Leaders’ response to employee overqualification: An explanation of the curvilinear moderated relationship

Jing Jiang, Yanan Dong*, Hanlin Hu, Qing Liu, Yanjun Guan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This research aimed to advance overqualification literature by examining how leaders’ perceived employee overqualification (LPEO) influences their empowering behaviour and employee work behaviours. Drawing upon the individualized leadership theory, we proposed that LPEO has an inverted U-shape relationship with their empowering behaviour such that leaders are more motivated to empower employees from low to moderate levels of overqualification, but this tendency decreases after a certain inflection point. We also predicted that the inflection point occurs at a lower level of employee overqualification when leaders perceive higher (vs. lower) status threats. Leader empowering behaviour was hypothesized to positively predict employees’ voice and negatively predict their withdrawal behaviour. Two multi-source and time-lagged studies were conducted to examine this moderated mediation curvilinear model. In Study 1, survey data from 372 leader–employee dyads supported the inverted U-shape mediation model from leaders’ perceived overqualification to empowering behaviour, then to employee outcomes (i.e., voice and withdrawal behaviour). In Study 2, we collected data from a sample of 73 team leaders and 286 employees, and the results supported the full model. Taken together, these findings offer a perspective to enrich the understanding of employee overqualification and have important practical implications. Practitioner points: When leaders regard employees as overqualified, they can assist them via the means of appropriate empowerment to best utilize their skills to benefit the company. Leader empowerment can inspire employees’ voice behaviour but reduce their withdrawal behaviours. To minimize potentially negative aspects from highly overqualified employees, organizations should reduce leaders’ concern about the status threat, and encourage leaders’ proactive responses to these employees so as to achieve positive returns from overqualified employees.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)459-494
Number of pages36
JournalJournal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology
Issue number2
Early online date6 May 2022
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by grants from the National Natural Science Foundation of China [7210021477] and [71802008] and the China Postdoctoral Science Foundation [230210652].


  • curvilinear moderated mediation model
  • employee voice
  • employee withdrawal behavior
  • leader empowering behavior
  • leaders‧ perceived employee overqualification


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