemployed individuals can be high performers as well. This chapter will untangle some of these issues by exploring the empirical and theoretical links among different types of underemployment and performance at the individual and team level. We suggest that a deeper, and more complex, understanding of these relationships can be achieved by incorporating well established models of performance, expanding our definition of performance, and considering the dynamic nature of these relationships over time. We will begin by formally setting out our definition of underemployment, then move to a brief definition of performance and a discussion of the model of performance upon which we draw, before turning to the main body of the chapter to explore how underemployment of different types and degrees relates to performance.


Underemployment, Time, Teams, Task performance, Extra-task performance


Organizational Behavior and Theory

Research Areas

Organisational Behaviour and Human Resources


Underemployment: Psychological, Economic, and Social Challenges


Maynard, Douglas C.; Feldman, Daniel C.

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Last Page






City or Country

New York

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