Gaslighting in the workplace

The harmful impact of psychological manipulation

Gaslighting in the workplace
Katy Kamkar

“We missed you at the leadership team meeting,” our executive vice president messaged me. “Your manager shared an excellent proposal. He said you weren’t available to present. Look forward to connecting soon.” “In our last one-on-one meeting, my manager had enthusiastically said that I, of course, should present the proposal I had labored over for weeks. I double-checked my inbox and texts for my requests to have that meeting invite sent to me. He had never responded. He went on to present the proposal without me. Excluding me from meetings, keeping me off the list for company leadership programs, and telling me I was on track for a promotion — all while speaking negatively about my performance to his peers and senior leadership — were all red flags in my relationship with this manager. The gaslighting continued and intensified until the day I finally resigned.” By Mita Mallick, Head of DEI at Carta, Harvard Business Review, September 16, 2021, "How to Intervene When a Manager Is Gaslighting Their Employees" (

Not all workplace environments are free from toxic behaviors or psychological manipulation that can hurt the employee’s health, productivity, and engagement, as well as the organization.

Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation and toxic behaviour leading to a hostile and unhealthy work environment. Gaslighting in the workplace is a pervasive issue often overlooked by many. Most are unaware of what gaslighting is.

Gaslighting, which involves manipulating someone into questioning their own sanity or perception of reality, can constitute harassment under various legal frameworks, including the Occupational Health and Safety Act and employment laws.

What is Gaslighting?

The term "gaslighting" originated from a 1938 play “Gas Light”, which was adapted into the 1940 film called Gas Light and then followed by the 1944 film "Gaslight," where a husband purposefully manipulates his wife, causing her to question her own sanity and perception of reality.

Gaslighting is a manipulative psychological tactic used by individuals to manipulate and control others by making them doubt their own perception, memory, or sanity.

Gaslighting constitutes a form of psychological and emotional abuse and can have a harmful impact on the victim’s mental health, self-esteem, and overall well-being. Its detrimental impact often extends to the individual’s self-confidence and professional pathway.

Research literature shows that gaslighters often exhibit traits aligned with narcissistic personality disorder (Boring, 2020). They persistently strive to attain dominance over others, leading individuals to question the validity of their own feelings.

Signs of Gaslighting in the Workplace

In the workplace, gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse where one aims to gain power and control over another individual.  The gaslighter can manipulate the target through deception, creating confusion, and undermining their trust in their emotions and thoughts.

Gaslighting works by making subtle alterations and omissions, aiming to distort reality, undermining the victim’s sense of self, and weakening the victim’s self-perception. For instance, it occurs when an executive or colleague deliberately distorts reality, making the target doubt their own perceptions of events. Those tactics can contribute to a broader pattern of manipulation and control in the workplace. Those gaslighting tactics create a toxic and manipulative work environment. This manipulation can have harmful effects on the victim's mental health and productivity, consequently impacting the entire organization's dynamics and leading to the resignation of best employees.

Gaslighting is done through subtle means. For instance, excluding someone from important work discussions or work emails; removing a person’s presence or name to undermine their work contribution, and subtly manipulating the audience’s perception of the person’s involvement and contribution; rendering a person’s role insignificant.

Gaslighting at work - Spotting the signs of subtle workplace bullying, as highlighted by the National Bullying Helpline, may manifest in various forms:

  1. Moving goal-posts or changing elements of an employee's job description without first engaging in discussion or making reference to a change-management policy.
  2. A lack of openness and transparency, which can occur either in immediate line management relationships or at the corporate level, involving an entire Executive Board and/or a business owner.

You can find more information about gaslighting and workplace bullying on the National Bullying Helpline's website:

Gaslighting can also be done through overt means. For instance, presenting a well-researched proposal and being publicly dismissed or undermined without valid reasons, making the presenter doubt their credibility in front of the audience.

The gaslighter may use psychological tactics such as denial, deflection, and misinformation to achieve their goals, purpose, and objectives.

For instance, despite evidence to the contrary, gaslighters may deny or refuse to acknowledge a specific memory, facts, events, or conversations that have occurred (e.g., “I never said that”, “I don’t remember”). They may act unaware of what the victim is saying.

They may as well deflect and externalize the blame onto the victim by making them feel they are responsible (e.g., “you are over-reacting”).

They may minimize or trivialize the victim’s feelings or achievements or question their judgment (e.g., “You are being irrational, you are making a big deal”). They may make an event or behaviour seem less important than it really is.

Gaslighters may refuse to take responsibility for their actions or mistakes, in turn, the victim generally feels they are at fault.

Gaslighters may withhold key information or just communicate some information to keep the other person in the dark. You can be excluded from important meetings that are invaluable for the performance of your work; you can be denied presenting your own work; you could be excluded from career and educational development opportunities. A false narrative about you and your performance can be provided, leading to harmful gossips and further exclusion.

