- Gaslighting—a form of manipulation—isn’t just seen in personal and loving relationships, but can happen amongst coworkers or be employed by one’s boss.
- In terms of work, gaslighting is often used to force an employee to take on and complete more work than required by their job description; additionally, a jealous coworker might gaslight another simply because they feel threatened.
- Your boss might be gaslighting you if they assign you tedious or boring work that you didn’t agree to; this will likely cause you to feel inadequate at your actual job.
- Gaslighting amongst coworkers can look a lot like gossiping—only it’s much more severe than that; a gaslighter at work might point out your flaws, talk about them with other employees and advise you to “fix” them.
Gaslighting is a form of manipulation that makes the victim(s) question their reality. It is employed by master manipulators (who are often abusers or narcissists) to gain more power over the victim. This is often seen in close relationships, such as those between partners, friends, even brother and sister—but gaslighting is also prevalent in the workplace. This might make you wonder: Am I being gaslighted at work? Is my boss gaslighting me? What about my coworkers?
Don’t panic: instead of going to work tomorrow super paranoid, learn what gaslighting looks like in the workplace. Mark Borg Jr, PhD, a community psychologist and psychoanalyst and co-author of Relationship Sanity: Creating and Maintaining Healthy Relationships, is here to provide you with some answers. He responds to a few questions about gaslighting at work to paint a clearer picture of how this form of manipulation can affect you at your job:
Q: What does gaslighting look like at work?
A: Gaslighting at work is done through psychological manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or in members of a targeted group, making them question their own memory, perception, and sanity. This can be perpetrated by a boss upon an employee to manipulate and coerce the employee to acquiesce to the boss’s—say, tyrannical—authority, and/or as a means for increasing the workload of the employee (assigning them tasks outside of their assigned role, as well as forcing them to work long and unpaid hours). It can also be perpetrated by colleagues who are competitive, jealous and envious of a peer’s skills, competence or perceived favor with employers and those up the chain in the organizational hierarchy.
Q: How do you know if your boss is gaslighting you?
A: Gaslighting perpetrated by bosses tends to start out as subtle forms of criticism—say, the old constructive criticism—but tends to be followed up by suggestions (leading to outright demands) for more work that is often menial, demanding, not within ones’ assigned role, and generally what organizational consultants call off-task. What hours of off-task work do to the employee of the gaslighting boss is: they corrode one’s sense of confidence, efficacy, and esteem. In turn, this then causes the employee to question their ability to do their job, often turning to their boss who then assigns even more off-task work as a way to help the employee get up to speed. This creates a vicious cycle with the employee feeling oppressed, overworked, and burnt out.
Q: How do you know if your coworkers are gaslighting you?
A: Coworkers can use gaslighting as a means of undercutting and diminishing the confidence and esteem of their colleagues. This can sometimes come across as unsubstantiated gossip and, again, helpful suggestions and constructive criticism to help you amend some work flaw, issue or potential problem that, somehow, only they can see. However, ironically, working on this issue actually—in action—highlights and exaggerates a behavior that was, most likely, not an issue in the first place. They help you with the assurance that when you correct this flaw you will be a better worker and will be recognized as such, all the while undercutting you and pointing out to whoever will listen your now exaggerated flaw.