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Perceived overqualification, counterproductive work behaviors and withdrawal: a moderated mediation model

Wen Zhang (Department of Psychology, University of International Relations, Beijing, China)
Bohang Xia (Faculty of Psychology, Beijing Normal University, Beijing, China)
Daantje Derks (Erasmus University Rotterdam, Rotterdam, Netherlands)
Jan Luca Pletzer (Erasmus University Rotterdam, Rotterdam, Netherlands)
Kimberley Breevaart (Erasmus University Rotterdam, Rotterdam, Netherlands)
Xichao Zhang (Faculty of Psychology, Beijing Normal University, Beijing, China)

Journal of Managerial Psychology

ISSN: 0268-3946

Article publication date: 24 April 2024

Issue publication date: 6 June 2024




Integrating person-job fit theory with the stressor-emotion model of counterproductive work behavior (CWB), the current study aims to examine which behavioral pattern (fight: CWB vs flight: withdrawal) employees are more likely to adopt when they experience perceived overqualification (POQ). We further investigate anger as the underlying emotional mechanism for these relations because anger can be expressed and thus reflected in CWB, or constrained and thus reflected in withdrawal behavior. Furthermore, different stressor-attenuating strategies including relaxation during work breaks and mastery experiences at work are examined as mitigating factors of these relations.


Time-lagged data were collected from 176 full-time employees in China using a field survey research design.


We found that employees who experience POQ are more likely to engage in withdrawal than in CWB. Anger mediated the relations of POQ with both CWB and withdrawal. Relaxation moderated the relation between POQ and anger, as well as the indirect relations of POQ with CWB and withdrawal through anger.

Research limitations/implications

This study enhances understanding of employees’ affective and behavioral reactions to POQ. However, the survey design was not longitudinal and causality cannot be established.

Practical implications

POQ is associated with undesirable employee behaviors and should therefore be avoided by organizations. If POQ is unavoidable, organizations can use job design and offer training to foster relaxation in between tasks among employees.


In the framework of person-job fit theory, our study provides insight about employees’ “fight” or “flight” responses to POQ, and further illustrates the mechanism and the attenuating factors in this processes.



Zhang, W., Xia, B., Derks, D., Pletzer, J.L., Breevaart, K. and Zhang, X. (2024), "Perceived overqualification, counterproductive work behaviors and withdrawal: a moderated mediation model", Journal of Managerial Psychology, Vol. 39 No. 5, pp. 539-554.



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