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Subjective Effects Underemployment Psychology Essay

The accession of a number of Central and Eastern European countries in 2004 and the subsequent post-accession wave of Polish migration to the United Kingdom has become widely discussed in recent years, attracting attention from the wider society, the media and the academia (Burrell 2010). The research informs us, for example, that the new migration was very often well-educated and a quarter of post 2004 Polish migrants to the UK had university degrees (Fihel and Kaczmarczyk 2009). Although migrants have a high level of educational attainment (Devine et al. 2007, Baum et al. 2007), very often regardless of their existing qualifications or skills they are concentrated in low-skill occupations (Green et al. 2007). Numerous research studies show that underemployment is related to lower levels of well-being and health of workers (Jones-Johnson and Johnson 1992; Kahn and Morrow 1991), and may be related to such indicators as depression (Beiser et al. 1993; Johnson and Johnson 1996) or physical health (Herzog et al. 1991). The proposed research attempts to address the issue of effects of underemployment on depressive affect and somatisation among temporary and permanent Polish migrants in the UK. Using data drawn from a sample of Polish temporary and permanent migrants, the research will address the question of how and if the mismatch of job and qualifications/education and employment status affects their health and wellbeing.

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This research proposal is divided into 4 sections:

Section I - Introduction

Section II - Methodology

Section III - Discussion

Section IV - Ethics


Relevance to Occupational Psychology/Organisational Behaviour Research

The literature and research on the subject of underemployment has grown considerably over the last decades and gained attention of occupational scholars (Beiser, Johnson and Turner 1993; Feldman 1996; Jones-Johnson 1986). The proposed research will discuss two outcomes that have been studied by researchers and psychologists in work settings, namely wellbeing and physical health of workers. The focus will be on the associations between underemployment, somatisation and depressive affect in a representative sample of Polish migrants in low-skilled positions, it will be concerned with practical issues and specifically concerned with causal connections between subjective underemployment and the indicators of health and wellbeing.

Several studies that have been conducted in the area, have examined the impact of underemployment on perceived physical health, well-being and health decline (Coburn 1975; Dooley at al. 2000; Gardell 1982; Jones-Johnson and Johnson 1996). With some exceptions (Burrel 2010), there seem to be a gap in research that would address the issues of underemployment, overqualification and social mobility of the Central and Eastern European migrant groups from the European Union accession countries after 2004. Although these movements have been primarily defined in terms of economic migration, many of the Polish nationals have universal motivations behind economic migration, and some of the motives include a willingness to experience new way of life, gaining experience or improving English language skills (Garapich 2007) which is the case for many young Polish migrants whom Datta (2009) called developing 'cosmopolitans'.

While underemployment and over qualification may be determined by both the objective characteristics and the subjective, perceived interpretations of the current employment situation, the proposed research will focus on perceived underemployment. According to Kristof (1996), worker's perceptions of their jobs are valid interpretations of the work environment and as Feldman (1995) informs us, organisational behaviour researchers and social psychologists attach more importance to self-reported underemployment (Feldman 1996).

This research may be relevant for organisations which employ migrant workers, especially industries such as catering, hospitality, cleaning and retail as the findings may contribute to our knowledge of what factors lead to better or diminished performance of the employees. As the research literature informs us, perceived underemployment is one of the factors that are expected to have an impact on workers' wellbeing and health and on people's work life (Feldan et al. 1995).

Research aims, focus and areas of interest.

This research seeks to examine how educational status and qualifications (formal education) and occupational attainment i.e. the adequacy of a person's employment status influences their health and wellbeing. This project will be particularly interested whether people resent and are affected by the fact of being 'underemployed', i.e. when their acquired level of education and training exceeds the required qualification level (Feldan et al. 1995).

The findings would also help to answer the question whether permanent migrants report psychosomatic symptoms and depressive affect as a result of underemployment and/or temporary migrants differ from the permanent migrants in the relationship of somatic symptoms and depressive affect in a representative sample of Polish migrants. Previous research on underemployment has investigated the relationship and impact of perceived underemployment and physical and psychological wellbeing and found that there was a significant, positive relationship between the former and the latter (Friedland and Price 2003; Jones-Johnson and Johnson 1999; Jones-Johnson and Johnson 1992). Furthermore, the research tells us that the more subjective underemployment the worker felt, the greater the person's psychosomatic stress, frustration, depression (Jones-Johnson and Johnson 1992), and poorer self-reported health (Jones-Johnson and Johnson 1999; Friedland and Price 2003).

