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Why are gifted individuals not successful in the workplace?

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In my journey alongside remarkably talented individuals, I’ve consistently observed the hurdles they face in securing roles that fully harness their potential, a challenge especially gifted women face regularly. Despite their innate ability to innovate, adapt, create, and solve problems exceptionally well, they often face underrecognition or even rejection, particularly when they step up for leadership roles or express critical thinking.

Gifted employees can bring unparalleled talents, insights, ideas, and creative solutions to the table, offering a richer and more diverse perspective to the workplace. Yet, navigating the path to success and fulfillment of potential isn’t always straightforward for them due to several challenges that can impede their progress.

Challenges for gifted in the workplace

Underutilization and underappreciation of skills: many gifted individuals find themselves in roles that don’t fully leverage their skills, leading to feelings of disengagement and lack of fulfillment. Giftedness is usually not recognized or even considered relevant at work. As a result, gifted employees usually don’t receive the proper support, recognition, and also payment.

For gifted women, possessing intelligence, creativity, and empathy can sometimes feel like a burden in environments where a deep, meaningful, and transcendental approach to life is seen as a threat.

Unmet expectations: high self-expectations and expectations from their peers and superiors can create a gap, leading to frustration and disappointment for gifted employees. They crave meaningful mentorship and a culture that embraces their innovative ideas, especially when they outpace their leaders.

Gifted will quickly leave or become passive-aggressive in the environment where they can not experience EXPONENTIAL growth.

Isolation: connecting with colleagues can be challenging for gifted individuals, particularly when there’s a gap in shared interests or intensity. This sense of being out of place can hinder teamwork and collaboration. Isolation can also be understood as a part of the fear of being succesful. Rianne van de Ven wrote in her book Giftedness in Practice that being afraid to shine is the fear of achieving goals, of being succesful. Being afraid to shine often involves low self-esteem and a high degree of empathy.

Impostor syndrome: an important paradox is the prevalence of imposter syndrome among gifted individuals, who may doubt their capabilities and attribute their successes to luck rather than skill, with gifted women particularly prone to minimizing their achievements. I have been dealing with this phenomenon all my life, and the business/media/politics/psychology work environment didn’t help! Gifted employees don’t see their value as Rianne van de Ven claims or need to rate it more. They conclude that they just did something without a plan, so they wonder what it is all about.

Some solutions for empowering gifted employees

Rianne van de Ven established seven steps for empowering gifted employees: recognizing, normalizing, processing, growing, using, proper environmental support, and maintaining.

In my practice, I mentored and guided many gifted individuals to establish and claim their place at work and normalize their needs. With proper support, they all started to thrive.

Here are some practical advice, that you can implement in your daily work life immediately:

Awareness: gifted employees should discuss their strengths and weaknesses with their leaders and HR. The gifted need should become part of the DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion).

Tailored job: traditional job roles may not fully engage the abilities of the gifted (curiosity, problem-solving skills, critical thinking, leadership skills, and the ability to think abstractly and complexly and many more), which leads to underutilizing their potential. Customization in job roles not only serves to engage and motivate gifted employees but also maximizes their contribution to the organization’s success

Acknowledging gifted needs: understanding and accommodating the specific needs of gifted employees, whether related to their curiosity, drive, or sensitivity, is crucial for aligning personal aspirations with the workplace.

Many gifted individuals have high sensitivity to many different stimuli. My sensitivity is sunlight, and I would wear sunglasses everywhere if I could. Some gifted people need time alone or movement or flexible working hours.

Healing impostor syndrome: fostering an environment of professional development and mentorship can help build confidence and validate the contributions of gifted individuals. Seeking professional help and guidance to boost self-esteem is highly recommended. Companies can offer coaching or mentorship programs specially designed for gifted individuals to support their gifted needs, develop and harness their unique abilities.

Workplace flexibility: adapting work arrangements to suit the unique needs of gifted employees, such as offering remote work options or flexible schedules.

Flexible working hours can be a game-changer for gifted individuals, who may find it more natural to work at night rather than early in the morning. Many can stay up and work until 4 a.m., but this would mean they’d need to start my workday later in the morning.

Promoting continuous learning: cultivating a culture that values continuous learning and development can help gifted individuals thrive. Offering special courses, learning programs, and studies that might not at first glance contribute to the organization, but it is a big interest for the gifted individual.

Supporting mental health: recognizing the potential for burnout & boreout in gifted and providing mental health resources is essential for supporting the well-being of gifted employees.

Boreout among gifted individuals refers to the state of chronic boredom, under-stimulation, and disengagement that occurs when their work environment fails to challenge them intellectually and creatively.

Unlike burnout, which results from excessive demands and stress, boreout stems from a lack of opportunity to use one’s giftedness and skills fully, leading to feelings of dissatisfaction, apathy, and lack of purpose.

This phenomenon can have significant negative effects on both the mental health and productivity of gifted employees

Lack of autonomy, and repetitive tasks: killers for gifted individuals. A work environment that doesn’t allow autonomy, self-direction, or choice in tasks can deepen feelings of boredom and disengagement. Engagement in repetitive, mundane tasks does not stimulate intellectual or creative thinking and can lead to burnout and a significant drop in motivation.

Unicorns

Through my experience, including my MBA background and leadership roles, I’ve had the privilege of partnering with companies to identify and nurture their gifted individuals. The results were always amazing. Their gifted employees are connected to colleges and their tasks, becoming unicorns, recognized, respected, and valued. Recognizing and supporting the special needs of these individuals not only propels them toward realizing their full potential but also significantly benefits the organizations by fostering a culture of innovation and growth.

The path to success for gifted individuals in the workplace requires a joint effort between employers and employees. By acknowledging their unique talents, fostering a supportive environment, and addressing challenges directly, we can empower gifted individuals to excel and make meaningful contributions to their organizations.

Katja Ujčič

Founder & CEO of GeniusX, Institute of research and development of giftedness

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