Gaslighting is a term frequently used by Generation Z in many social settings; however, it has been around for centuries. With the motion toward diversity, equality and inclusion, the term gaslighting is significant as it is a term used to identify toxicity and manipulative behaviour in society. Moreso within relationships, however this term is applicable to all social environments in one’s daily life. One of these social environments, includes the workplace.
This article discusses the meaning of gaslighting, how it applies to the workplace, and what employers can do when instances of gaslighting occur.
What is Gaslighting?
Gaslighting, according to the Oxford Dictionary is communication and behaviour used for the purpose of psychologically manipulating someone to the point of them questioning their own sanity. Gaslighting can occur on a spectrum of severity and be present in various interpersonal engagements.
Effects of gaslighting can include but are not limited to adopting an altered perception of reality, or memories, feeling confused, anxious, or unable to trust oneself. Even with small occurrences of gaslighting, it can further lead to the individual enduring psychological or physical health issues that affect their daily life.
Some specific examples of gaslighting are as follows:
- Countering. Refusing to acknowledge a specific memory or event that has happened;
- Withholding. Refusing to engage in a conversation, and acting unaware as to what you’re talking about;
- Trivializing. Making a behaviour, event or conversation seem less important, complex or serious than it really is;
- Denial. Actively denying and ignoring events and feelings;
- Diverting. Denying one’s emotions or communication, while involving another perspective;
- Stereotyping. Portraying your personal characteristics as flaws against you to favour themselves.
Were does “Gaslighting” originate from?
The term “gaslighting” originated from a British play that was created in 1938. The play writer Patrick Hamilton created “Gas Light,” a mystery/thriller that premiered in London, England however most individuals may be familiar with 1944 film adaptation of the play, “Gaslight”. The meaning is derived from specific behaviours of the main characters husband who overtime convinces her that she is going crazy.
How does gaslighting exist in the workforce?
As previously depicted, gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation and is present in many workplaces which can be considered toxic or poisoned work environment. Gaslighting, in workplace setting can be treated similarly to acts of bullying, abuse, discrimination or harassment. It is unique in the sense that gaslighting behaviour can often go unnoticed in the workplace, as many are unaware as to what gaslighting is or why it may happen. This can be severely problematic for employers as it decreases their ability to identify gaslighting behaviour and impose penalties appropriately.
However, it is not the sole responsibility of the employer to prevent and or find solutions to such behaviour. It is also critical that the victim of gaslighting identifies the behaviour and further communicates their concerns to their employer accordingly. To assist in recognizing gaslighting below are common forms of gaslighting in a workplace environment:
- Misremembering events or conversations purposefully for one’s own gain
- Becoming defensive (i.e., defensive excuses as to why a task may be incomplete/blaming others)
- Giving encouragement at peculiar and or inappropriate times
- Lying about unimportant matters
- Offering to assist a co-worker without following through
- Downplaying the importance or value of a colleague, event, conversation, or task
- Not sticking to one’s word (i.e., saying one thing and doing another)
Ways to protect employees in the workplace
While there is no official legislation in Ontario that utilizes the term gaslighting specifically, the term may fall under legislation that protects employees against circumstances such as harassment, discrimination, or abuse, as well as violations of an employees healthy and safety in the workplace. Persistent gaslighting has potential to lead to constructive dismissal claims, bad faith terminations, terminations without cause; or additional compensation schemes awarded to the employee. It is vital for employers to abide by current legislation in relation to health and safety standards in the workplace and ensure best practices in relation to their hiring practices, implementing and enforcing company policies and operations.
Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the definition of workplace harassment is extensive enough to include harassment prohibited under Ontario’s Human Rights Code, as well as what is often referred to as “psychological harassment” or “personal harassment”, which in includes persistent acts of gaslighting of all kinds.
The Ontario Human Rights Code more specifically protects employees from incidents of gaslighting that directly or indirectly relates to a protected human rights ground. One example of this is stereotyping, however the details of the incident would be analyzed on a case-by-case basis to determine if it would be considered discrimination or harassment based on a human rights ground depicted in the Code.
What is a gas lighter personality?
Gaslighting can be considered a natural behaviour, whereby even the gaslighter themselves are unaware of their behaviour or the rippling effects thereof. However, the term is mainly used when someone is intentionally manipulating someone.
Some common attributes of a gaslighter can include, but are not limited to:
- A highly manipulative personality
- Low self-esteem or sense of self worth
- Being defensive and controlling
- Having insecurities, whereby they point out flaws in others to favour themselves/make themselves look better
- Conceited tendencies
How to approach gaslighting in the workplace
Gaslighting in the workplace can lead to a toxic work environment, terminations, constructive dismissal, or wrongful dismissal where compensation or an alternative reparation scheme may be deemed appropriate to employees. While gaslighting can have serious repercussions within the workplace, it is critical that employees and employers are knowledgeable of gaslighting tendencies to correctly identify occurrences and act reasonably. With that being said, it is also vital that employers have an idea of what they can do if an employee falls to be a victim of gaslighting. Below we have set out 5 basic steps when dealing with mild incidents of gaslighting.
- Listen to the employee and gain details of the gaslighting behaviour
- Identify and confirm the behaviour is gaslighting
- Maintain a record of events of instances and repeated patterns overtime
- Analyze the level of harm and state of the employee
- Provide support internally to the employee, or offer external professional resources as means of additional support (if applicable)
- In more severe cases, primarily if gaslighting is persistent the employee may file an internal workplace complaint. With a proper workplace complaint policy, if required this may prompt an internal investigation to which the complainant should be involved in and notified of the outcome.
- “Gaslighting” – What does it mean and how does it exist in the workplace? - May 31, 2022
- Can you demote an employee and lower their pay? - April 29, 2022
- Key considerations for employers during the hiring process - March 30, 2022