By Robert Freeman, Senior Manager of Operations
One of the topics of complaint I have run into numerous times as a senior leader in the workplace is that of someone taking credit for another person’s work. It’s even more infuriating when that someone is your direct supervisor or a member of your leadership team.
If you’ve been in the workforce long enough, I’m almost positive you have had this happen to you at one point or another. Work product theft can take shape in many forms, such as: you share an idea with a co-worker and then hear them repeat it as their own idea in a meeting you’re part of; or you alone stay late to finish a project and your team members accept undue credit. Probably the worst offense is when you see a lengthy project to its completion and your supervisor takes all of the credit with the higher-ups. Unfortunately the above examples have a negative impact on the company’s employees; they become devalued and under-appreciated. Once employees feel under-appreciated, their morale goes down and it can spread rapidly amongst a team.
“We want to believe that our work speaks for itself. But ‘in the real world, it matters who gets credit,’ says Karen Dillon, author of the HBR Guide to Office Politics. ‘That all goes into the bank account of how much value you bring to the organization and plays into promotion decisions, raises, and assignments.
‘And you can’t assume that people will notice the time and effort you put in,’ says Brian Uzzi, professor of leadership and organizational change at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management and author of the HBR article, Make Your Enemies Your Allies. ‘With collaborative work, it’s not always clear who has done what,’ he says, which leaves the door open for a colleague to take undue credit.”
So how should one handle these types of workplace situations? Is it okay to speak up as soon as you are aware of what’s occurring? Do you not say anything at all because you fear your supervisor? Lastly, how can you make sure that you get the credit for your hard work?
If you have a supervisor or manager who consistently gives you credit for your work, you are in an enviable position and you can rest easy knowing you have a true leader who values you and your contribution. If you report to a supervisor or manager who takes credit for your work, or has you and others do their work for them and then takes credit, you are working for the worst kind of leader possible because they only care about themselves and self-promotion to their leaders.
Here are some ideas of what to do when someone tries to claim your work or ideas as their own:
- Try to avoid getting angry; if you’re angry, allow yourself time to calm down and assess the situation as it may just be an honest mistake or oversight. Then have a professional discussion with the person in question.
- Be very clear about your contributions with your supervisor and your teammates, whenever you get an opportunity, to make sure you get the credit you deserve.
- Ask coworkers to give you the deserved credit on your contributions when your idea on a project comes up in conversation or a meeting with your chain of command.
- Remember that standing up for the work you’ve done is not grandstanding, but being obnoxious about it is. Try to make sure people know what you contribute, without seeming like all you care about is the limelight. Here are some suggestions of what not to do when someone tries to claim your work or ideas as their own:
- Don’t act like the spoiled child who needs to get credit for every little thing you do. If your supervisor and co-workers learn to be fair, you’ll get your due credit.
- Avoid presuming that the person had malicious intentions. If it is a consistent issue, look at the “Do list” and have a professional discussion with the person in question or escalate to someone higher in your chain of command.
- Avoid being accusatory as that causes people to be defensive and puts them in a state of denial. Take the time to ask the person questions to see what their intent truly was.
Obviously dealing with this type of situation may be difficult, but respectfully calling them out puts the person, or leader, on notice that you are fully cognizant of their actions and it also makes it clear to everyone that you won’t tolerate that type of behavior in the future. Conversely, not dealing with it gives free reign for the co-worker to continue their unethical behavior. What you allow will continue, so to speak, which in the worst-case scenario could end up sabotaging your career. So no matter how hard you may imagine the initial conversation to be, you need to stand up for what is ethically right and protect your work and your ideas.