You suggested an alternative solution to a tough problem, you stayed late to get it finished, or you took a risk against the cultural current and it was a big hit.
Then, your boss takes credit for your hard work.
If you’ve been in the workforce for a while you’ve probably encountered a time when your boss took credit for something that you worked very hard to accomplish. If you are a boss, this could be about you.
Right upfront, the easiest rebuttal to any of this is that it is all about teamwork.
Yes, teamwork is absolutely important and yes in many cases we don’t accomplish much without the team, and yes you should care and always be sure to embrace all of the concepts associated with teamwork.
Still, we all have some individual needs and motivators and as such let’s save teamwork for another, different conversation.
Boss Takes Credit
There are probably many reasons why your boss takes credit for your work but let’s look at three of the most common.
- Your boss is oblivious. While it might sometimes seem hard to believe, your boss might not know any better. If they have gained their experience in an environment where this was a normal practice they might not see it any other way. It is how things work when you become the boss.
- Your boss is insecure. We all know that not every supervisor is a good leader and those who are in a formal leadership role but lack the experience and appropriate skills might be a little insecure. If you have a strong presence, exceptional levels of previous experience, or perhaps a stronger educational background your boss might feel a little insecure.
- Your work is their work. It is not uncommon for the manager of a department to take credit for work performed by the team. Some believe that any work you do is a work for hire and since they hired you they own all of your output. Certainly, in some professional fields, this might be legally valid, but from an employee morale standpoint, it can have costly consequences.
From my experience, all of this is most common with those who have recently moved to a supervisory status, but at the same time, there are still plenty of long-term supervisors who believe this is the way to lead.
By today’s standards, this is certainly not leadership, this is can be very demotivating, disrespectful, and sometimes even demoralizing.
What to Do
If you are the boss, step back, regroup and start praising the efforts of your team. Build your team up, error on the side of giving them more credit while you take less.
What if you are the direct report?
You can (and should) keep working hard while looking for ways to become more visible.
If you believe your boss is oblivious or insecure you can probably invite some constructive conversation that might help. Especially compelling is if you can discuss an example of another employee, not yourself, and in that way, it doesn’t come across as self-rewarding.
“I think Jack felt a little left out when everyone praised you for the work on that project. I’m wondering if there is a way to highlight his contributions.”
“I’m not sure but I got the impression that Jill was expecting some kudos for bringing in that large client. I wish we could do something to highlight her effort, it wouldn’t have happened without her work.”
What about the concept of your work, is their work? This might be the hardest to navigate since by its very nature it might imply that they get it, but they don’t care, after all, you work for them.
It always depends, but I believe in high road approaches. Try being the role model for the best behavior by highlighting examples of work well-done by your peers. You don’t have to be the boss to set the best example.
Loving Your Job
Having your job is great, being a team player is better yet; but having your job, being a team player, and feeling exceptionally motivated and inspired about your work is probably the best of all.
In the best organizational cultures, the boss takes less credit and gives more.
Originally posted on December 5, 2016, last updated on August 13, 2020.
Dennis E. Gilbert is a business consultant, speaker (CSPTM), and culture expert. He is a five-time author and the founder of Appreciative Strategies, LLC. His business focuses on positive human performance improvement solutions through Appreciative Strategies®. Reach him through his website at Dennis-Gilbert.com or by calling +1 646.546.5553.