Dear Lifehacker, My boss loves to take credit for my ideas and my work. I recently wrote a published article, and he insisted that he be included as an author, even though he had nothing to do with the work I did and didn't even see it until it was ready to publish. What should I do? How can I make sure he doesn't take credit for my work after it's finished, or claim my ideas were his before we even start?
Sincerely, Cyrano de Bergerac
Photo by Anton Prado PHOTO (Shutterstock).
It's natural for managers to want to share in the glory when a team member has a great idea or does something wonderful, but it's definitely inappropriate for them to actually claim your ideas or hard work as their own unless they contributed something to the effort. You don't have to put up with it, and here are a few ways to approach the situation that should get you the credit you deserve or make sure it doesn't happen again.
Make Sure This Isn't A Misunderstanding
Before you get angry that your boss is pitching your ideas to management or "forgetting" to mention you when praise is handed out, make sure it's not a genuine mistake or that your boss doesn't have a legitimate claim. In research institutions, the researcher who directs the lab has the right to be named on a paper because they contributed the resources and supervision for the work that led to the paper. Similarly, your boss could pitch your ideas to upper management on your behalf, working to get them approved so you can take the reins and wow them with your work, or they could soak up praise in order to pass it along to you in the form of a bonus or promotion. You'll know pretty quickly if this is the case or your boss is purposefully slighting you, but if it's once or twice, remember Hanlon's Razor — it may not be malice, just ineptitude. Photo by Wth (Shutterstock).
If you do think that your boss is regularly stealing your ideas and credit for the work you're doing, make sure you take the time to document those ideas so it's clear you're the one behind the scenes. Keep a work diary where you log those ideas, achievements and mistakes. Make sure to attach your name to your ideas and to your projects, so no one ever doubts that you're the person behind that big initiative or the go-to person if anyone has questions about it. Don't be afraid to take ownership of it and talk it up to your coworkers and peers. Say things like "When I came up with this idea, I thought we'd implement it like this..." or "I always figured we would set it up this way..." Photo by Ramunas Geciauskas.
Remember, your boss will probably make you do the work anyway, which puts you in a position of strength. Since you'll actually do the work, your boss will have to defer to you for status updates, reports and other documents you can put your name to.
Work In a Team or Work Around Your Boss
The best way to establish that an idea is yours is to make sure everything knows it, and the best way to make sure everyone knows it is to take your work to your team. Save your pitches for team meetings where everyone can see you're the one with the idea. Work on your projects in teams — your boss will be less likely to take credit if there's a group of people who worked hard on the job instead of one person. Take a leadership role and work directly with your peers. Don't be afraid to let them know how you think your idea should pan out. Even volunteer to report on your project's progress to your boss's management — then you'll have the opportunity to make it clear that you're the brains of the outfit. Also, avoid sharing your ideas and your projects with your boss one-on-one if you can. Photo by marco antonio torres.
Be careful with this approach though — if you press too hard, you risk alienating your boss, and that's never a good thing, even if you're unhappy with them. In the same vein, avoid going right to your boss's boss to take credit unless you're specifically asked (in which case you should definitely take credit). You want to come off as a team player who's willing to help and share credit — because if your boss has taken credit for your idea or your work, that's really the best you can hope for at this point.
Talk to Your Boss
If you have a good relationship with your boss and this is the only thing that stands out, it's worth bringing it up with them. Let them know you feel that they're taking credit for your hard work in the eyes of people who can help your career advance, and let him or her know that while you know they appreciate your hard work, you want the rest of the organisation to as well. Ideally, your boss shouldn't be the competition that your peers are. If your peers steal your ideas, you have a problem, but if your boss does, they may do so to make the department look good, and then reward you another way, like a bonus, raise or promotion — something you wouldn't know about right away. Your manager shouldn't need to compete with you. If they do, and if it's systemic, sometimes just letting them know that you're aware they're doing it and it makes you uncomfortable is enough to make them stop. Photo by Serp (Shutterstock).
Let It Go
Sometimes you just need to chalk it up to experience and move on. You may not be able to get your due, but there will always be more work to do and you'll have more brilliant ideas. Take time to brainstorm them and come up with new ones for the next big project, and then document them. After all, ideas aren't worth very much if you keep them to yourself, and when they're implemented, they can result in shared benefit for you, your boss and your whole team. Sure, sometimes you may not get to stand in the limelight — and that can be OK sometimes, as long as it's not always. Photo by SophieSchieli.
Part of any employee's job is to protect his or her manager when the time is right and make them look good so the department looks good. It may reflect poorly on all of you if your boss's name is conspicuously left off your paper. You won't be successful at either of those things if you're distracted by a competition with your manager or looking out for yourself alone. We're not saying you shouldn't get credit for your work, but pick your battles wisely.
If the problem is systemic and your career is suffering from it, it might be time to look for a new job. Most of us don't have the luxury to just quit and find a new job every time our boss does something annoying, but if your manager takes credit for everyone's ideas and doesn't share the spotlight with his or her team at all, they're probably not keen on promoting you or letting you become their peer. If your boss really didn't contribute anything to the paper, for example, and he or she didn't see it at all until it was ready to publish, make your case. If your boss still still insists on credit, or doesn't have a good reason for the request, it might be time to walk and find a manager that respects you and your ideas. Your work is your own, and good managers will let you represent your work, not just stand behind them.
PS Any additional tips for Cyrano? Any other ways he can make sure he gets credit for his work, or is it a lost cause? Whatever you think, share your tips in the comments below.
Got your own question you want to put to Lifehacker? Send it using our contact tab on the right.