Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Business: Does my company have a toxic culture?

Posted in best practices, Employment, workplace by commorancy on April 5, 2022

meeting-1280Toxic work cultures aren’t always obvious, at least not when you’re first hired and not always to managers. As a new hire, these work cultures can become apparent over time, but many times it creeps up on you unaware. Sometimes it’s even ingrained as part of the culture. For managers, a toxic workplace is yours to manage, but too many managers fail to see it and fail to act on it. Let’s explore the business of a toxic workplace culture.

Business Culture

Founders and CEOs must cultivate not only their business ideas and breathe life into them, they must also breathe life into a thriving business that operates and implements those ideas. That means hiring staff. However, hiring qualified candidates and hiring honest, ethical and affable people are two entirely different things. Sometimes, hiring a qualified candidate brings with it toxic baggage under the guise of affable.

Hiring Practices

Businesses today hire primarily based on qualifications, not on interpersonal skills. What this means is that companies end up with all manner of people on the payroll. At least some of these people are likely to be toxic in many different ways. Simply because the hired person can do their job correctly doesn’t necessarily make that person the best choice for your business’s success. A toxic person can overwhelm an office with distrust, negativity, bad morale and seek to destroy the very business itself… all while performing their job perfectly and correctly.

Why? The above example person is toxic, through and through. They have no sense of moral compass and are willing to do anything to torpedo anything and anyone who stands in their way. This is the very type of person you really don’t want to hire. Yet, many companies unknowingly do.

Why does this happen? It happens because businesses don’t have a means to screen for this level of toxicity from any candidate. However, there are some ways to help determine toxicity levels, but very, very few companies employ such behavioral culling during an interview. Keep in mind, though, that even the best of behavioral tests to determine toxicity can be foiled by candidates who intentionally and knowingly practice toxic workplace behaviors. If a candidate seems too ideal even after taking a behavioral test, that person might become problematic when in the workplace.

Interview Questions

Many hiring managers naively believe you can ask simple questions and determine if someone is toxic. While this might work a small portion of the time, a large portion of the time it simply doesn’t work. Unless that toxic candidate is completely naïve about hiring practices (hint: they’re likely very knowledgeable), they’re not likely to intentionally (or accidentally) reveal their toxic nature during an interview. That’s not to say it can’t happen. However, for these naïve candidates, you don’t really have to go out of your way to find them. These candidates will out themselves just by their own stupidity. These naïve people are the exception, not the rule.

Far too many toxic people are the shrewd, cunning and know exactly what they are doing. They see your questions coming and answer them to impress, not reveal their own personal flaws. Any questions designed to elicit personal responses will be turned around into how their work skills have improved business operations.

For a hiring manager, these are the kinds of candidates who are the most difficult to weed out because they are, as I said, shrewd and cunning and seem the perfect candidate, on the surface. They know how to ace an interview and they’ll do it with flying colors. When a candidate seems too good to be true, this should be a red flag in and of itself. No one is that good.

Looks

Many people, particularly those who are overly attractive, can easily betray and feed into the toxic culture problem. That’s not to say that people who appear “perfect”, “flawless” and “beautiful” are all toxic, but as a hiring manager, you should always remain on your toes when considering hiring those who fall into the “perfection” bucket. What exactly is “perfection”?

It’s those men and women who look like they’ve stepped off of a runway, out of an advertisement or look like a model. These people are impeccably fit, immaculately coiffed, perfectly groomed, carry themselves in an overly confident way and both have overly engaging smiles and a personality to match. People who are genuine don’t tend to look or act like this. Everyone is beautiful in their own way, but these people who exude that “perfect model” appearance and who appear “perfectly flawless”, not just in appearance, but also when talking with them, should leave you skeptical as a hiring manager. Nobody is that “perfect”. The problem with many of these people is “ego”, which is one of the primary driving factors behind toxic workplace behavior.

The one job where such beautiful people can be hired, albeit with trepidation, is outside sales. These people can become the face of your sales team. Because sales jobs are grueling, tiring and relentless, hiring flawless and beautiful people to visit with clients can greatly help make a sale. You just have be aware that these people can sow seeds of discord while in the office, if allowed. However, they can just as easily land million dollar deals for the company. Ego has its place… and having overly beautiful people on a your sales team is typically the one and only one job role where ego works.

