Skip to content

The Silent Saboteur: How Gaslighting Impacts Workplaces

By understanding how gaslighting manifests, recognizing its impacts, and implementing strategies to combat it, organizations can create healthier, more supportive work environments.

By WOI+ Editorial Team


Gaslighting, a term originating from the 1944 film “Gaslight,” refers to a form of psychological manipulation where one individual seeks to make another doubt their reality, memory, or perceptions. In the workplace, gaslighting can be particularly insidious, often manifesting in subtle ways that can be difficult to identify and address. This behaviour not only undermines individual employees but can also have profound negative impacts on the entire organization.


How Gaslighting Manifests in the Workplace

Gaslighting can take many forms, ranging from overt actions to subtle manipulations. Here are some common examples:

Denying and Dismissing

This involves dismissing an employee’s concerns or achievements, often with phrases like, “You’re overreacting,” or “You’re remembering it wrong.” This can make employees question their own judgment and diminish their self-worth. Over time, constant invalidation can lead to employees feeling isolated and unsupported.


This can include deliberately withholding information, setting unrealistic deadlines, or sabotaging an employee’s work. The goal is to create a situation where the employee feels incompetent or out of control. For example, a manager might withhold crucial project details, causing an employee to fail in their tasks and thus appear incapable.

Manipulative Praise

This involves giving praise with an underlying message that discredits the employee. For instance, “You did a great job on that project, considering how inexperienced you are.” Such backhanded compliments can confuse employees and erode their self-confidence, making them question their competence.

Spreading Misinformation

This can include spreading rumours or creating a narrative that isolates or discredits the targeted employee. By manipulating the social dynamics within the workplace, gaslighters can turn colleagues against each other, fostering a toxic environment of mistrust and division.

The Impact of Gaslighting on Employees and Organizations

The effects of gaslighting are profound and far-reaching, impacting both the targeted individuals and the broader organizational culture.

On Employees:

  1. Mental Health: Victims of gaslighting often experience anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. Constantly questioning their reality can lead to significant psychological distress, affecting their overall well-being and ability to function both professionally and personally.
  2. Self-Esteem: Gaslighting erodes self-confidence and self-esteem. Employees may begin to doubt their abilities, leading to decreased job performance and satisfaction. The constant self-doubt can hinder their professional growth and create a persistent sense of inadequacy.
  3. Job Performance: The stress and confusion caused by gaslighting can lead to a decline in productivity. Employees may struggle to concentrate, meet deadlines, or maintain the quality of their work. This can result in a cycle of declining performance and increasing self-doubt.
  4. Career Progression: Victims of gaslighting might become less likely to seek promotions or new opportunities, fearing they are not capable or deserving. This stagnation can lead to long-term career dissatisfaction and underachievement.

On Organizations:

  1. Workplace Morale: A toxic environment where gaslighting is prevalent can lead to low morale among employees. This can result in high turnover rates and difficulties in attracting new talent. A demoralized workforce is less engaged and less likely to go above and beyond in their roles.
  2. Productivity: When employees are stressed and questioning their abilities, overall productivity declines. The organization may see a decrease in efficiency and an increase in errors. The cumulative effect of decreased individual performance can significantly impact the organization’s bottom line.
  3. Reputation: An organization known for a toxic work culture can suffer reputational damage, affecting its relationships with clients, customers, and potential hires. Negative reviews on employer rating sites and word-of-mouth can deter high-caliber talent and business partners.
  4. Legal and Financial Risks: Persistent gaslighting can lead to legal actions against the company, resulting in financial loss and damage to the organization’s credibility. Lawsuits and settlements can be costly, both financially and in terms of public relations.

Why Does Gaslighting Happen?

Understanding why gaslighting occurs in the workplace is crucial to addressing it. Some common reasons include:

Power Dynamics

Those in positions of power may use gaslighting to maintain control and dominance over others. This can be particularly prevalent in hierarchical organizations where power imbalances are significant. Managers or supervisors might use gaslighting to suppress dissent or challenge, ensuring their authority remains unchallenged.


Managers or colleagues who feel threatened by the competence or success of others may use gaslighting as a way to undermine and eliminate perceived threats. By discrediting capable employees, they aim to safeguard their own positions and maintain a sense of superiority.

Cultural Factors

In some workplace cultures, toxic behaviours like gaslighting are overlooked or even encouraged. This can create an environment where manipulation becomes normalized. A culture that prioritizes competition over collaboration can breed behaviours that undermine team cohesion and trust.

Lack of Accountability

In environments where there is little accountability, individuals who engage in gaslighting may feel they can act with impunity. Without clear policies and consequences, toxic behaviours can flourish unchecked, creating a pervasive atmosphere of manipulation and distrust.

What Can We Do About It?

Combating gaslighting in the workplace requires a proactive and comprehensive approach. Here are some strategies:

Promote Awareness

Training and education are crucial. Employees at all levels should be educated about what gaslighting is, how to recognize it, and why it is harmful. Awareness campaigns can help demystify gaslighting and empower employees to speak up against it.

Encourage Open Communication

Create an environment where employees feel safe to voice their concerns and experiences without fear of retribution. Encourage transparency and open dialogue. Regular check-ins, anonymous feedback channels, and open-door policies can help foster trust and communication.

Implement Clear Policies

Develop and enforce policies that address workplace bullying and psychological manipulation. Ensure there are clear procedures for reporting and addressing such behaviour. Policies should be communicated clearly and consistently, with a zero-tolerance approach to gaslighting.

Foster a Supportive Culture

Cultivate a workplace culture that values respect, empathy, and mutual support. Leaders should model these behaviours and hold others accountable. Recognition programs, team-building activities, and inclusive practices can help build a positive and supportive work environment.

Provide Support Resources

Ensure that employees have access to mental health resources, such as counselling and employee assistance programs. Providing support can help victims of gaslighting recover and regain their confidence. Offering training on resilience and stress management can also empower employees to cope with and counteract toxic behaviours.

Gaslighting is a serious issue that can have devastating effects on both individuals and organizations. By understanding how it manifests, recognizing its impacts, and implementing strategies to combat it, organizations can create healthier, more supportive work environments. Addressing gaslighting is not just about protecting employees; it’s about fostering a culture of trust, respect, and productivity that benefits everyone. Creating a workplace where employees feel valued and supported is essential for long-term success and sustainability.