They may project their own insecurity and negative qualities onto the other person (e.g., accusing the person of being manipulative or untruthful).

Gaslighters may distort the truth to create confusion or manipulation or deliberately serve one’s interests. They may make false accusations or create alternative narratives.

Gaslighters may react defensively to avoid accountability; they may provide false reassurance at inappropriate moments. They may also fabricate trivial details as a form of deception. They may promise support to a colleague but fail to deliver. They may undermine the significance or worth of a coworker, event, discussion, or assignment.

In their publication in Frontiers in Psychology, Kukreja & Pandey (2023) introduced a 12-item Gaslighting at Work Questionnaire (GWQ) designed to assess gaslighting behaviors perpetrated by supervisors against subordinates. Their research revealed that gaslighting comprises two primary dimensions: trivialization and affliction. Trivialization entails actions by supervisors aimed at undermining the perspectives, fears, and realities of subordinates, while affliction refers to the suffering inflicted by supervisors upon their subordinates. The authors suggest a refined definition of gaslighting as a negative workplace behavior, wherein individuals in positions of power engage in both trivialization and affliction when interacting with subordinates.

The impact of Gaslighting in the workplace

The ramifications of Gaslighting in professional settings are profound. Enduring constant self-doubt and criticism can erode one's sense of self-worth and confidence, in turn, impacting their self-efficacy and engagement in their work environment.

Gaslighting exacerbates the risk of emotional distress, fostering feelings of shame, guilt, anxiety, depression, and even symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. This psychological manipulation often leads to isolation from colleagues, friends, and family, exacerbating the cycle of gaslighting.

Furthermore, cognitive decline may manifest as individuals struggle to maintain focus or concentration amidst the psychological manipulation they face. Victims often internalize the notion that they are the problem, compounded by the fear of not being validated or believed by others.

Ultimately, the consequences extend to reduced work engagement, performance, and productivity, creating a harmful impact on both the individual and the workplace as a whole.

Addressing Gaslighting in the Professional Environment

Recognizing and addressing gaslighting in the workplace is important for a healthy work environment.

Here are some strategies for the worker to identify and address this harmful behavior:

Be aware and identify your feelings, thoughts, and reactions. Trust as well your instincts if something does not feel right.

Document instances of gaslighting when they occur. Document any inappropriate interactions.

Seek quality support from your work colleagues, friends, or family members. Discussing your experience by gaining some perspective.

Establish boundaries with the gaslighter.

Communicate your expectations for respectful behavior.

Gaslighting is also often a psychological tactic commonly used by individuals with narcissistic tendencies, rendering confronting them difficult. Their pursuit to maintain dominance makes any attempt at change futile. Confrontation may serve as an opportunity for the gaslighter to engage in further punishment tactics.

If the gaslighting persists or escalates, you may wish to report it to your supervisor, HR department, informal or formal mechanisms, or an appropriate authority within your organization.

Ensure that your performance evaluation is based on factual evidence.

Seek professional help as well if you feel the gaslighting has taken a severe toll on your mental health.

Organizations can take the following steps:

  1. From a legal standpoint, employers can face legal consequences for negligence, hostile work environment, and failure to provide a safe workplace if they fail to address workplace gaslighting.
  2. Employers can showcase their dedication to resolving conflicts by employing empathy and active listening. This approach underscores their seriousness in addressing concerns, shows their understanding of the employee's perception and experiences, and highlights their commitment to resolution.
  3. Establish clear policies against harassment, bullying, and gaslighting in the workplace.
  4. Training all staff and executives on identifying and addressing gaslighting behaviors.
  5. Creating a safe and confidential reporting system for employees to report incidents of gaslighting.
  6. Investigating reports of gaslighting and taking appropriate disciplinary action when necessary.
  7. Documenting instances of gaslighting and recurring patterns over time.
  8. For the employee to have access to informal and formal mechanisms to report gaslighting


In conclusion, gaslighting in the workplace is a harmful type of psychological manipulation, increasing the risk of devastating emotional and professional consequences for the worker and employer. Preventing and addressing gaslighting in the workplace is essential for a healthier and more supportive work environment and for fostering a work culture of respect and empathy.

"Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do." - Benjamin Spock


Boring, R. L. (2020). “Implications of narcissistic personality disorder on organizational resilience,” in Advances in safety management and performance. AHFE 2020. Advances in intelligent systems and computing, Vol. 1204, eds P. Arezes and R. Boring (Cham: Springer), 259–266. doi: 10.1007/978-3-030-50946-0_35

Kukreja, Priyam & Pandey, Jatin. (2023). Workplace gaslighting: Conceptualization, development, and validation of a scale. Frontiers in Psychology. 10.3389/fpsyg.2023.1099485.