Yes, I do understand how tempting it is to hire that beautiful office assistant. I get it. They’re eye candy every single day. However, that eye candy for you can turn into a nightmare for everyone else. Be cautious when considering the “overly beautiful” people of the world for internal positions outside of sales.

Note, there is a significant difference between simple beautiful and glamorous beautiful. It’s these glamorous beautiful people who bare watching. “Simple beautiful” people are typically down-to-earth, aren’t overly made up, don’t have perfectly coiffed hair, don’t wear overly flattering clothing and are focused on the work at hand. The “glamorous beautiful” people are overly concerned about their appearance, smell and personality, yet still manage to get their work done. It’s these overly glamorous people who are more likely to fall into the toxic bucket due to ego.

Probation Period

Many companies hire new employees on a conditional basis. Basically, so long as the employee is able to perform properly for a period of time, usually 90 days, then the job becomes permanent thereafter.

Don’t think that a probationary period actually offers enough time to out a toxic employee. Toxic employees are patient. They are more than willing to wait through any probationary period while remaining on their best behavior. They’ll do their job well and everyone will praise that employee’s work efforts. This type of toxic employee is seething and ready to let lose their toxicity, but they’re more than willing to temper that toxicity until they know the job is fully theirs. As I said, this type of toxic employee is overly patient.

Once their “tenure” actually begins, that’s when the employee will slowly begin to unleash their toxicity. Small at first, then no holds barred after several months.

They do this for several reasons:

  1. By being patient allows slowly ingratiating themselves into the company. They can then make their skillset (in)valuable to the point that the company might have a hard time replacing them.
  2. Waiting through that waiting period, they get to know who they can “beat up” and who they must “kiss ass”. It gives them plenty of time to determine the “lay of the land”.
  3. Kissing up. This may start right away, but usually takes a few weeks because they don’t want to kiss up to the wrong person. This type of toxic employee will “kiss up” to their immediate superior to make them feel superior. They’ll accept lots of work from their manager and turn it all in perfectly. In effect, they become the perfect “Yes, man” and a model employee. They might even win a monthly employee award.

Kissing Up and Overly Friendly Attitudes

Someone who “kisses up” and who exhibits artificially friendly attitudes is someone to watch closely. This kind of behavior seems like the flip side of toxic behavior. In fact, these friendly attitudes are actually part of toxic behavior. It’s just that because this behavior seems friendly and nice, it’s difficult to see it as part of a toxic person. Toxicity comes in many forms, but most people tend to classify it with only negative behaviors. Positive behaviors tend not to be classed under toxicity simply because they are positive.

Most toxic people will exhibit a mix of both positive and negative behaviors, but that are both fully tied to their toxicity. They’ll start mostly with positive and then slowly work their way to the negative spectrum. Know that the reason behind the overly friendly attitudes and “kissing up” is tied to their toxicity.  “Kissing up” usually only occurs with their direct manager or managers above them. The toxic person almost never uses these artificially friendly attitudes toward coworkers. In fact, most coworkers will typically see a toxic person as aloof and arrogant.

Lone Workers

However, don’t assume that a lone worker indicates toxicity. Lone workers can be some of the most productive people in your organization and that has nothing to do with toxicity. A lone worker may choose to work alone solely because the “team” around them may, in fact, be toxic and may be the ones holding that person or project back. Lone workers may, in fact, be a product of a toxic workplace culture. Toxic employees tend to want to sabotage the work of others, including that person who is seen as a lone worker. Because it’s nearly impossible to alert anyone in a company to one or more toxic employees without being seen as a “problem”, to avoid that scenario entirely, many employees instead turn to becoming a lone worker to avoid having to interact with toxic workers bent on sabotaging projects (and other employees).

Toxic employees then choose other “behind the back” strategies to discredit one or more lone worker employees. I’ll come back to this “snitching” topic shortly.

The only time a toxic person seemingly works well with others is if the manager explicitly asks the person to do so as part of their job duties… at which point, the toxic person will immediately ingratiate themselves into the “group” as if they were always the best of chummy buddies. For the rest of the group, it’s odd and offputting and they can see exactly what’s going on. For the manager, they see it as a person taking initiative and taking direction well. Managers don’t get to see what’s really going on behind that toxic curtain when they’re not in the room.

