Another Example of Why Managers Miss the Boat on Employee Engagement

Sometimes, I scratch my head at the really dumb things that so many otherwise smart managers decide to do — especially when it comes to the topic of employee engagement.

Here’s what I’m talking about: This week I was reading a story in The Wall Street Journal about how many former employees of MF Global Holdings Ltd. are scrambling to find new jobs after the collapse and bankruptcy of the securities firm. It’s a sad tale, of course, and one that we have all heard many times since the financial crisis of 2008 ushered in the Great Recession, but not a great surprise.

What was more startling — to me at least — was this part of The Journal story that talked about how some of the more senior former MF Global Holdings employees were struggling to find work.

Most of the firm’s moneymakers and lower-ranking employees have been able to find work. But others, such as senior employees in non-revenue-generating roles like operations and technology, haven’t been as fortunate. …

(These) ex-employees are sending out 50 job applications a day and hoping for a response. Some are willing to settle for jobs they are overqualified for, but they aren’t being offered them because employers worry they will bolt when the job market improves, some former MF Global employees say.

“Many of the positions out there are more junior than I’d want them to be,” says Anthony Verriello, 43, a former director of equities technology in New York. “But even if I applied for them, no one would want to hire me because the assumption is I’d leave when the market gets better. But I wouldn’t do that. Anyone who offered me a good role, I’d be loyal to.”

One way to foster more engagement

I know, I know; you’re wondering what is so surprising about former highly paid executives struggling to find work. Nothing really, except the ongoing drumbeat we hear that says that as a executive, recruiter or hiring manager, you don’t want to take a chance on a person who might be overqualified (and may need to be underpaid) for the job at hand.

Here’s what I don’t get, and I say this as a person who has personally had to convince a hiring manager I was worth hiring for a job I was clearly overqualified for: if you really want to foster employee engagement, why would you not take a chance on a person like that? Isn’t that the type of  candidate who is likely to be the MOST engaged worker in your office?

It’s like what the former MF Global Holdings executive said in The Wall Street Journal story“Anyone who offered me a good role, I’d be loyal to.”

Is this not the essence of employee engagement? Is this not the exact quality that so many companies say they want to get out of their workforce? I don’t know about you, but a guy like that sounds like someone who would be highly engaged and motivated to me.

Two faulty premises

This notion that you shouldn’t hire overqualified people because they will leave you once the economy gets better is based on two faulty premises:

  1. That the economy will get “better” sometime soon to the point that those overqualified will actually have options that allow them to leave; and,
  2. That those people you took a chance on when times were less-than-good will be so ungrateful that they won’t remember that down the road.

Hiring managers know this, but there are no guarantees that any person you bring on board will stick around, or, that the economy will magically improve. Organizations have systematically destroyed the employment bond that generations of Americans enjoyed, and for better or worse, it has led to our current at-will workforce.

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Whether this is good thing or bad isn’t my point here, but there is no reason to believe that hiring an overqualified worker will lead to any worse result for the company than if they hired someone with lesser skills.

How hiring managers miss the boat

You want to improve your employee engagement? Well, why not hire some of those out-of-work and overqualified people who are dying to get back on the job? Some may eventually go before you want them to, but my guess is that it will be less of an issue than you think. And, you’ll probably find you have invested in many people who are grateful to be working and driven to prove you were right to hire them – two keys in improving your engagement scores.

Too many hiring managers miss the boat when it comes to hiring these days. They all talk about finding the next great “passive” candidate, when in reality, that is probably as tough a task as Ahab searching for Moby Dick.

They would be better served by digging into all those overqualified people out there on the street who are dying for work and finding the ones who are really motivated to get back on the job, even if it means some personal sacrifice is involved.

You want engaged employees? Well, challenge your assumptions and misconceptions — and take a look at some of the great but underutilized talent just sitting out there waiting to be hired.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.


2 Comments on “Another Example of Why Managers Miss the Boat on Employee Engagement

  1. Good idea as employee engagement could be depended upon to make the difference.

  2. Good article.   In addition:  1) “over-qualified” employees hit the ground running — learning curve is next to nil and 2) these employees are great “mentors” to less experienced employees so can help “bring them along”.

    It’s a “no-brainer” to me.

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