A look behind the scenes at Google’s average yearly search volumes reveals many organisations still need help with creating a healthy working environment:

  • ‘Toxic boss traits’ searches up 800% year on year
  • ‘Gaslighting in workplace’ searches up 120% year on year
  • ‘Gaslighting boss examples’ searches up 100% year on year

Poor company culture can take many forms – for example, poor leadership and management styles, a lack of work-life balance and the absence of wellbeing support.

Learning to recognise forms of gaslighting in your workplace and taking action is key to keeping a good workplace culture and retaining the talent that you’ve worked hard to recruit.

With working culture central to engagement and productivity, Sarah Griffiths, Lead Behavioural Insights Advisor at Bupa UK, shares advice on how managers/HR leads can spot, deal with and avoid gaslighting.

What is gaslighting?

Gaslighting is a type of psychological abuse and bullying used to gain control over a person or situation. In the workplace, some signs of gaslighting include being undermined; being misled about career progression opportunities; and being told things in one situation which are later denied.

It is possible for co-workers to gaslight each other, but it is more likely to come from someone in a position of power. Ultimately, gaslighting at work can impact an employee’s ability to do their job well and can be hugely detrimental to their self-esteem and mental health.

How to spot gaslighting in the workplace

Sadly, it might not be obvious that an employee is being gaslighted, as it’s likely to happen subtly, or when others aren’t around. Sometimes, the employee might not even realise that they’re being gaslighted, either. While it might feel like something is wrong, it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what that is.

Signs an employee is being gaslighted

Those who gaslight manipulate in a way that makes the person they are gaslighting question their own reality. As the person involved is progressively undermined and then lied to about when they’ve been undermined, they may think they’re beginning to imagine things about their treatment.

This can make for a very confusing and emotionally demanding working environment for the person being gaslighted. Being emotionally manipulated can have a knock-on effect on their physical health, too.

Signs an employee is being gaslighted by their manager

If you notice a sudden change in an employee’s manner, it could be a sign that they are being gaslighted by a manager. For example, employees that were otherwise confident and high-performing may become withdrawn, their performance has notably declined, and they may start taking sick days.

Due to the nature of gaslighting, where it can be difficult for the victim to put their finger on the cause of their manager’s problem with them, gaslighting can impact a person’s physical health. In some cases, their stress may lead to them being signed off from work.

Signs a manager is gaslighting

Maintaining strong relationships with your staff and their ways of working is a good way to sense-check how their style of working could be affecting their colleagues. In some cases, spotting the signs may be easier than you think. Here are some examples of how an individual’s behaviour may be a sign they are gaslighting:

  • Purposely speaking to or behaving towards an employee with the aim to criticise and belittle them.
  • Little interest in gathering minutes for meetings. Could this be to mask the nature of the conversations that took place during that meeting?
  • Changing pre-agreed employee tasks, e.g., that may be different from their job description, and not agreed with HR beforehand.
  • Giving little guidance, withholding or purposely drip-feeing information that may make it difficult for an employee to achieve the goals of a task.
  • Repeatedly rescheduling or cancelling meetings at last minute.
  • Organising last-minute meetings without sharing its purpose beforehand.
  • A reluctance to be open and transparent in the working environment.

It is worth noting that these signs may not always indicate gaslighting, and could be caused by other issues, it is still worth having a conversation to ensure that everything is ok.

Prevent gaslighting at work and what to do if you spot it – How HR teams can help

It is important to be aware of the signs of gaslighting so you can spot it, address it early on to prevent ongoing abuse and to retain your talent.

Staff who are experiencing gaslighting may feel powerless and alone. Promoting an open culture at work, where employees are encouraged to share their experiences may offer those at the hands of gaslighting the courage to come forward and share what’s going on. If an employee does express that they are being gaslighted, ensure that you listen to them without judgement. Thank them for being open with you, and ask how you can support them.

How all employees can help combat gaslighting

If you spot instances of someone being gaslighted when you’re present, be sure to intervene. For example, this could be where an employee has been excluded from a meeting or activity – step in to make sure that they are included.

Likewise, if you are present whilst a manager or co-worker is speaking negatively about someone’s performance, ask them for evidence of poor performance, and where possible, share examples of times when the employee’s performance has been strong.

Keep a record of these instances so you havee something to refer to if the issue needs to be escalated with human resources. This may give your business leaders the opportunity to restructure your organisation to ensure your workforce is protected, any gaslighting behaviour is addressed, and that managers who continue exhibiting gaslighting behaviour are removed from people management roles.





Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.