However, that group of workers definitely get to see it. They see the artificiality of the attitude. The taking on of extra work. The sometimes doing the work of others. It even can get to the point that the toxic employee will intentionally take work from another, do it intentionally wrong and then attempt to pin that “shoddy” work on the original owner. It’s all overkill, but it’s something the toxic person does to ensure they are accepted by the manager and to make sure their skills are seen as irreplaceable. They sow the seeds of being irreplaceable so that at the point they think that they are, they can fully unleash their toxicity.

Snitching

One behavior that should immediately shoot up red flags to a manager is “snitching” or “tattling”. These traits may seem like a good thing, but these behaviors are, in fact, a form of toxicity. When one employee goes behind the back of another to make disparaging remarks without them having attempted to resolve the issue first, this firmly indicates toxicity.

These types of “snitches” are the very definition of toxic. This behavior intentionally sows seeds of discord between the manager and staff. Effectively, this toxic person is a wedge attempting to drive a huge gap between the manager and the workers… to cast doubt and suspicion on a specific person or group of people.

When an employee steps into your office and attempts to convince you, as manager, that one or more people is/are a problem, red flags should appear instantly. Not about the people being mentioned, but about the person sitting in your office. This is why toxic people tend to like to win “lead” roles on teams. That title gives them more credibility and trust to step into a manager’s office to disparage others.

Unleashed

Once a toxic worker has been working long enough to feel irreplaceable, perhaps even being told so by a manager, the gloves come off. Sometimes they do so after waiting to be promoted to a “lead” position, cinching their toxicity. Becoming a “lead” allows a toxic person to unleash their toxicity in full. Usually, this type of person begins by latching onto the person they like least. In fact, they don’t really care who it is, just that there’s someone they can pour their toxicity onto. And, boy do they ever.

First, they start with subtle hints that the person is doing something untoward (snitching). Nothing specific, mind you, but they sow enough seeds of doubt with the manager that the manager must take a much closer look. These lies, of course, are usually just that. Lies. Yet, the manager now trusts the toxic person enough to begin to believe their lies. The lies usually start with a shred of truth, like claiming the person has been spending too much time on email and not enough working. When, in fact, the person has written the same amount of email they always have. Or, that the employee has been taking too many smoking breaks.

Second, the toxic person may even go so far as to not only lie, but plant “evidence” in the desk of the person they are now directing their toxicity to. Because most offices are fairly open and trusting, many employees leave their desk drawers unlocked while away from their desks. This facilitates the toxic person’s behaviors, particularly planting of evidence.

This leaves trusting employees open to abuse from toxic employees. Depending on the kind of “evidence” planted, it might even elicit probation for the employee or even termination. The toxic employee thinks, “One down, many to go”. This is the start of a huge morale problem which lasts until enough employees leave that there’s no one left to complain.

As employees begin to disappear one at a time, the manager won’t suspect the toxic employee, but instead will fail to understand why so many employees are leaving. Because the now trusted, but highly toxic employee, is now running the show, so to speak, they have full reign to do as they please.

Once they’ve cleaned house sufficiently, this is where they turn their ire onto their manager seeking that job role. At this point, they’ll both lie and plant evidence to implicate the manager in some kind of in-house scam. That manager’s manager might or might not fall for the bait. It depends on how loose or tight that relationship is. At this point, the toxic employee might be discovered, but possibly not.

These toxic employee scams are generally so subtle that it’s hard to trace it back to a specific employee.

Agenda Behind Toxicity

Sometimes there’s an agenda. I’ve seen the above toxic situation unfold before, in fact. Here’s the story.

Note that this didn’t occur in my office, but we got the details of it by all of the employees who fell into it. We had a new person hired. I’ll call her Jill. Jill was a fairly competent worker who did her job well… at least for a few months. After a few months, the manager promoted her to “lead”. At this point, she was still liked by most and did her job fairly well.

However, once promoted to lead. The entire workplace changed. Employees began seeing a side of her they hadn’t seen. Over the next couple of months, her behavior changed towards them. Yet, her manager saw none of this. In fact, her manager got caught up in a problem of his own, which kept his attention focused on that problem.

