If you're reading this blog, chances are you've been feeling confused about some behaviours you’ve encountered in your workplace. You might feel like you're constantly second-guessing yourself or questioning your own memory – feelings that can be incredibly frustrating.
It's important to know that you're not alone. This is a phenomenon known as gaslighting, and it’s a manipulative tactic that can happen in anywhere, even at work. In fact, our founder, Dr. Phoenix Brill, literally wrote her thesis all about this exact topic. In this blog, we'll explore what workplace gaslighting is, the effects it can have, how it manifests, and how you can overcome it.
What is Gaslighting in the Workplace?
You may have seen our previous blogs on gaslighting, where we talk more in depth about what it is and how to recognize it. Basically, it's a form of manipulation where one person tries to convince another that their perception of reality is wrong, with their concerns dismissed as paranoia or extreme sensitivity. It can happen in any type of relationship – romantic, personal, or professional.
Is workplace gaslighting common?
Unfortunately, it’s more common than you think – more than half of workers say they experience it. But many people are not aware of its presence until it starts impacting them, leading to serious consequences. It often creates a culture of apprehension, unease, or even fear for the employees at the company.
If you think you’re dealing with this situation and you want an expert guide on how to proceed, reach out to our therapists for a helping hand that can make things right.
The Effects of Gaslighting in the Workplace
Job-based gaslighting can have a significant impact on your mental health and well-being. When someone uses these tactics against you, it can leave you feeling confused, frustrated, and even powerless – and the effects can last longer than your employment, even following you outside of work.
Professional consequences of workplace gaslighting
Decreased productivity, as it can be difficult to focus and perform well when you're constantly questioning your own reality.
Damage to your reputation as your colleagues and superiors may view you as less competent or trustworthy.
Career setbacks, since you may lose opportunities or be prevented from advancing in your company.
Personal consequences of workplace gaslighting
Strained relationships with family and friends as the stress and anxiety spills over.
A damaged reputation or job loss can create ongoing financial struggles.
A decline in overall mental and physical well-being – including increased stress, anxiety, depression, and negative physical symptoms.
How Gaslighting Manifests itself in the Workplace
See more examples at Fingerprint for Success
Bait and switch gaslighting
Bait and switch refers to situations where an employer manipulates an employee by offering them praise and encouragement, only to reject any opportunity for advancement. This can be confusing for the employee, leaving them questioning which version of reality is true.
For example, an employer may encourage an employee to apply for a promotion, but then deny it out of nowhere – maybe offering an unsuitable and vague explanation, if any at all. Or, an employer may be kind and affirming to an employee's face, only to criticize them in front of others.
Changing workplace rules
Have you ever experienced the frustration of someone trying to change the rules of a game as you’re playing it? In the context of the workplace, that’s another form of gaslighting.
In this case, an employer changes rules or expectations without notice, leaving employees feeling confused and uncertain about what is expected of them. An example might be when an employee is told to book a boardroom using one system, only to be publicly criticized for not using a different (and previously not discussed) system instead. Often, you can’t even argue about the mistake, because that would be unprofessional – there’s no way to come out ahead.
Minimization and denial
Minimization or denial is when an employer downplays or outright denies an employee's experiences or concerns, leading to constant feelings of invalidation and being ignored. If it happens once or twice, it may be innocuous, but an ongoing pattern of this behaviour is likely a sign of gaslighting.
Imagine if your boss consistently booked meetings about your projects, but you didn’t find out about them until hours later. When confronted, they claim you were told about it from the start, and that it’s your fault for not remembering. This type of gaslighting is very insidious because it causes the victim to directly question their competence and memory, often leading to immense stress and feelings of doubt.
Overcoming workplace gaslighting
Documenting all incidents is the single most important thing you can do to overcome workplace gaslighting. Keeping a record of what has been said or done will help you maintain a clear and objective perspective on the situation, as well as provide evidence to support your claims if necessary. This can include emails, meeting minutes, or notes from conversations – they may not work on the gaslighter themselves, but they go a long way with HR, upper management, and others that may get looped in.
Another good tip is to focus on behavioural observations rather than subjective interpretations. Pay attention and make note of what is said, how it is said, and what the results or actions are – rather than relying solely on your own feelings.
In an extreme case, finding an alternative place to work or getting a new job entirely may be necessary for your own well-being. This depends on several factors – like whether the whole organization or just one individual is responsible for the gaslighting, whether you can work from home, and so on. This can be a difficult decision to make, but it’s important to prioritize your own well-being and mental health – especially if others are not.
Dealing with gaslighting at home or at work can be incredibly stressful and difficult, especially when you already feel like your own ideas can’t be trusted and you’re all alone. A mental health professional can help you decide on what to do, and put you back on a course towards a more fulfilling career that treats you with the respect you deserve. Book a session with a therapist from Flourish today to find out how we can help you thrive – at home, at work, and everywhere!