The gaslighting of employees

Ted Bauer
3 min readJul 28, 2022

Here’s a new-ish article on Harvard Business Review about how to intervene when an employee is being “gaslighted,” using said definition:

Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse where an individual tries to gain power and control over you. They will lie to you and intentionally set you up to fail. They will say and do things and later deny they ever happened. They will undermine you, manipulate you, and convince you that you are the problem. As in my case, at work, the “they” is often a manager who will abuse their position of power to gaslight their employees.

You don’t hear the term “gaslighting” in regards to work very much; it’s usually about interpersonal, romantic relationships. But we shift a lot of terms between the personal and professional these days, so I suppose we can shift “gaslighting” as well.

This specific article, linked above, is a standard business journalism article that gives a bunch of non-answers to a real problem, i.e. “communicate more!” (that’s mentioned in every article), and/or “fire the gaslighting manager!” (good look if he/she produces revenue) or “invite employees to more meetings!” (which is the last thing anyone needs in their life short of a brain bleed).

The sheer fact is that for many people, work has increasingly become inhumane, be that urinating in a bottle in an Amazon facility so that Subdivision Sarah can get her blender a bit faster … or a bunch of white-collar bullshit where you get gaslit by some asshole that has no other sense of purpose. And through it all, executives don’t really care. People issues — someone shitting their pants in a factory, for example, or someone being constantly lied to and set up for failure by a boss — are impediments to the real goal, which is the extraction of time and labor for riches and relevance.

As a result, there’s not really a solution to the gaslighting problem. Like many things in white-collar, a manager will do it if he/she (more likely “he”) can get away with it, and he/she (same) can get away with it if he/she ships or sells. An executive will look the other way on anything for a person that ships, sells, and contributes to revenue: racism is tolerated, ass-grabbing is tolerated, and gaslighting is definitely tolerated. The argument would likely be “Employee Eddie misunderstood your intentions!” or “Eddie isn’t a fit for how we work around here.”

You can’t solve problems with people with authority would never care about, because you can’t get the necessary resources to solve the problem. There are outliers to this idea, i.e. bad PR events, whistle-blowers, or effective organizational capacity to rise up against a tyrant boss/tyrant founder. But in most cases, your recourse on “I’m being gaslighted” is to leave the company. Isn’t that part of what drives the supposed “Great Resignation?” Because what the hell else are you gonna do? Go to HR? ROFL.

Ted Bauer

Mostly write about work, leadership, friendship, masculinity, male infertility, and some other stuff along the way. It's a pleasure to be here.