Blaming Employees – The Corporate Gaslighting Epidemic

The blind pursuit of productivity has led to an epidemic of corporate gaslighting. At the heart of this lies a fundamental flaw: when leaders fail to define a clear business strategy they react to the negative consequences with a Pavlovian response: they prescribe training for employees.

Conflicting Priorities and the Tyranny of the Urgent

Most businesses lack a coherent strategy. Sure, they might have documents labeled as such. Once you scratch the surface you often find a combination of buzzwords, ambitious goals, and a laundry list of tasks masquerading as strategy. A lack of integrated efforts leads to competing priorities; the absence of clarity causes confusion. And employees find themselves trapped between conflicting tasks and objectives, unsure of what truly matters.

Without a clear direction, employees resort to firefighting, trying to tick items off endless to-do lists. Everything is always urgent, everything is always important. People work harder and longer hours and still miss deadlines. A hundred priorities today, a hundred different ones tomorrow. They start to cut corners, quality suffers, and stress levels skyrocket as the workload becomes unmanageable.

Shifting Blame and Gaslighting Employees

In response to this chaos, HR departments and leaders resort to a familiar playbook: training. At scale, they roll out workshops on time management, resilience building, and prioritization. The hope is to equip employees with the tools to productivity-hack their way out of the mess.

This is where the gaslighting truly begins. Gaslighting is a manipulative tactic where individuals are made to doubt their perception and reality. As a result, they develop doubts about their own abilities, leaving them with a feeling of inadequacy.

By pushing employees to undergo training aimed at improving their individual performance, organizations effectively absolve themselves of the responsibility for the systemic dysfunction they suffer. They imply that the problem lies with the employees’ skills, rather than acknowledging their own failure to provide a coherent business strategy.

It’s a classic case of shifting the blame, and it’s high time we called it out for what it is: corporate gaslighting. When organizations imply that employees simply need to work harder or smarter, manage their time better, or develop thicker skins, they fuel the harmful narrative of inadequacy.

Good Strategy Makes Productivity Hacks Almost Obsolete

Organizational overwhelm is the result of FOMO, which leads you to saying yes to too many things at the same time. This lack of priorities is stretching resources to thin, and eventually leads to a crash. Strategy is the antidote to a fear of missing out. Because you become clear about the priorities that help you win. Everything else becomes secondary.

To be clear: once a business has a defined strategy, training will likely be necessary. But most of it has nothing to do with productivity hacks. Strategy itself is the biggest productivity hack. In a system that has a clear strategy, productivity training can be used for what it is: support for those who need it rather than a one-size-fits-all pseudo solution for glaring bigger problems.

So, what’s the solution? Organizations must prioritize the development and implementation of a robust business strategy—a framework that clearly articulates priorities, aligns objectives, and provides employees with clarity and direction. Until organizations acknowledge the critical role that strategy plays in shaping their success, they will continue to perpetuate a cycle of dysfunction and blame, including gaslighting employees.

Main Image by Tim Gouw.