By Kathleen Furore
I recently read about a survey from BambooHR that asked employees what they consider unacceptable boss behaviors. I was surprised that it wasn’t something like “my boss overloads me with work” or “my boss constantly criticizes what I do.”
Instead, 63 percent of respondents said “taking credit for their work” is the worst behavior a boss can have. In fact, many respondents said they would consider quitting if that happened to them. So that made me wonder: What is the best way for an employee to handle a situation in which your boss is taking credit for your work?
First things first, says Denise Riebman, a career development specialist at CareerHappinessCoaching.com, “When a boss takes credit, the first thing an employee needs to do is to take a step back, breathe and reflect. In most cases, an initial ‘in the moment’ reaction will likely not be the best response, as these situations can trigger feelings of competency, control and contribution threats,” Riebman says.
“This relates to our biological wiring for survival – but as we no longer live in fear of being eat by a saber tooth tiger, we need to not equate our boss as that tiger ready to destroy us! When we feel threatened at work, by pausing, we will be able to respond in a way that is more measured, objective and appropriate.”
That doesn’t mean the best approach is to just sit back and do nothing. To figure out how far to take it, Riebman says to determine if it is a one-time situation or a habit.
“If it’s a singular occurrence, is there a surrounding circumstance that could have caused the boss to take credit?” Riebman says. Maybe the boss didn’t fully know what the employee had done or was rushed and misspoke.
“Depending on the circumstances, is this one-time situation worth the cost to speak up?”
If it’s an ongoing behavior, try to figure out if there is a pattern for when this happens, then pick an optimal time to speak with your boss. “What are your boss’s triggers/insecurity points so you can address the problem without escalating it to a point of contention?” Riebman says. “In either situation, does your boss need to rectify this error publicly? If so, what would be the optimal way to have this happen that allows them to maintain their leadership and you to get credit?”
Laura Handrick, careers and workplace analyst at FitSmallBusiness.com, believes there are a few ways to tackle the problem. One of the most important things is to make sure you document your accomplishments so there is no doubt about who should get credit.
“The best way to keep track of your own work accomplishments is to document what you did and date everything. You can use this information during your performance review to remind your manager of your major project achievements so you receive credit from them when it matters – during your annual review or when asking for a raise or promotion,” Handrick stresses. “Your manager may not give you public credit at the time – for selfish reasons, political brownie points, or because they are absent-minded – but nonetheless, you need to keep track of every initiative you’ve accomplished.”
That’s not only a good way to avoid someone else taking credit for your work, but also a way to make sure your accomplishments are known if your boss leaves the organization.
“You’ll have documentation to share with their boss or your new manager on the great work you did,” Handrick notes.
Of course there are also lighter ways to deal with the issue.
One is to “just smile and let it go,” Handrick says.
“Your number one job in any organization is to contribute to the organization’s bottom line and to support its goals. For that, you are paid a wage and often receive benefits. There’s nothing in your job description that states that you’ll receive accolades for the good work you do,” Handrick says.
“Of course, a good manager will give you credit and make a point of acknowledging major contributions. But even good managers may take credit for work done by their team saying: ‘I did this or that,’ when they meant to say or should have said, ‘My team accomplished this or that.’ ”
The other option: “Joke about it,” Handrick says. “If you dare bring up the fact publicly that your manager took credit for your work, you risk being seen as a whiner, while your manager will be embarrassed, and likely angry too. What good is that to you? Therefore, the only real way to make a public statement – and I advise you tread lightly here – is to joke about it.
That obviously depends a great deal on your relationship with your boss and his or her overall personality; but it’s an option if it is in your comfort zone.
“For example, let’s say you made a major sale that your manager claimed as his own in a team meeting,” Handrick says. “You might chime in and say, ‘Surely you meant to say ‘we,’ not I?’ with a big grin.”
Ultimately, it’s important to step back to get the bigger picture before acting. “By remembering that your boss is not a saber tooth tiger, but rather a person living the same ‘work tribe,’ “ Riebman says, “employees can determine when and how to speak up in a way that contributes to long-term career happiness.”
Kathleen Furore is a Chicago-based writer and editor who has covered personal finance and other business-related topics for a variety of trade and consumer publications. You can email her your career questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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