How can wellbeing at work and sustainable employability of gifted workers be enhanced? A qualitative study from a capability approach perspective

P. A. J. van Casteren*, J. Meerman, E. P. M. Brouwers, A. van Dam, J. J. L. van der Klink

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)
212 Downloads (Pure)


Being gifted with a very high IQ (> 98 percentile) can provide an advantage in the occupational context but can also come with its` own specific challenges. Where some studies found higher than average levels of wellbeing at work and successful careers amongst the gifted, other studies report boredom and less job satisfaction. This poses the question what gifted people value in work, and which factors are associated with the achievement of valued work related outcomes, wellbeing and sustainable employability. In this study these questions were explored using the value driven capability approach as a theoretical framework.

A qualitative approach was chosen and 16 in-depth semi-structured interviews with gifted workers (IQ > 130) were conducted. The transcripts were analysed using a reflexive thematic analysis aimed at identifying the work related outcomes participants aspired to achieve and the contextual and personal factors that affected the actualisation of these outcomes.

Participants placed great value on the opportunity to learn, to use their knowledge and skills, and tended to have high ethical standards. If realized, these values contributed to wellbeing whereas if not fulfilled, this often resulted in frustration and sadness. The most important personal factors associated with wellbeing at work and sustainable employability were the level of organizational awareness, self-knowledge, a willingness to compromise, and fear of stigmatisation. Contextually a facilitating leadership style of managers was important, allowing the worker autonomy and decision latitude. Socially, participants enjoyed others as sparring partners but often had an aversion to small talk which could lead to social avoidance and loneliness.

If gifted workers managed (to get) what they valued in work, this was associated with wellbeing and sustainable employment Coaching aimed at improving organizational awareness, specific social skills (e.g. small talk, adaptability) and understanding their own cognitive processes could be valuable. The application of an autonomy supporting facilitative leadership style by supervisors would be beneficial. Further research should try to confirm the findings using quantitative methods and needs to examine more closely the impact of stigmatisation and leadership styles.
Original languageEnglish
Article number392
Number of pages10
JournalBMC Public Health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Capabilities
  • Capability approach
  • Gifted
  • Intelligence
  • Qualitative
  • Sustainable employability
  • Wellbeing

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