How to deal with a boss who takes credit for your work

How to deal with a boss who takes credit for your work

In today’s increasingly demanding business environment, the precedent to perform has never been higher. With this intense pressure to succeed hanging over the head of every manager, it’s no surprise that sometimes bosses are tempted to take credit for the performance of others. During my tenure as a financial analyst in the San Diego biotech industry, I have seen this happen firsthand, as sometimes bosses will claim the scientific discoveries of their employees as their own. Should a boss ever try to take credit for your work, there are a few different approaches you can take, and the course of action you choose will depend on the character of your boss.  I’ll describe what to do and what not to do when a superior attempts to steal the spotlight. Then, I’ll detail how to handle the same situation with a more agreeable boss or executive officer. I’ll conclude with some precautions all business professionals should take to avoid having their work stolen.

Dealing with the Consistent Credit Thief

Throughout your career in an office environment, it’s inevitable that you’ll encounter difficult managers, but just because a manager is unreasonable or easily upset, does not mean that you should yield to their every demand to avoid being fired.  If a bad manager steals your work, the absolute worst response is to say nothing and act as if the discovery or accomplishment was their own. Doing this will not only cement your place as a “pushover,” but it will also encourage that same boss (and perhaps other people) to take credit for your work in the future, stifling the possibility for career advancement and recognition. While saying nothing is tantamount to career suicide, directly confronting the boss might be a poor decision, as their bad temperament and selfish personality traits could lead to them dismissing you in order to protect their own interests.

Instead of direct confrontation, try sending them an email describing your concerns about their credit stealing, detailing the exact situation and circumstances surrounding the discovery or accomplishment, and be sure to CC witnesses of the discovery and the bosses’ immediate superiors. Including witnesses and superiors on the email will protect you from wrongful termination by accurately documenting the situation and exposing the manager’s unethical behavior. Be sure to not be blatantly rude or to use an overly accusatory tone in the email, as doing so will sabotage your credibility and lead others to believe you are either jealous of the accused’s accomplishments and attempting to take credit for yourself, or that you are not very mature.

Managing the Likeable Spotlight Stealer

On the flipside, sometimes very likeable and reasonable managers end up taking credit for their employees’ accomplishments. While it happens less often, it’s not unheard of and these types of managers are usually subtler about the way they take credit. Unlike a truly terrible boss, perhaps they won’t claim to have independently discovered the gene pathway or singlehandedly brought in a large client, but they could downplay your contribution or misrepresent what actually happened to paint themselves in a better light. I have seen this frequently in the biotech industry, as managers sometimes tell a completely different story about who ran the experiments, and who created the specific essay that lead to a major discovery after the discovery has already taken place.

In these situations, it can be difficult to prove exactly who did what unless there is careful documentation of each individual’s responsibilities prior to the research. In such a situation, I recommend directly confronting the manager either via email or in person in order to try to make sure it wasn’t just a misunderstanding or miscommunication that lead them to take credit for your work, before going over their heads.  If the manager is reasonable and does not have a track record for stealing credit, they will likely receive your confrontation positively and either admit there was a miscommunication and make that known to their superiors, or double down and assert that they were correct for arguing they did most of the work. If the latter happens, it’s best to use the same strategy discussed in the previous paragraph, politely but forcefully emailing the boss and including witnesses and higher-ups on the email, as it is the only course of action that will expose the boss’s wrongdoings to higher ups and protect you from wrongful termination.

Prepare and Prevent

In order to hopefully avoid this touchy situation completely, it’s essential to document your work responsibilities to peers and superiors prior to any project. By carefully assigning responsibilities and deliverables to all the parties involved and documenting these responsibilities in writing before any work has been done on the project, a greedy manager will be unable to claim credit for things that were not under their jurisdiction. There will be clear documentation as to who was supposed to do what. In the case of a very important discovery or breakthrough moment that could be the subject of future debate or speculation, it is crucial to record the exact time and date, list all of the people involved and their role in the discovery, and provide a clear video record of exactly what happened. This evidence can be used later to definitively prove who is deserving of the credit if any disagreements arise.

The only surefire way to avoid a boss stealing credit is to ensure that all of the people involved in the project are on the same page about who is responsible for what, as disagreements between team members could eventually lead to bitter confrontations and in a worst case scenario, costly legal battles.


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