Yet another issue and one of the great challenges that the new migrants face is their ability to speak the language of the target country (Kim et al. 2012). Without the language skills they are likely to experience barriers to obtaining a suitable employment, economic success and social assimilation in the host country (Kim et al. 2012). English language proficiency is often referred to in research literature as the 'gatekeeper' to satisfying migrants' higher needs for achievement and better employment (Kim et al. 2012). Kim et al. (2012) for example, in their study of immigrants in Australia have found that increased English language proficiency led to increased happiness and better social adjustment. In relation to the educated groups of Polish migrants, it would be interesting to find out whether the higher level of perceived English language proficiency (having a marketable proficiency in English), leads to a higher level of perceived underemployment or whether it leads to increased satisfaction with life in the host country and has no correlation with the perceived levels of underemployment.

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It is worth noting, however, that there may be a differential experience of subgroups and different groups may attach different meaning to their work role experiences - thus, the research results that refer to underemployed British graduates in the UK labour market and groups of underemployed immigrants and economic migrants may vary.

Key Literature, Relevant Theory and Key Empirical Findings

Underemployment as a construct has been both conceptualised and measured in various ways. According to Feldman (1996) the concept is multidimensional and can be described in terms of five dimensions: wages (earning 20% less than in a previous job), type of appointment (involuntary part-time, temporary or intermittent work), (surplus education) possessing more formal education than the job requires, (surplus skills/experience) possessing higher-lever work skills and experience than the job requires and involuntary employment in a field outside one's area of formal education.

The sociologists and economists, for example, define underemployment relative to the employment experience of other workers who are equally qualified, have the same work history and education and/or define it terms of wages (Feldmman 1996). As the literature informs us, underemployment can be measured in 'objective' and 'subjective' ways (Feldman 1996). In in some of the existing conceptualizations the standard of comparison is the person's own expectations, aspirations and past achievements and in others the basis for comparison would be the education and the work experience of colleagues (Feldman 1996). The sociologists and economists, for example, such as Zvonkovic (1988) and Glyde (1977), often use the 'objective' indicators of underemployment in terms of earning a lower salary in comparison to one's previous job or in comparison to wages of other workers with comparable skills and qualifications. Organisational behaviour researchers and social psychologists, on the other hand, usually examine and define subjective underemployment i.e. perceived underemployment/overqualification (Jones-Johnson 1989; Jones-Johnson and Johnson 1992; Maynard et al. 2006; Khan and Morrow 1991).

Feldman (1996) suggested that although definitions and measures of underemployment vary across academic disciplines, they have some common elements such as the fact that this concept is being defined as a lower quality type of employment situation or the fact that underemployment is relative to some standard of comparison. Glyde (1977) termed underemployment as an inferior type of employment - as 'subemployment' and Feldman (1996) concluded that each definition used in academic research has specified what is meant by 'under' in their study or underemployment.

This research will focus on perceived, subjective underemployment (also referred to as perceived overqualification) and will focus on two dimensions of underemployment: possessing surplus education and surplus work experience (Maynard et al. 2006).

There are a number of empirical studies which are relevant to this proposal. Empirical findings suggest that there are many negative consequences of underemployment which are correlated with adverse health outcomes. Studies on underemployment investigated such indicators of wellbeing and health as physical health (Friedland anf Price 2003), self-esteem (Winefield et al. 1993), psychosocial stress (Jones-Johnson and Johnson 1992) and symptoms of depression and somatization (Dooley 2003; Dooley, Catalano and Wilson 1994; Kessler, Turner and House 1988).

Empirical research has found that underemployment is positively correlated with depression and psychosocial stress (Dooley 2003; Dooley, Catalano and Wilson 1994; Jones-Johnson and Johnson 1992) and negatively correlated with self-esteem and overall mental health (Burris 1983; Jones-Johnson and Johnson 1992; Winefield et al. 1993). Furthermore, as a research study by Dooley and Prause (1998) informs us, workers experiencing underemployment in terms of hours or income report an increased alcohol abuse, which may lead to lifetime dependency.

