Employee Manipulation — How to Recognize and Manage It

Jason Cortel
5 min readFeb 3, 2022

Manipulation is part of human nature and everyone engages in it to some degree. Unfortunately, some people bring manipulative behaviors to the workplace. Manipulative employees damage your culture and productivity so they cannot go unaddressed.

It can be hard to spot a manipulator because they are naturally sneaky and dishonest. It is easy to brush off employee manipulation as office drama. However, if you don’t address the issue, employee manipulation can quickly become rampant in your office.

I’ve already written about ways bosses unacceptably manipulate employees. This article will discuss recognizing when your employees are manipulating you and creating a plan to help manipulative employees act in an open, honest, and mutually respectful way.

What is manipulation?

Manipulation is a type of behavior that is used to control or influence someone. It can be challenging to spot manipulative employees because they are often very good at hiding their true intentions. In addition, manipulators are often very sneaky and dishonest. They may use manipulation to get what they want or establish power and control over someone else.

Workplace manipulation is a behavior that employees use to get what they want. It could be something as simple as getting the boss to do their work for them, or it could be more complicated, like bullying someone into doing something they don’t want to do. Employee manipulation can be obvious or hidden, so it can be challenging to spot. The goal of employee manipulation is to control the situation and the people involved.

Employee manipulation can have several adverse effects on the workplace. It can damage relationships between employees and create an atmosphere of mistrust. Manipulation can also interfere with productivity, as employees spend time figuring out what the manipulator is up to rather than working. In extreme cases, manipulation can even lead to violence in the workplace.

Why do employees manipulate their managers?

There are a few reasons why employees manipulate their managers. The first reason is that they want something from their manager. Employee manipulation could be as simple as wanting time off to go on vacation or needing a raise.

The second reason is that the employee wants to establish power and control over their manager. This could manifest itself in the employee trying to micromanage their manager or constantly questioning their decisions. Here are other reasons employees manipulate their managers:

Forcing a decision in their favor.

When employees want their manager to make a particular decision, they will present them with false alternatives. False alternatives are choices that don’t make sense. As a result, the manager has no choice but to agree with the employee.

Employees manipulate their managers by hiding inconvenient facts.

Employees can manipulate their managers by hiding facts. For example, they will bury inconvenient facts in a long email or report so the manager won’t notice them. Additionally, they will use jargon to confuse their manager as part of their manipulation.

Smoke and mirrors to delay or distract.

For example, an employee will distract their manager by manufacturing a fire. When they don’t like the direction a meeting or discussion is going, they change the subject by making up an issue or gossiping so your attention is redirected to a fake emergency.

What are the signs of employee manipulation?

Several signs can indicate that an employee is manipulating their boss. If you see any of these signs, it is crucial to address the situation immediately.

  • The employee is constantly asking for favors, even if they don’t need help with their work.
  • They regularly make demands or requests that are difficult to refuse.
  • The employee often withholds information or tries to mislead you.
  • They seem excessively friendly or overly eager to please.
  • The employee uses guilt trips or threats to get what they want.
  • The employee is dishonest or secretive about their work.

If you see any of these signs of employee manipulation, addressing them before it becomes a bigger problem is vital.

How does employee manipulation affect workplace culture and productivity?

Employee manipulation can have many negative effects on workplace culture and productivity.

Firstly, employee manipulation can damage relationships between employees. When people feel manipulated, they often don’t trust each other, interfering with teamwork.

Secondly, employee manipulation can create an atmosphere of mistrust. It can be challenging to trust someone who was manipulative in the past. As a result, it can lead to a lack of cooperation and decreased productivity.

Finally, manipulation can interfere with productivity as employees spend time trying to figure out what the manipulator is up to. In extreme cases, manipulation can even lead to violence in the workplace.

Steps managers can take if an employee is manipulating them

If you’re a manager and an employee is manipulating you, there are a few steps you can take to protect yourself and your team.

  1. Talk to other managers. It can be helpful to talk to other managers who may be experiencing the same thing. They can offer support and advice.
  2. Get help from HR or legal. If the manipulation is severe or ongoing, you may need help from HR or legal to address the issue.
  3. Set boundaries. Managers should establish clear boundaries for acceptable employee behavior. This will help to deter manipulation in the future.
  4. Document everything. Keep track of all conversations and interactions with the manipulative employee. This will help if you need to take further action

How do you prevent manipulation from occurring at your workplace?

There are several ways to prevent manipulation from occurring in your company or organization. Here are a few tips:

  1. Establish clear rules and expectations for employee behavior. This will help to deter manipulation in the future.
  2. Create a culture of transparency and honesty. Encourage employees to communicate openly and honestly with each other, because it makes manipulation more difficult.
  3. Ask for training to recognize manipulation and deal with it effectively so you can protect your team from manipulative employees.
  4. Promote healthy workplace relationships. Encourage employees to respect one another and work together cooperatively. This will make manipulation less effective.

Manipulation is a natural human behavior that can have negative effects on workplace culture and productivity. In order to protect yourself from manipulation, it’s important to establish clear rules for acceptable employee behaviors as well as transparent practices in the office. If you notice manipulation occurring at your company or organization, address it immediately before it becomes worse.

Share your stories on workplace manipulation by an employee, boss, or peer in the comments below!

Originally published at https://www.jasoncortel.com on February 3, 2022.

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Jason Cortel

Changing the world by developing people professionally. Author who blogs about leadership, career advice, and coaching. #WhyYouNow