Four ways to know if you’re being gaslighted at work

More than half of UK employees have admitted to experiencing the practice at work, according to new research.

As the boundaries between work life and personal life continue to grow thinner, employees are seeing behaviours that were previously only associated with personal relationships now emerging within the workplace and among colleagues. 

One of these is gaslighting. While it is not new––the term gaslighting comes from a 1940s Ingrid Bergman movie, Gaslight, in which a woman’s confidence and trust in her own reality become weakened by her husband who continually questions her version of events.

The concept of gaslighting has re-entered modern parlance in recent years, even being named as Merriam Webster’s word of the year for 2022. 

This comes as no surprise when you learn that more than half of UK employees have admitted to experiencing the practice at work, and the term “gaslighting in the workplace” rose by 120 per cent year-on-year according to Google.

Research shows that three out of every ten bosses can be classed as toxic, meaning the opportunity for top-down gaslighting is often higher than peer-on-peer gaslighting. It is also much more likely to impact your opportunity for career progression and ability to do your job. 

Gaslighting by its nature is often hidden, insidious and hard to recognise, which can make it difficult for employees to know if it’s truly happening––or if they’re being oversensitive––especially if it’s occurring within a toxic environment. 

Signs you’re being gaslit at work can include: 

  1. Situations are reversed 

If you’ve found yourself in a position within the workplace where you raise a concern or ask for a debrief on a situation that you felt was problematic, only to have your opinion reversed and put back on you for being overly emotional, or taking things too personally, then you may be experiencing gaslighting. 

In a measured and supportive culture, all concerns, opinions and viewpoints are respected, listened to and debated. If you find yourself with a boss or co-worker who reverses situations and makes you question your version of events, ask a colleague to accompany you to meetings and keep records of events. 

  1. Relationships flip-flop 

Have you found yourself sharing personal news with your boss one day, only to have to return to uber-professionalism and distance the next? 

Blowing hot and cold without any context or explanation is a red flag within the workplace, as it highlights the existence of inconsistent management styles. The best way to deal with this kind of professional relationship is to set your own boundaries. Keep your distance and deal with your manager on a day-to-day basis, ensuring everything is kept in writing. 

  1. Invasion of Privacy 

From colleagues and managers rifling through your desk to accessing emails and files when you’re out of office, the invasion of your professional privacy is a sure sign of gaslighting, especially if it’s then denied or put down to a necessity. 

Digital abuse within a workplace is a sign of toxicity but when it is refuted by those who do it, this can be an indicator of gaslighting. 

The best way to circumvent this is to install two-factor identification where possible, and people-manage the situation to the best of your ability.  Make sure your team has all they need before you go on leave, ensure the correct people are copied on emails, and place your work on shared drives. 

  1. Burn Out 

If you’ve worked in a job for a while, or have worked at this level in a previous company and are used to the workload, but still find yourself feeling burnt out and under pressure, gaslighting may be the cause. 

Reacting to inconsistent communication and interpersonal relationships is exhausting, and can often be the cause of burnout more so than the workload.

Experts suggest that those who are experiencing gaslighting often know that something isn’t quite right, but can’t put their finger on the problem; which means they start to blame themselves and so the cycle continues. 

Changing a toxic culture and one that allows gaslighting is often impossible to do as a solo employee. The best way to deal with the situation is to remove yourself and find a new role where you’re valued. 

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