Have You Become Underemployed?

Estimated reading time: 3 mins

If you don’t know what being ‘underemployed’ means then join the club because it’s an emerging term since the recession. Simply, it’s when you’re working in a job way below your pay-level, capability or capacity. Is this you?

Are You Underemployed?

If you have been forced to take a lower-level job, or have accepted a cut in hours, or possibly even a drop in salary to stay in work, then you are in the ranks of the Underemployed.

I probably don’t need to tell you how it happened though: as employers have come under financial strain through the recession, they cut costs which normally mean lay-offs and, more recently, cutting down the number of hours or pay they offer to their employees.

Tough, isn’t it?

Now I must come clean – I have written before about the subject of taking a lower-level job, and it’s still the only option for some people (see ‘Should You Take a Lower Level Job?‘)  I believe that the people who do the hard work, intelligently and diligently will regain balance in their job and salary when the economy is booming again. It’s a simple fact that the best people will move into the best sustainable jobs. I put sustainable in italics as we all know that, sometimes, idiots are often promoted out of a role. I don’t mean that!

Will the underemployed stay underemployed?

If I didn’t answer that question in my last paragraph, let me say this. When the economy picks up, and business begins to boom, then organizations need people to do work. All the automation in the world doesn’t change the fact that business is reliant on people. So when companies are ready to grow they will seek out good people in order to fill roles to help them do so. This should only be a temporary effect.

Has the employment landscape shifted?

Of course it has – employers have now seen the benefit of more frugal human resourcing, despite my last comment. So we should expect to see more temporary staff and greater use of outsourcing to freelancers. So the world has moved on to increased mobility of it’s labor pool. So don’t be surprised if the face of employment doesn’t go back to exactly how it was before.

Is there anything to learn?

Hell yeah! What I’ve learned is that we all need to keep growing, learning and developing ourselves – and to take responsibility for it. We can’t control the economy directly, but we can control our personal ‘value proposition’ to employers. If you want to take just one thing away from the last couple of years, look at how you made yourself attractive to your employer (I was going to add that I don’t mean in the physical sense, but if that’s how you earn your income then that wouldn’t be true!)

What can we do now?

I advise hanging in there and keep looking for a job – try a weekly job scan just like I discuss here in this post Who Said that the Top Jobs Weren’t Advertised on Job Sites? And I also recommend that you try to make the absolute most of your current job because you’re in there, you’ll spot promotion opportunities as they emerge, and you have an audience of people who will listen to your ideas, your experiences and plans. It’s much easier to find your dream job whilst you’re connected inside the organization where you want to work.

8 thoughts on “Have You Become Underemployed?”

  1. Maybe there’s a niche here for the UK equivalent of Daniel Pink’s book, “Free Agent Nation.”

    Employers are even more likely to use freelancers, part timers and outsourcing in a tough business climate.

  2. I think we’ve got to go with the flow. If we have to take a lower job to survive then we’ve got to do it!

    The important thing is then not to sit back and moan about it… we’ve got to a) be thankful we can survive and b) plough energy into getting back to a job that we feel provides us with an equitable outcome.


    1. simonstapleton

      @Asif – yeah there is certainly a major practical element to it. ‘Underemployment’ means we live and work another day and our resume doesn’t get stale… but it’s totally our responsibility and imperative to get out and into an appropriately leveled job as soon as it’s possible. Thanks for commenting!

  3. yes, agree with your tip. It’s very important to make the most out of the current job you have, it is something that will shape you in becoming better at what you do, plus it’s something that employers will look into the moment you look for a new job

    1. Thanks for your comment Karen. Good point that it probably does shape you in becoming better in our chosen field. I think we should always do our best, even if we think what we’re going is ‘below’ us.

  4. Thanks for the great article, it definitely put things in perspective for me. I am currently underemployed simply because I am not working in a job that falls under what I took in college. Even though I have a nice salary, people’s stigma that you should get work based on what you graduated for still makes things difficult for me. This article shows me that being underemployed is not a bad thing, and maybe with it, I can even be more successful. Thank you.

  5. Hi Clay – if you’ve got spare hours during the week where you’re not working, this presents an excellent opportunity to develop yourself in ways you wouldn’t necessarily get in full-time employment. There are courses and accreditations, networking clubs and opportunities, learning new hard skills – heaps of things.

    Good luck my friend!

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