In summary, research on underemployment may indicate that the relationship between health and wellbeing and underemployment may vary depending on the type of underemployment. In conclusion, most of the results indicate that underemployment has adverse effect on psychological well-being and health of workers.

These empirical studies and relevant theory gave rise to my research questions and the hypotheses are that:

i. Perceived underemployment will be inversely related to job satisfaction, depressive affects and somatization.

ii. Positive correlation between perceived underemployment and job satisfaction, somatisation and depressive affects will be higher in the groups of permanent migrants.

iii. There will be a positive relationship between underemployment and somatization and such as somatisation will encourage self-medication and increased substance use and abuse (smoking, increased alcohol consumption and drug use).

iv. English language proficiency will be positively correlated with perceived underemployment i.e. the higher perceived language proficiency, the higher perceived underemployment.


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According to Morgan and Smircich (1980) the suitability and choice of research method represents various assumptions about the nature of knowledge and means through which knowledge can be obtained. Different terminology is used by academics and authors to describe paradigms in social science (Burrel and Morgan 1979; Madill and Gough 2008; Guba and Lincoln 1994).

Burrel and Morgan's (1979) analysis of 'competing paradigms' suggest the existence of four paradigms in organisational science: functionalist, interpretive, radical structuralism and radical humanism. The functionalist paradigm is viewed as influenced by positivist approach where the researcher searches for causal relationships among the variables which make up the world. This paradigm is focused on systematic procedures and uses such tools as questionnaires, surveys, or personality tests (Burrel and Morgan 1979). In the case of interpretive paradigm, the subject under investigation is an active agent on construction of the world and the social world is understood by obtaining the knowledge / information about the individual (Burrel and Morgan 1979). This research will be an attempt to find regularities in the social world, based on subjective experience and knowledge of the subjects under investigation and quantitative research will be employed, reflecting the positivist nature of the study. It will be conducted in interpretive paradigm, with the assumptions of positivist epistemology and nominalist ontology.

Research Design

This study will be deductive, quantitative, cross sectional, focused in a point-in-time description. The investigation will involve statistical hypothesis testing and the quantitative data will be gathered with the use of self-reported questionnaires.

Data Collection

The participants of the study will be drawn from a range of occupations and will seek to capture the diversity of Polish migrants in the UK with approximately equal numbers of men and women. The participants will have been underemployed/worked in their present job or in the industry for at least 2 years.

The participants will be asked to complete a self-reported questionnaire. Perceived Underemployment will be measured with Perceived Underemployment Questionnaire developed by Bolino and Feldman (2000). This questionnaire consists of a 13-item scale based on measures from research on skill utilization developed by Jones-Johnson and Johnson (1991) and Khan and Morrow (1991). The reported Cronbach's alpha for the scale was 0.90 (Bolino and Feldman 2000). The responses will be assessed with a Likert-type scales (1-strongly disagree to 7-stongly agree). Perceived Underemployment in this research is not dichotomous (underemployed or not) but rather is represented as a perceived level of underemployment and is operationalized as a continuous variable.

Job Satisfaction will be measured with a Job Satisfaction scale developed by Warr et al. (1977). The Warr's Job Satisfaction Scale (JSS) is one of the most commonly used questionnaires used to assess job satisfaction and this research will adopt subscale 5: Job Satisfaction. Job satisfaction is the degree of self-reported satisfaction with intrinsic and extrinsic features of one's job (Warr et al. 1977). Total job satisfaction is the sum of all separate items, and overall job satisfaction is self-reported satisfaction with the job as a whole (Warr et al. 1977). The scale consists of 16 items, each one assessing satisfaction with aspects and features of the participants' present job, using a Linkert Scale 1-7 (Warr et al., 1977). This measure using a 7-point response format, is reported to have good internal reliability and validity and to be factorially separate (Warr et al. 1979).

Depressive affect and somatisation will be measured with 2 scales adapted from the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-SADS) scales developed by Spitzer et al. (1994). Somatisation will be measured with a 15-item scale (PHQ-15) where scores of 5, 10 and 15 indicates increasing levels of somatisation indicators (Spitzer et al., 1994) and depression symptoms will be measured with a 9-item scale (PHQ-9) where scores of 3, 6 and 9 indicate increasing levels of severity of depressive affects (Spitzer et al., 1994). The higher scores on both scales will suggest comorbidity.

