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  • Christy George, LMFT

7 Tips to Help Gifted Adults Who Are Struggling at Work

Updated: Oct 15, 2020

Often, highly intelligent and creative people have high expectations for themselves and have innovative ideas they love to share. While this is an asset, in the right environment, it can also be a huge source of frustration for some employers and for gifted adults. It can be a source of frustration to employers if a worker constantly overshadows their superior’s performance, gets work done more quickly than other employees and has nothing left to do, or takes on projects not assigned to them without permission.

Gifted adult employees may suffer from being reprimanded for exceeding expectations, appearing to be “lazy” because they finish more quickly, or are punished because they are doing projects not assigned to them. Additionally, they may have anxiety caused by their own intensity to perform at optimum levels, and grossly overestimating what is expected of them by their employers. In addition, co-workers may resent them for finishing their work more quickly, having higher expectations, and having a greater breadth of knowledge. They may also be misunderstood by everyone if they have unusual interests, are more introverted and refuse to engage in workplace friendships, are more emotionally sensitive or have what is considered to be an “intense” personality.

If you can relate, let me help you. Here are some ideas to consider:

1. Work in the best place for you. The best option is to seek employment where your talents are appreciated and encouraged, and there is a work culture you fit into and feel comfortable being a part of. Explore your interests. What you are good at, and see what types of jobs align with what you like to do, what you can do and who you want to spend your time with. When considering work environments also take into consideration things that matter to you. Some examples are: What personality types work there? Are the work hours flexible? Do you work independently or under someone else? What is the dress code? Does the company support a work/life balance? Do they provide training and mentors? Can you be a mentor? Do they compensate you if you exceed expectations or do extra work? Do you have to work core hours, even if your work is done?

2. Understand and meet employer expectations, even if they are lower than yours. If you work in a more traditional environment, where you are given less freedom, ask questions to learn more about what is expected of you during the amount of time you are expected to work and do what they ask, even if it’s boring. If you finish before everyone else, you could ask for additional projects or more work, or keep a low profile and quietly work on something that interests you, if permitted to do so. If you wish to grow in your company, it’s okay to express interest in new projects and share ideas for how processes can be improved, but do keep in mind, your employer hired you to do a certain job, and that is what they expect from you. Be aware of the culture of the company, and their openness to new ideas, allowing you to do more, and paying you for extra work done rather than exploiting you.

3. Have projects of your own outside of work to anchor you. If work is not as fulfilling as you would like it to be, have projects of your own that matter and allow you to be your fully awesome self when you are off the clock.

4. Relate to others. Be nice and master the art of small talk, even if it isn’t your style or within your comfort level. If you are perceived as friendly, at least some of the time, you will be less likely to be targeted by your co-workers, will be more relate-able and through learning more about those around you, may feel more comfortable with them. This doesn’t mean you have to work out together, go for drinks or deep dive into each others’ personal lives, just work on being approachable.

5. Have a handle on your emotions at work. While being a sensitive person is an asset, it can also get you into trouble at work. Do your best to keep your emotions in check while on the job, and have a good outlet for them when you leave. If you are prone to angry outbursts, crying or impulsively saying inappropriate things, have a strategy to pause or exit when possible, and reel yourself in as needed. It is especially important for you to have good self care to support your sensitive nervous system. This includes enough sleep, exercise, enjoyment and possibly working with a great therapist.

6. Don't be sabotaged by your own perfectionism. If you are a perfectionist with yourself or others it is probably negatively effecting your performance and your relationships on the job. It’s easy to hyper focus on small details and try to get everything just right. If your are doing this, it's a good time to double check what the expectations are. If you are putting too much energy where it doesn’t belong, it could be holding you back, impeding your progress or slowing down your whole team. Keep this in mind when working with others too. While their work may not meet your expectations, it’s important to determine if the quality of their work is meeting the expectations of your employer.

7. Lastly, take care of yourself. It’s important to rest, eat lunch and have meaningful connections with others. It is also important for you to be able to process your feelings with a safe, trustworthy person in your personal life, or a trained professional who can give you emotional validation, perspective, recognition and encouragement as needed. You don’t have to be ashamed or alone in your feelings. Having appropriate support can help you to recognize your strengths and reach your full potential for happiness.

About the Author: Christy, is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist and Somatic Experiencing Practitioner, practicing in San Diego, California. She has over 10 years of experience working with children, teens, parents, families, couples and individual adults with complex psychological and relationship problems. She specializes in the needs of gifted, bright and high achieving people, as well as those who have suffered past trauma. Christy uses an eclectic approach, meeting the needs of whomever she is working with. Her work addresses the needs of the whole person, incorporating mind and body.

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