Giftedness in the Work Environment: Backgrounds and Practical Recommendations

By Noks Nauta and Sieuwke Ronner.

This article was published in Dutch in “Tijdschrift voor Bedrijfs- en Verzekeringsgeneeskunde” (Journal for Occupational Health- and Insurance Physicians), TBV 16, no. 11 (Nov. 2008): 396-399. Publisher: Bohn Stafleu Van Loghum, Houten, The Netherlands. The editor agreed with translation and publication on this website.

In November 2002, an article was published in this journal entitled ‘Gifted individuals at work’.1 Up until then, little had been published on the subject of giftedness and work, even outside the Netherlands. The article thus provoked many responses. What particularly caught people’s attention was the table presenting side by side two perceptions of problems encountered by the gifted in fitting in with their environment: one from the perspective of the gifted employee and one from that of his/her environment. From at least ten people, we heard that both employee and employer literally acknowledged ALL the points! Additionally, many occupational health physicians were able to better recognise gifted individuals by using this table, thereby enabling them to provide more effective guidance. As a source of information and as an aid to recognition, the article continues to prove its worth.

In the last six years, increasing attention has been focussed on this subject, for example, for gifted children in education. One result of this is that some parents come to discover that they too are gifted. And with the founding of various think tanks and the attention being paid to retaining special talents for industry, the subject is now more or less on the political agenda.

However, until fairly recently, many misconceptions existed concerning what giftedness actually is. Additionally, the image of gifted individuals was not always a positive one. That is why in 2006/2007 a so-called Delphi study was conducted into the characteristics of giftedness.2 In this article, we will discuss briefly the results of this study, with the emphasis on the relation between the gifted individual and the work environment.

We will then provide a number of practical tips for the occupational health- and insurance physician, based on the current state of knowledge and experiences. We will also briefly discuss the guidance offered by psychologists and other professionals. Finally, we will describe what the gifted individuals can do for themselves.

Central points:

· Occupational health- and insurance physicians can recognise gifted employees based on a number of the characteristics

· Knowledge of the interaction between a favourable or unfavourable work environment and the gifted employee is of great importance if a clear problem analysis and effective guidance is to be achieved.

GIFTEDNESS AND ITS CHARACTERISTICS In practice, various definitions of giftedness exist, a fact which has not made the communication concerning giftedness any easier. Differences in insights were often linked to the question of whether the diagnosis of ‘gifted’ referred only to the IQ (the top 2% of the scores in a valid IQ test) or whether the person being assessed was required to achieve high-level performances. In other words, is it possible for someone with no educational qualifications, and who has not produced any tangible achievements (e.g. playing the violin exceptionally well), or who does not occupy a good social position, to still be called ‘gifted’?

For this reason, in the Netherlands throughout the year 2006/2007, a national consensus trajectory was carried out regarding what a group of experts (people who are themselves gifted and who also work with the gifted, including psychologists, coaches and career coaches, occupational health physicians, and a psychiatrist), precisely consider to be ‘giftedness’. Use was made of the Delphi method, and the result of this study is an existential model from which the following picture of commonly shared characteristics can be distilled:

A gifted individual is a quick and clever thinker, who is able to deal with complex matters. An individual who is autonomous, curious and passionate. A sensitive and emotionally rich person, who is living intensely. He or she is a person who enjoys being creative.

In the above-mentioned study, attention was paid to the naming of the specific characteristics of gifted individuals who are in balance. When the gifted individual is in a situation in which he or she is not able to effectively deal with his or her characteristics, ‘skewed growth’ may occur, leaning in the direction of an exaggeration or collapse.

It is possible for gifted individuals to make a contribution to work processes through their characteristics (their talents), provided that their talents and their contributions are also seen to be positive, and provided that they do not ‘grow skewed’, through, among other things, insufficient appreciation or non-professional guidance.

According to Kooijman2 “We are talking here about an ‘ideal typical’ character. The “gifted individual’ doesn’t exist (just as “the American” or “the European” doesn’t exist), and gifted individuals also differ amongst themselves. A gifted individual will possess quite a few of the characteristics mentioned in this model, but need not possess all characteristics in equal amounts, or possess an extreme number of them,’ The model is not intended to be used as a ‘measure’ or for making diagnoses”.

The following characteristics are the most eye-catching from the list:

· highly intelligent (thinking, could be measured in a valid IQ test)1;

· autonomous (being);

· many-facetted emotional life (feeling);

· passionate and curious (wanting);

· highly sensitive (perceiving);

· creation-directed (doing);

· sparkling original, quick, intense and complex (interplay)