Within one to two months, her manager left the company and she was again promoted to manager. At once, she fired nearly every single person on the team and simultaneously hired a bunch of her “friends”. Only one or two “original” employees remained. This was her goal. To hire people she wanted and get rid of those she didn’t want.

At this point, the company was in a financially dire situation, not entirely of her making, but her shenanigans didn’t help and her ineptitude in managing was felt over our services being sold… leading would-be buyers to competitors. Over a month or two, her and her new “team” was unable to properly manage the equipment she was to tasked to manage, causing outages and she was forced to leave (not fired, but asked to resign). After that, many of her hires were also laid off, mostly because of the company’s financial situation. The few who managed to stay through her firing spree stayed on to manage the equipment after her departure, one of which became the new manager.

Unfortunately, the company only remained in business for ~9 more months before ultimately closing its doors for good.

This is a perfect example of a toxic workplace culture. It also impresses the importance of watching closely who is managing your company. Even managers can impact the bottom line. Even managers can cause toxicity. Oh, and her toxicity attempted to reach us in our remote office. However, our manager realized exactly what it was an completely ignored her. Since she had nothing to do with the services we managed in our office, her toxicity remained mostly confined to her office. Though, I firmly believe her toxicity was part of the reason the company ended up folding.

Workplace (mis)Trust

This is a fairly typical scenario above. Toxic employees tend to, at least over a period of time, cause large departures of other employees and generally sow mayhem by their toxicity. Many times it’s for a specific agenda, such as wanting to hire specific people they know. It is not only because the toxic employee is willing to lie, cheat and back stab, but also because no one wants to be around this type of toxicity every day. Toxicity is easily spotted by those on the ground and it grows over time to the point that employees must make a decision: stay or go. Managers typically stay insulated from this toxicity because that’s how a toxic employee wants it.

In fact, toxic employees typically sow seeds of doubt and distrust about all of the employees they intend to “stab” with the manager. Once they have these seeds of doubt planted, any one of those employees who attempts to have a conversation with the manager ends up finding that the manager no longer trusts them. Sometimes you don’t find out about that lack of trust until a performance review.

Losing trust in a workplace is tantamount to being fired. The point at which you have lost your manager’s trust, an employee should line up another job. Trust between manager and worker is paramount. Losing that trust means being unable to do your job correctly, even if you do it correctly.

Toxic employees intentionally seek to sow seeds of mistrust between manager and staff, with the exception of that toxic employee, who seeks to have the highest level of trust from the manager. Again, this is a huge red flag. Any new-ish employee who immediately tries to impress upon you, as the manager, how trustworthy they are and how untrustworthy everyone else is should be viewed as toxic.

Managers don’t need to be told whom to trust. Managers need to determine and establish trust level between their employees themselves. Unless an employee shows that they are untrustworthy, there is no reason to mistrust an employee based on another employee’s word.

There’s where a toxic employee can up their game by planting “evidence” of mistrust. If, as an employee, you’ve been framed by a co-worker over something that has been “planted”, you definitely need to find another job. Trying to win a “I said, they said” battle can be almost impossible over planted evidence. Worse, if another employee is willing to stoop so low as to actually plant evidence onto another employee, it’s time to leave. There is almost no way to convince a manager that the evidence was planted.

As a manager, having to evaluate alleged evidence found in or on someone’s desk can be exceedingly difficult. You’re a manager, not a detective. I get that. How do you manage this issue if it arises? It’s a difficult challenge, one where I can’t easily give you answers.

However, I an point you in this direction. Review who is he senior of the two employees. If the employee who “found” the evidence is claiming another more senior employee is untrustworthy, you need to better understand why that newer employee was rooting through another employee’s desk AND how they knew that “evidence” was even there. If the reporting employee is only a few months into the job, you should suspect more of that new employee than sincerity. If you’ve never had any issues with the more senior employee, then that new employee may be a toxic employee.

Employees who seek to pit manager against older employees should be immediately suspected as toxic. Once you suspect a toxic employee, you need to monitor them closely. You don’t need to alert your other employees, though. However, you also need to accept any of the toxic employee’s claims as insincere. You should make note of each and every one of them. Once you can confirm the toxic employee is sowing seeds of discontent around the office, you’ll need to take them aside and with the assistance of the HR team, place them onto a probationary period.