The participants' self-reported English language proficiency will be measured with items adapted from Marian et al. (2007). The short questionnaire will ask questions about their proficiency in writing, reading, speaking and understanding, participants will respond using a ten point scale (0 = none to 10 = perfect).

The demographic questions will refer to: age, gender, length of service in the position, educational level attained, wage levels and number of hours worked.

Data Analysis

Data from the completed self-report questionnaires will be fed into SPSS and analysed by looking at correlations between:

the scores on subjective underemployment scale and scores on and depressive affect and somatization scale

the scores on subjective underemployment scale and scores on and job satisfaction scale

the correlations between subjective underemployment scores and somatisation and depressive affects in groups of permanent migrants and temporary migrants

the scores on subjective underemployment and the scores on self-reported English language proficiency scale

Having measured the participants on the continuous variables: job satisfaction, depressive affect and somatization and English language proficiency, I will need to analyse the associations between the measures of the continuous variables with the scores of yet another continuous variable: underemployment. As Dewberry (2004) explains, the Pearson correlation is used in order to find a correlation between at least two continuous variables. The Pearson correlation coefficient helps to examine the strength and direction of the associations between the scores on the pairs of continuous variables (Dewberry 2004) and this statistical test will be used in my to attempt to answer questions 1, 3 and 4.

Both paired samples t-test and the independent samples t-test are used to find significant differences between groups but the paired-samples t-test procedure compares the means of two variables for a single group, for example in a 'before and after' scenario (Dewberry 2004). The test computes the differences between values of the two variables for each case (Dewberry 2004). In contrast, the independent samples t-test or compares the mean scores of two groups on a given variable (Dewberry 2004). Because the question 2 attempts to find differences/similarities between groups, my statistical method of choice will be the Independent Samples t-test in order to compare the mean scores of the two groups: temporary and permanent migrants, on the 'perceived underemployment' variable.

Section III - Discussion

How the Methodology addresses the Research Question

This research will attempt to examine the effects of perceived underemployment on mental wellbeing among Polish migrants on the UK job market. The qualitative approach will analyse various data from a self-reported questionnaire and provide evidence and data on the impact of education-job mismatch on mental wellbeing in a sample population. Additionally, the research will attempt to find if the perceived level of English language proficiency is related to the level of perceived underemployment. The study will be using the concept 'subjective underemployment' in line with the approach which was frequently adopted by organizational researchers and psychologists in their research on the subject of underemployment and overqualification (Khan and Morrow 1991; Jones-Johnson and Johnson 1992; Bolino and Feldman 2000). My choice of use of the measure of subjective over objective underemployment is dictated by the interest in the psychological dynamics of the concept.

The potential drawbacks of researching in this way are that the use of a multitude of data resources, including qualitative methods has more explanatory capacity (Bryman 1989). There are also limitations in the extent to which the findings from this research can be generalised and the cross-sectional data limits the possibility of drawing causal conclusions as measures of the previous mental wellbeing with the current states would give a more comprehensive overview of the issue (Arnold et al. 2004).

The strength of researching this way is that qualitative study allows studying a larger sample of participants, and the results obtained with the use of statistical methods minimise subjectivity of judgement (Kealey and Protheroe 1996).

My main purpose in conducting this study will be to contribute to the debate in academic research about the possible effects of subjective underemployment on different aspects of wellbeing, such as depressive affect and somatization.


As an investigator, I will consider the possible psychological consequences and ethical implications in this research. The research will follow guidelines for the conduct of research as recommended by British Psychological Society and their code of ethics (BPS, 2009). I will ensure that the study adheres to the principles outlined in the code.

The participation in the study will be voluntary and information will be provided with regards to the outline the general purpose of the research and how the data will be utilized. However, in order to ensure truthful and unbiased responses, the information about the exact hypotheses of the study will be withheld.

The study will not involve any psychological risk to participants. Although the questionnaire will require participants to reveal information of sensitive nature, they will be able to withdraw from the project at any time and responses to the questionnaires will be kept anonymous and confidential. No responses will be linked to the participant's name and results of the data collected will be seen only by the researcher. Participants will be thanked for their assistance and given the option of being sent a summary of the results of the research study.

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