What is Gaslighting at Work & How to Identify It?

By hrlineup | 09.01.2024

Gaslighting at work is a subtle and insidious form of psychological manipulation that can have profound effects on an individual’s mental well-being and professional performance. Coined from the 1944 film “Gaslight,” where a husband manipulates his wife into questioning her sanity, gaslighting involves the deliberate distortion of reality to make the victim doubt their perceptions, memories, and overall sense of self. In the workplace, gaslighting can take various forms, all aimed at undermining an individual’s confidence, competence, and even their sense of reality.

Definition of Gaslighting in the Workplace

In a professional setting, gaslighting typically manifests as a set of manipulative tactics employed by individuals to gain power, control, or undermine the confidence and credibility of their colleagues. The gaslighter often engages in behaviors aimed at making their target question their competence, memory, and judgment.

What is the Behavior of Gaslighting in the Workplace?

Identifying gaslighting at work is crucial for maintaining a healthy and productive professional environment. Here are some key signs to watch out for:

1. Constant Denial and Contradiction:

Gaslighters often deny their actions, even in the face of clear evidence. They may contradict their previous statements, making it difficult for the victim to trust their own recollection of events.

2. Undermining and Belittling:

Gaslighters may consistently undermine their victim’s abilities, intelligence, or achievements. This can manifest as subtle comments, sarcasm, or dismissive attitudes designed to erode the target’s self-esteem.

3. Isolation:

Gaslighters often isolate their victims by spreading false rumors, gossip, or by manipulating social dynamics to make the target feel excluded. Isolation makes the victim more vulnerable to manipulation.

4. Projecting Insecurities:

Gaslighters may project their own insecurities onto their victims. For example, if they are frequently tardy, they may accuse others of lacking punctuality.

5. Shifting Blame:

Gaslighters rarely take responsibility for their actions. Instead, they shift blame onto others, often making the victim feel guilty for things that are not their fault.

6. Withholding Information:

Gaslighters may withhold crucial information, deliberately keeping their victims in the dark. This can be a tactic to maintain control and further disorient the victim.

7. Creating Confusion:

Gaslighters thrive on creating confusion. They may change the rules, expectations, or goals without notice, leaving their victims in a perpetual state of uncertainty.

Coping Strategies of Gaslighting

Once gaslighting is identified, it is crucial to employ effective coping strategies to protect one’s mental health and professional standing. Here are some strategies to consider:

  • Trust Your Instincts: If something feels off or if you find yourself doubting your own perceptions, trust your instincts. Gaslighters manipulate by making you question yourself, so grounding yourself in your own reality is essential.
  • Maintain a Record: Keep a detailed record of incidents, including dates, times, and descriptions. This documentation can serve as evidence if you need to escalate the issue to higher authorities or HR.
  • Seek Support: Talk to trusted colleagues, friends, or family members about your experiences. Gaslighters often isolate their victims, so maintaining a support network is crucial for regaining perspective.
  • Set Boundaries: Establish clear boundaries with the gaslighter. Communicate assertively and calmly about what behavior is unacceptable and the consequences of crossing those boundaries.
  • Educate Yourself: Understanding gaslighting and its tactics empowers individuals to recognize manipulation more quickly. Knowledge is a powerful tool in defending against psychological manipulation.
  • Consult HR or a Supervisor: If the gaslighting persists or escalates, consult your human resources department or a supervisor. Present your documented evidence and express your concerns about the impact on your well-being and work performance.
  • Consider Professional Help: If the gaslighting is severely affecting your mental health, consider seeking support from a mental health professional. Therapy can provide coping strategies and a safe space to process the emotional toll of gaslighting.
  • Focus on Self-Care: Prioritize self-care to maintain your mental and emotional well-being. This may include exercise, meditation, hobbies, or other activities that bring you joy and relaxation.

Impact of Gaslighting on Workplace Dynamics

The consequences of gaslighting in the workplace can be severe and far-reaching. Employees who are subjected to gaslighting may experience heightened stress, anxiety, and a decline in their overall mental well-being. Furthermore, the toxic atmosphere created by gaslighting can lead to decreased morale, lower productivity, and increased turnover as employees seek to escape the toxic environment.

Addressing Gaslighting in the Workplace

  • Promote a Culture of Open Communication:

Encourage open dialogue within the workplace. Establishing a culture where employees feel comfortable expressing concerns and reporting inappropriate behavior is essential for addressing gaslighting.

  • Provide Training and Education:

Conduct workshops and training sessions to educate employees about gaslighting behaviors, their impact, and how to recognize and respond to such tactics. Knowledge is a powerful tool in preventing and mitigating gaslighting.

  • Establish Clear Policies:

Implement clear and comprehensive policies against workplace harassment and manipulation. Ensure that employees are aware of these policies and the consequences for violating them.

  • Encourage Support Networks:

Foster a supportive environment where employees can seek guidance and support from colleagues, supervisors, or HR personnel. Having a strong support network can help individuals cope with the effects of gaslighting.

  • Hold Perpetrators Accountable:

It is crucial to address gaslighting behaviors promptly and decisively. Holding perpetrators accountable through appropriate disciplinary actions sends a clear message that such behavior will not be tolerated.

Gaslighting at Work Examples

Here are some examples of gaslighting at work under different subheadings.

1. Denying Reality and Minimizing Experiences

Gaslighting often involves denying or downplaying the experiences of the victim. For example, a manager might dismiss an employee’s concerns about an overwhelming workload by saying, “You’re just being too sensitive; everyone has a lot of work to do.” This tactic aims to make the victim question the validity of their feelings and perceptions, leading them to internalize self-doubt.

2. Shifting Blame and Responsibility

Another common gaslighting tactic is to shift blame onto the victim, making them question their own competence. An example of this could be a team member taking credit for another’s idea during a meeting, later telling them, “You must have misunderstood. I was the one who came up with that concept.” This manipulation tactic undermines the victim’s confidence and can erode trust within the team.

3. Withholding Information and Misdirection

Gaslighters often control information to manipulate situations. This can involve deliberately withholding crucial details, providing misinformation, or subtly changing the narrative. For instance, a colleague might fail to share vital project updates with a team member and then accuse them of not being proactive or informed. This creates confusion and leaves the victim questioning their ability to stay on top of their responsibilities.

4. Undermining Professional Competence

Gaslighting at work may target an individual’s professional capabilities. A supervisor might consistently criticize an employee’s work, nitpicking minor details and suggesting that their overall performance is subpar. Over time, this can lead the victim to doubt their skills and abilities, impacting their confidence and overall job satisfaction.

5. Isolation and Alienation

Gaslighters often employ tactics to isolate their targets from support systems, both professionally and personally. For example, a manager might subtly discourage team members from collaborating with a specific employee, creating an atmosphere of exclusion. This isolation can make the victim feel unsupported, further exacerbating their vulnerability to gaslighting.


Gaslighting at work is a serious issue that can have lasting effects on an individual’s mental health and professional life. Recognizing the signs and implementing effective coping strategies are essential steps in protecting oneself from the harmful impact of manipulation. By fostering a culture of open communication, support, and accountability, workplaces can create an environment that discourages gaslighting and promotes the well-being of all employees. Remember, you deserve to work in an environment that values your contributions and respects your dignity.