Know, however, that placing a toxic employee on probation won’t solve their toxicity. Once you identify a toxic employee, the only means to solve that problem is by firing them. The probationary period is simply a stepping stone to firing them. By placing them into probation and following through with standard procedures, you can then fire the employee without them having any legal recourse against you or the company.

Toxic employees are shrewd both in and out of the office. If they’re fired, expect a wrongful termination lawsuit. They won’t have any problems bringing legal action against a company for being terminated. That’s also part of their toxicity. As a manager, you must follow all procedures that allow you to fire the employee correctly.

Toxic employees know that their actions in the office cannot be easily covered by office etiquette or code of conduct rules. Meaning, toxic behaviors are almost impossible to enforce as a firing offense. Instead, you would need to fire them for not performing their work duties, which work performance is a reason to fire an employee. Playing psychological games, however, is not a reason to fire and is never written into code of conduct rules as part of the terms of employment.

The problem with probation, however, is that the employee can pass the probation requirements easily and still allow them to sow seeds of discontent. This is why probation exercises may be futile when you’re seeking to fire a toxic employee. You may simply have to rely on your company’s “at-will” hiring clause (you do have one of these, correct?) and simply fire them straight up.

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Gaslighting in the Workplace

Posted in advice, Employment, workplace by commorancy on April 10, 2019

Gaslighting is nothing new, but is a term that may be new to some. However, when it appears in the workplace, particularly from a boss, it can lead to exceedingly difficult workplace situations. Let’s explore.

Gaslighting and How To Recognize It!

Gaslighting is when a co-worker or boss says something on Monday and then says, “I never said that” on Tuesday. Effectively, it’s lying. Its saying one thing (or even making a promise), then claiming that thing was never said.

What’s the purpose of this behavior? To attempt to make you, the receiver, believe what they want you to believe and to avoid the ramifications of whatever it is they said earlier. Some claim it’s a form of manipulation or that it is used as control tactic to confuse. I personally believe it’s a way for that person to get out of trouble or avoid being held to a promise. It’s a self-centered way of thinking. While it might be used for manipulation purposes, I believe it’s more self-serving than it is to control another person. However, this behavior can be either intentional or inadvertent due to a medical condition. Either way, it’s a problem for you, the receiver.

Co-workers and Gaslighting

If you’re working with a gaslighting co-worker (non-management peer), the situation can be a bit more simple to handle. Simply request that you don’t work with that person. Most companies are willing to separate folks with personality conflicts to avoid HR issues, so request it. However, be sure to explain to your Human Resources team member that the person is gaslighting you regularly. Make sure they understand the severity of gaslighting (a form of lying) in the workplace and that it has no business in a professional working relationship. Lying in any form is an unacceptable practice, particularly when it comes from folks in positions of trust. It also brings in the issues of business ethics against this person.

Lying and trust are exact opposites. If the person is willing to lie to colleagues, what are they willing to do with clients? Point this out. However, if you do point this out to HR, be aware that they can confront that person about this behavior which might lead them back to you. This person, if charming and charismatic enough, may be able to lie their way out of it. So, you should be cautious and exercise your best judgement when considering reporting a person, particularly if the person is pathological.

Bosses and Gaslighting

Unfortunately, if the gaslighting is coming from your boss or your boss’s boss, it’s a whole lot more difficult to manage. You can’t exactly ask to be moved away from your boss without a whole lot of other difficulties. In fact, many times, there is only one boss who handles your type of position within the company. If you find it is your boss who pathologically gaslights you, you may need to consider moving on from that company as there may be no other choice if you wish to continue working in your chosen career.

Gaslighting and Toxicity

Any form of unethical behavior against another employee should immediately be a huge red flag for you. If you can spot this early, you can make your employment decision quickly. If, for example, you can spot a toxic situation within the first 1-3 months, you can justify to a new prospective employer that the job role wasn’t what was promised and you left of your own accord during the probation period. That’s true. Toxicity in the workplace never makes for a positive working environment. Part of the job is not only what you do for the company, but how others interact with you within that environment. If one doesn’t meet the other and it’s found to be a toxic workplace, then the job role did not meet an acceptable criteria for employment. This means that the job role wasn’t what was promised. It’s not just about what you do, it’s about the interactions with others within the environment.

