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How to Deal With Credit Thieves in the Workplace

What do you do when someone else takes credit for your work? It’s a common problem—one often exaggerated and made light of in sitcoms—and yet, in the real world, it can lead to some pretty serious career damage if not handled properly.

The situation is ugly and unfair, and it usually goes something like this: You get the blame when things go wrong and they get the credit when things go right. Whether it’s coming from a co-worker or superior, the behavior is completely unethical.

Sure, you could ignore it. But that’s not really fixing the problem. You deserve better. Ignoring this kind of thing is equivalent to giving in to a bully. You’re letting others walk all over you. More importantly, you’re not getting the recognition you’ve rightfully earned. When others steal the credit for your hard work, they’re building a false reputation for themselves and corrupting your professional image at the same time.

Don’t stand idly by watching this happen. The tips below will help you take control of the situation.

1. Address it with the person.

Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they don’t realize what they’re doing. Maybe it’s an honest mistake. New managers, in particular, are especially forgetful when it comes to acknowledging the efforts of their team members. They’re typically not trying to be underhanded; they just lack awareness. A simple reminder can go a long way in these circumstances.

Yes, this conversation can be uncomfortable. But an assertive, straightforward discussion shows that you’re not oblivious to what’s going on and you’re not going to just roll over. If they know you’re watching, it’s much more difficult to behave this way.  And, if the behavior continues, you then know it’s conscious and intentional.

2. Focus on self-promotion.

If you don’t promote yourself, no one else is going to do it for you. Be vocal about your work. Stand up for yourself and your ideas. Tell others what you’re working on and how it’s going. If you’re loud about it, no one can steal it. The people who get walked on are those who stay hidden in the shadows.

3. Go over or around.

If the situation gets serious, you have to protect yourself. Go over the person or around them to make sure the appropriate people know what’s going on. Consider getting HR involved if necessary. Be sure to document the situation and provide proof of your work so it’s not just a “he said, she said” kind of thing.

A lot of people feel very self-conscious about involving others in workplace disputes. But stealing work is a highly sensitive situation. It’s an issue of ethics. If this person is willing to do this to get ahead, what else are they doing? In all likelihood, they’re not just hurting you; they’re hurting the business. Maintain your professionalism but, at some point, you just can’t fight the bully on your own.

4. Share the credit.

Look, if you don’t want others taking credit for your work, don’t do it to them. Share the credit when others help you. Acknowledge the work of your teammates. Don’t be afraid to share the spotlight when things go right and be willing to accept the blame when you make a mistake. Your actions influence the actions of those around you. Demonstrate the same professional respect you want to receive.

Photo Credit: Marcel Oosterwijk (Flickr)

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2 Responses to “How to Deal With Credit Thieves in the Workplace”

  1. I’m amazed, I have to admit. Rarely do I come across a blog that’s both equally educative and amusing, and without a doubt, you have hit the nail on the head. The problem is something that not enough folks are speaking intelligently about. I am very happy I stumbled across this during my search for something concerning this.

  2. Daniel says:

    I am a software developer at a small company, and I used to wear quite a few different hats. A credit thief radically altered my career trajectory with this company, and I have no idea if I will ever recover. Once upon a time, I met with management and either took their requirements or pitched ideas for new projects, then implemented them. This got me a bit of notoriety and things were looking good for me.

    One such manager had a habit of providing extremely vague requirements, which was great for me because it gave me creative license to do my thing. So I produce for him a new, fully automated scheduling system that took us from 10% on-time delivery to an 82% average. Later, while the two of us were being interviewed for inclusion in a much larger, corporate ERP project, I got a taste for how this was all being portrayed. They complimented several of my ideas, and he piped up and said, “That’s why I told him to do it!” I wasn’t having it, so I told him, “Pseudonym, you never told me to do that. I did that on my own, and you received what you received.” He never missed a beat, replying with, “Well, we were thinking the same thing then!”

    Flash forward a few weeks, and he became my boss’s boss. I was no longer allowed to meet with management. That was his job. All requests were filtered through him, and over the next two years I caught him stealing credit for my ideas many, many, many times. Until at one point, one of my projects finally drew scrutiny–not because of the project itself, but because of a technicality in the way I developed it. Political, really. I did not find out for some time, but he had secretly gone to HR and filed a verbal warning I never received, with trumped up nonsense about company security and such. The offense? I began designing the UI outside of our source control system while I was waiting for approval to check out the project file. Yes, that’s right… it wasn’t even source code. I just started to draw up a UI design.

    Myself and my coworkers started a campaign against him at that point which finally resulted in him being removed as head of our department. Not long after, he quit. But the damage was done. Many of the old managers were gone by that point–not many who remembered me meeting with management and the like. Just people who remembered Mr. Pseudonym talking about all the wonderful things he made his secret, locked up programmer create.

    Eventually, that reputation got him rehired, but thankfully not as our boss. Several people in our department threatened to quit if he was put in charge. I hear that most of his other former employees in other departments also had strong words about it. At any rate, he started off with the same dog and pony show and super vague requests, so I merely played the role he had cast me in. Details, pseudonym, details! Where do you want this? How should this work? Etc. No answer? No product! Oh, I’m not responsive? Here, let me forward these 50 emails of me asking you questions that you couldn’t answer. He lasted exactly one year.

    I am still fighting to reclaim my ability to meet independently with management and produce great solutions for them. It is not easy. A couple have let me, and those projects have thankfully received a lot of attention from corporate and divisions around the globe. But it is and has been a long and traumatic experience. Don’t let these assholes push you around. If you catch them once, chances are they have done it a hundred times when you were not in earshot. Nip it in the bud! These people thrive on benefit of the doubt. Do not give it to them!

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