I work for a major advertising agency but a couple of days ago I overheard my co-worker taking credit for a presentation I worked all night on, and accepting praise for winning an account I spent months cultivating. I don’t know if she’s deceptive or just oblivious, but either way she’s hogging the limelight for work I did. How do I tackle this issue?
PB, Abu Dhabi
Organisations today tend to strive for collaboration and teamwork where it is not always evident who has done what, and it can be exasperating when co-workers try to take credit for your ideas and hard work. However much we want our work to speak for itself and to believe that credit will be given where it is due, the reality all too often is that this is not the case. The work we are known for plays an important part in creating an overall picture of the worth we bring to the organisation, impacting future assignments and promotion decisions.
Some people want reward without having to lift a finger, happily using others' hard work to claim the credit for themselves. This is no less true for Bob Kane, creator of Batman. If it wasn't for the creative genius of Bill Finger, who produced the backstory for the comic superhero, the character would have never been successful. Unfortunately, Kane not only stole the credit and became a multimillionaire, but also refused to pay Finger any money – leaving him so poor that he did not even have a proper funeral. In 1989, 15 years after Finger's death, Kane eventually acknowledged his contributions. It wasn't until 2014 that Finger's name appeared in the 75th anniversary reissue of the first Batman edition and in 2015 he was finally credited on the Batman vs Superman movie.
Let’s look at how you may tackle your issue. As you accurately say, you are not sure where she is coming from – is she being deceptive or oblivious? There is a possibility that her behaviour is unintentional, so as infuriating as it can be, it is important to remain calm and not act on an emotional high where you are less able to make your point professionally. Consider the situation and ask questions to help you better understand what is going on. Instead of making accusations, frame your claim as a question. For instance, you may mention that you happened to hear her conversation, and was curious to know why she presented it in the way she did?
This will give your colleague the chance to recognise what she has done, and it forces her to provide a rationale for taking undue credit. Furthermore, it helps you set boundaries by addressing what has taken place. The message you want to get across is that you noticed what she did and that you do not think it was appropriate.
Best case scenario will see your colleague admitting her mistake, after which you can discuss how to rectify the situation. In the event of her not doing this, you are still able to take action by yourself. Be the advocate of your own efforts and involvement by speaking up in meetings or sharing your contributions that are appropriately linked to discussions via channels such as email and informal office communications. You can also ask other colleagues to share your contributions in meetings or conversations you are not part of.
When working on collaborative projects in the future, agree upfront how credit will be allocated whilst remaining flexible for proportionate contribution changes. You also want to be seen to model good credit sharing by intentionally giving recognition to those who deserve it.
On a related note, it is worth mentioning that leaders who take credit for their employees’ work lose the engagement of their best people and eventually find it difficult to retain talent. Similarly, leaders who take all the praise when things go well and avoid taking any blame when things go wrong, quickly get a reputation that inevitably derail their own careers.
Although you don’t need to get credit for every single thing you do, it is important to take steps to ensure that your valuable contributions are known to not only your colleagues, but also to those you report to. Be clear about who did what, and enlist the help of others to support you as and when needed.