Any workplace with toxic co-workers is never a positive place of employment and, thus, not what was promised in the interview and on the job description. The problem with toxicity in the workplace is that it’s not easy to spot quickly. It can take several months for it to manifest. Sometimes, it will only manifest after staff change roles. If you walk into a company with high turnover, you might find the first couple of months to be perfectly fine until a new manager is hired.

Interview Flags

You should also take cues from your on-site interview. Many interviews offer telltale signs of toxicity. It may not even be from the people in the room. It may be from the receptionist that you meet when you arrive. Listen carefully to conversations when you’re sitting in a lobby or interview room waiting for the next interviewer. If the environment is chaotic or the interviewers are disenchanted with their job role, walk away. You can even ask pointed, but subtle questions in the interview to the interviewer. For example:

  • “How long have you been with the company?” — Short stint? They can’t tell you enough about the company.
  • “Do you like your job?” — This should open the door for venting.
  • “Is there anything you might change about what you are doing?” — This will further open the door for venting.
  • “How long has this position been open?” — Jobs that have been open a long time may signal problems.

These are examples of pointed questions trying to draw out disenchantment from the employee. Employees who always remain positive about their work conditions and the workplace likely means the company is worth considering. Employees who vent and turn negative quickly likely indicates disenchantment with their position. You might want to reconsider. However, even questions like this aren’t definitive. If the employer directs their interviewers to remain positive no matter what, you won’t know about this policy until much later. Always be cautious in the interview room… but definitely use your question time to draw out possible disenchantment as discretely as possible. If an employee wants to vent about the conditions, let them. It’s a sure fire sign you probably don’t want to work there.

Once employed, your next stop might be…

HR Complaints

You may think that taking your complaint to the HR team is the best idea, particularly if it’s your boss who is gaslighting you. Unfortunately, you’d be wrong. The HR team works for the management team and this includes working for your boss. This means that your boss actually has more power with the HR team than you do as a non-management employee. Complaining to the HR team could also bring your boss’s wrath down upon you. In fact, the HR team may become complicit in your boss’s gaslighting (and unsavory) tactics, which may seem like both your boss and the HR team are ganging up against you. That view wouldn’t exactly be wrong.

If your boss is willing to lie to you, he or she is willing to lie to others, including the HR team. There’s ultimately no end to this person’s deceptive ways. This means that reporting your boss to HR could actually backfire on you. It could get you written up, placed on probation, have disciplinary action levied against you up to and including termination. There’s no end to what your boss could do to you if you report their behavior to HR. The HR team will backup your boss, not you.

If your boss or any management team member is gaslighting you, you should avoid complaining to HR. The only time you should make your way to HR is if it’s coming from a co-worker peer who is not in management. Non-management coworkers are the only people where HR doesn’t have a conflict of interest. For these folks, report away.

For management gaslighters, you’ll need to consider other options… such as employment elsewhere or a change in position (move to a different boss, preferably not under the same chain of command) or possibly legal action if the behavior is illegal.

Evaluating Management Power

If you do decide to complain to HR over a management team member, you need to consider that person’s power and support within the organization. Many of these gaslighters are not only gaslighting their own staff, they’re two-faced with their bosses. The problem is getting these people caught in their own web of lies and deceit. That can be a tall order as two-faced individuals attempt to establish strong trust with their bosses. Many times they succeed which can make it extremely difficult to break down that trust.

Unfortunately, many managers who are willing to gaslight you are also willing to do whatever it takes to point the blame elsewhere, perhaps even towards you. For example, I’ve had bosses who made dire mistakes and cost the company downtime and money regularly (at least once a week). Yet, when they end up in their weekly management meetings, the blame runs downhill. Their trust runs deep, so their bosses continue to believe their lies. Meaning, lies and deception keeps this manager employed with his underlings getting the blame (getting a few of them fired). That, or he lied and claimed it was a system error or blamed the crash on the developers or software.

This manager should have been fired at least 6-8 times over, yet each time he managed to worm his way out of the situation by either pointing blame at others or claiming system problems. I know full well it was his fat fingers that pulled the trigger and caused the outage (I saw the logs), yet this information never got to his manager in a way that required him to terminate this employee. He was considered “too valuable”. In fact, he wasn’t valuable at all. He was a severe liability to the company. Not only did he cause regular system outages, he was an HR nightmare making not only inappropriate comments in the workplace, he was completely tactless and had no people skills at all. He was definitely one of those folks who should have been considered dangerous, yet he was in a management position. He was even promoted several times!

