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Gaslighting in the workplace

Have you ever felt uncomfortable in the workplace due to bullying, harassment or exclusion? Sadly, this experience is all too common, with 1 in 4 UK employees having faced some form of harassment or discrimination at work. In this blog, we focus specifically on ‘gaslighting’, what it means, and how to recognise and report it. 

What is gaslighting? 

According to The Oxford English Dictionary, Gaslighting is ‘the process of causing someone to doubt their own thoughts, beliefs and perceptions’.The word was coined back in 1938, after the play ‘Gas Light’ in which a husband tricks his wife into believing she is going insane by changing the intensity of the gas lights in the home when she is on her own. It regained popularity in 2018 following the election of President Donald Trump, and was named Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year in 2022.


What does gaslighting look like in the workplace? 

Twisting facts: They may distort information or events to make you question your understanding of what occurred. For example, purposely not taking minutes in meetings or pretending to have previously asked you to complete a task that you didn’t know about until now. 

Blaming you for their mistakes: Gaslighters often deflect responsibility for their actions onto others, including you, even when they’re clearly at fault. This could be a colleague wrongly accusing you of messing up a project, or a toxic boss passing the blame onto you when a client has expressed dissatisfaction with something. 

Withholding information: They might deliberately keep you in the dark about important details or changes, leading to confusion and doubt. For example, gatekeeping details about a project or not providing clear timeframes for tasks. 

Using your vulnerabilities against you: Gaslighters may exploit your insecurities or weaknesses to undermine your confidence and assert dominance.

Isolating you: They might try to alienate you from your colleagues or support network, making you more dependent on them and less likely to question their behaviour.

Creating doubt about your competence: Gaslighters may subtly undermine your abilities or achievements, making you doubt your skills and judgement.

Constantly shifting the goalposts: They may set impossible standards or constantly change expectations, making it impossible for you to meet their criteria and feel successful.

Gaslighting in group settings: Gaslighting behaviour can also occur in group dynamics, where multiple individuals may collude to manipulate or discredit you.

Dealing with gaslighting in the workplace 

  1. Trust your instincts.
  2. Keep records of gaslighting instances.
  3. Seek support from trusted colleagues or friends.
  4. Set clear boundaries with the gaslighter.
  5. Stay grounded in your self-worth.
  6. Confront the gaslighter calmly and assertively.
  7. Consider involving HR or seeking mediation.
  8. Evaluate your options, including transferring or legal action.
  9. Prioritise self-care to maintain mental well-being.
  10. Educate others about gaslighting to foster a supportive environment.

Remember, you are never alone and it’s always better to speak up and address toxic behaviours at work rather than ignoring them and hoping they go away. If you need someone to speak to in confidence, you can call the Samaritans for free on 116 123. 

However, if you have reported the gaslighting and nothing has been done to address it, it might be time to consider moving jobs. It may seem dramatic, but your mental health should come first, no matter what.

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