Gifted Adults in Work

Updated: Feb 26, 2019

By Noks Nauta and Frans Corten (Kumar Jamdagni , trans.).

Citation: From Tijdschrift voor Bedrijfs- en Verzekeringsgeneeskunde (Journal for Occupational and Insurance Physicians). 2002 10(11) 332-335. Reprinted with permission.

Gifted adults (people with a very high intelligence; 2% of the population) sometimes are not able to function adequately at work. Their high intelligence can cause them to dysfunction when adapting to the work situation, sometimes leading to absenteeism and disability. Hardly any scientific research on this topic has been performed. This article describes some characteristics of gifted people.

The problems at work are explained using examples from the work floor. Based on certain characteristics and signals, occupational health physicians and insurance doctors are able to recognize giftedness and to bring the subject out into the open. The solution can lie in a change in the job requirements or working conditions; medical or psychotherapeutic treatment is then rendered unnecessary.

When their motivation is restored, people with very high intelligence are capable of high-quality work and of solving complex problems. Thus, a gifted employee who is not functioning as required becomes a valued worker providing a unique contribution at work.

INTRODUCTION It is increasingly being realized that gifted individuals have the capacity to help solve complex problems1. Many are functioning at a high level. But just like a number of gifted schoolchildren, some gifted employees do not function adequately and are unhappy as a result2. Some become ill and even permanently occupationally disabled. What are the characteristics of the problems of the gifted at work. And what can occupational health physicians and insurance doctors do with this information?

To illustrate our point, we present two case studies.

CASE STUDY 1 Alice Wismeijer is a 38-year-old woman. She works as a researcher for a government service and has gained many qualifications through self-study in the evenings. She functions well in her work. However, a colleague has been bullying her for years. She tries to ignore this and hardly ever reports sick for work. One day, it all becomes too much for her. The occupational health physician diagnoses a burn-out. She becomes long-term sick. She goes in search of therapy, in the course of which much suffering during her youth is revealed. After a year, an occupational disability examination assesses that she is able to do work of a simple nature for 20 hours a week. Alice has the impression that she is very intelligent and knows that she will not be able to perform simple work for a lengthy period of time. However, she does not dare to voice her belief about this. During the surgery hours of the occupational health physician she bursts into terrible bouts of crying and the occupational health physician doesn’t know how to help her. The reintegration process fails.

CASE STUDY 2 Joost Bakker is a 42-year-old automation expert. He suffers from neck problems, as a result of which he regularly stays off work. The occupational health physician has a lengthy interview with him. Joost is rather anxious and very preoccupied with his health. Additionally, he appears to be quite lonely, has little contact with his colleagues. He functions adequately, his manager is happy with him. The occupational health physician suggests that Joost be examined by a psychologist specialized in work-related problems at the working conditions service. After completing a detailed anamnesis, the psychologist performs a number of tests. The results show that Joost scores very high in analytical thinking, amongst other areas. Joost tells the psychologist that he had been tested at high school but that his parents had refused to tell him the results of the tests. The tests and interview do not reveal any severe problems. The psychologist advises Joost to request information from Mensa*, a worldwide association for very intelligent people. He overcomes his initial resistance to the idea and follows the advice. Based on the results of the tests he had already undergone, he is accepted as a member. He acknowledges a lot of what is contained in the documentation that he receives. Within the association, he establishes several valuable contacts. A year later, the occupational health physician observes that Joost appears to be relaxed. He still suffers from neck problems, but he hardly ever reports sick. He has started studying again and is happy with the advice the psychologist gave him.

A generally accepted definition of “gifted” does not exist3. According to the definition used by Mensa, this means having an IQ that lies in the uppermost 2%, scored on an approved IQ test. Depending on the kind of test, this is an IQ ranging between 140 and 150. There are many kinds of intelligences. Gardner distinguishes eight: verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, visual-spatial, musical, bodily, naturalistic, emotional and intrapersonal4. The two last-named intelligences are sometimes referred to by others as emotional intelligence. The most attention in the literature and in tests is paid to the first three mentioned intelligences. The usual intelligence tests do not seem to predict work performance very accurately5. How effectively someone will be able to solve problems in the real world is determined not only by intelligence, but also by the knowledge and skills that that individual has acquired 3. The environment (parents, school, etc) also plays a role in an individual’s development6.

CHARACTERISTICS OF THE GIFTED Although of course all gifted individuals are unique, they do share certain characteristics. Some of these are present naturally, others have come into existence gradually through interaction with the environment. Cause and effect can therefore not always be distinguished from each other.

Speed of thinking. Gifted individuals think more quickly than others. They make many mental switches, associate rapidly and give the impression that they jump from one subject to the next.