What can you do about gaslighting?

This is a difficult question to answer. Depending on the situation, you have several options:

  1. If it’s coming from a non-management co-worker, report them to HR and your manager and ask to avoid contact with this person.
  2. If it’s coming from a management team member to whom you report, you have few options other than to quit and move on.
  3. If it’s coming from a lower management team member to whom you DO NOT report, report them to your immediate manager. Depending on your manager, this may go nowhere. Management typically supports other management regardless of how egregious another management member’s behavior.
  4. If it’s coming from an upper management or a company executive to whom you DO NOT report, again, you have few options. Reporting upper management or executive behavior is almost impossible to see action done. Though, you might be able to report the behavior to the Board of Directors if it’s egregious enough. Like the HR team, the Board of Directors is there to support the management team.. no matter their behaviors. If you choose to report, you’re likely to get no response from the Board of Directors as they’re likely not willing to confront that executive.

There may be other scenarios not listed here, so you’ll need to use your own best judgement whether or not to report the situation.

Company Therapists

You might be thinking you should use one of the company counselors to vent your frustrations. The trouble is, it’s possible that the counselor is obligated to report all findings to the HR team. If you wish to vent to a licensed therapist or psychiatric professional, do so you on your own dime. Choose your own therapist. Don’t use the company’s counselor hotline that’s part of the company perk system. You might find that your conversations have ended up in your personnel file.

Toxic / Hostile Workplace

If the corporate culture is such that it endorses gaslighting (and other inappropriate behaviors) and the company chooses to do nothing about it, then this is probably an ingrained corporate culture. You should consider this a severely toxic and unhealthy workplace. Depending on how you’re treated, it might even be considered hostile. The only choice you have is to exit this job and find another. Toxic corporate culture is becoming more and more common. Unfortunately, there is no one you can turn to in an organization when the corporate culture is this level of toxic, particularly at the upper management level. When the CEO, CFO, CTO and such executives know, don’t care and do nothing to rectify a toxic workplace, this is definitely the signal that you need to move on. You can’t change a toxic corporate culture, you can only get away from it.

Toxic workplaces may be difficult to recognize until you’ve been in the position for at least six months. This is one of those situations where you don’t want to leave the position at the 5 month mark because it will hurt your resume. It also means you’ll need to stick with your employment at this toxic company for at least 7 more months to reach the 1 year mark. Hopping to a new job at the 1 year mark is at least better (and more explainable) on a resume than hopping at 5 months.

This situation can be difficult, particularly if the job environment is highly toxic. Just try to make the best of the situation until you can reach your 1 year anniversary. If the situation is far too problematic to bare and the behavior is not only egregious, but illegal, you should contact a lawyer and consider…

Legal Action

The HR team’s number 1 job is to avoid employment related legal actions at all costs. This means that should you file a lawsuit against your company as a hostile workplace, you’ll be up against your HR team, the company’s legal team and the company’s executives. If you’re still employed when you file such an action, you might want to consider moving on quickly. The HR team (and your boss) will make your life a living hell during and after a lawsuit.

In other words, you shouldn’t consider legal action against a current employer for employment violations. Instead, you should plan to leave the company immediately before you file your lawsuit.

Filing a lawsuit against a former employer will counter HR issues you might encounter while still employed, but be very careful here as well. Any lawsuits against employers can become known by your current employer and mark you as a legal risk. If you’re willing to file a lawsuit against one employer, your current employer’s HR team could then see you as a lawsuit risk. Make sure you fully understand these risks before going up against a former employer for employment violations.

Gaslighting itself isn’t necessarily something that can justify a lawsuit on its own. If it’s part of a pervasive corporate culture endorsed at all levels of management, it could be considered a hostile workplace. In this case, you may have legal recourse against your employer, depending on what they may have done and how pervasive the behavior while employed. You’ll want to educate yourself regarding what is and isn’t a hostile workplace before considering such a lawsuit against an employer. You should also consult with a lawyer for your specific situation. Even then, if you do find that it is considered hostile, you’ll still want to consider such a lawsuit carefully. If your litigation finds its way back to your current employer, you may find yourself in an untenable situation with your current job.

Basically, if you do file a lawsuit against a previous employer, you should keep that information as private as humanly possible. Do not discuss the lawsuit with anyone at your current company no matter how much you may want to. If you have mutual friends between both companies, this may not be possible. Consider this situation carefully before filing such a lawsuit. Note that you may not even know that mutual friends exist until your litigation information is disclosed to your current employer’s HR team.

As with most industries, HR staff members comprise a reasonably small circle of individuals even in large metroplexes. There’s a high probability that at least one person knows another person between two large corporations, particularly if they’re in the same line of business. Always be cautious and never discuss any pending litigation except with your lawyer.

Corporate Culture

Unfortunately, corporate cultures are laid in stone by the founders and the current management team. Sometimes corporate cultures, while seeming to be positive and well meaning, can easily turn sour by corporate corruption. Again, you won’t know the exact extent of your company’s corporate culture until you’ve been working at a company for at least 5 months. Sometimes it takes much longer. Sometimes it requires listening carefully to your CEO’s comments at internal company meetings.

Gaslighting is one of those things that shouldn’t ever be endorsed as part of corporate culture, but it is a behavior that can be misconstrued by pathological individuals based on corporate ideals and is also shaped by management team meetings. These are management meetings where the upper management meets with key individuals to evaluate their weekly contributions to and assess performance for the company. Many times, the face the CEO puts on shows a cheery and charismatic attitude when in public. When behind closed doors, this same CEO becomes a vulture, picking and cutting at each manager’s weaknesses systematically and ruthlessly… many times using rude, crude, crass, yet flowery, condescending language. They might make inappropriate sexual comments. They might even gaslight.

As a result, these bosses who are regularly subjected to these kinds of hostile C-Team interactions can learn that this is the way they also should manage their own teams, particularly managers who don’t have good people skills and who must lead by example. Yet, they know that such flowery, condescending language would get them in hot water with HR and employment law, so they adopt other compensating mechanisms such as gaslighting and outright lying… behaviors that aren’t easily caught or reported, behaviors that can be easily dismissed as innocuous.

As a result, rough and rugged CEOs who lead using a whip-and-chain approach teach their underlings the value of whips and chains instead of managing by positive examples. This can lead borderline personalities to interpret this whip-and-chain approach as the corporate culture to adopt when managing their own staff.

While this explains the root cause behind some manager’s reasons to gaslight, it can never excuse this behavior. In fact, nothing excuses unprofessional behavior. Unfortunately, far too many bosses are promoted beyond their capacity to lead. These managers may be knowledgeable in their own job skills, but many managers have no training in management and have no people skills at all. Instead of learning by training (because many companies don’t offer such people training), they must learn by example. They turn to the CEO to show them the “example”, even if that example is entirely misguided.

Unfortunately, far too many companies do not value people skills as part of their management team’s qualifications. Instead, they look for people who can kiss butts appropriately and deliver results, regardless of what that takes. Meaning, if gaslighting is the means by which that manager delivers results, then the upper management is perfectly happy to look the other way using “don’t ask, don’t tell” policies. I agree, it’s a horrible practice… but there it is.

Overall

As a non-management team member, your options are limited if you find your manager is gaslighting you. On other other hand, if you find a peer regularly gaslighting you to get ahead, you should report this pathological behavior to both your manager and your HR team. If you perform peer evaluations of those individuals, then you should report this behavior on those peer evaluations.

If the behavior goes beyond a single person and extends pervasively to the organization as a whole, then this is a corporate culture toxicity. It may also signal a hostile workplace situation. At that point, you may want to consider a new job and, if the behavior is particularly egregious (and illegal) across the company, file a hostile workplace lawsuit against that employer. Personally, if a company is toxic, I leave and let them wallow in their own filth. I then write a scathing review on Glassdoor and leave it at that. Filing lawsuits are costly and even if successful, don’t always fix the root cause of corporate toxicity, let alone gaslighting… which isn’t even considered a problem needing resolution by most companies. Even if you win a lawsuit, you won’t necessarily make that company a better place. Consider lawsuits as a strategy only if you’re trying to get money out of that company you feel has wronged you.

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