Office Etiquette: What Do I Do When a Coworker (or Boss) Takes Credit for My Idea?
Work + Life Balance

Office Etiquette: What Do I Do When a Coworker (or Boss) Takes Credit for My Idea?

by Christine Jacobson
Photos Joe Kathrina | November 03, 2015

IN TODAY’S FAST-PACED WORKPLACE, THE LINE BETWEEN COLLABORATION AND PLAGIARISM CAN BLUR. HOW DO YOU ENSURE THAT YOU GET ACKNOWLEDGED FOR YOUR WORK?

The professional culture of today places a lot of emphasis on teamwork, and that’s generally a really good thing. After all, great ideas can come from anywhere! But what happens when someone you work with takes credit for your thoughts?

WHEN IT’S YOUR COWORKER 

First and foremost, remember that this behavior isn’t always intentional or malicious. Creativity is contagious, and sometimes people don’t even realize they’re taking undue credit. {Click to Tweet}

That said, when it’s your hard work that yielded a great idea, you have every right to stake your ownership. Start by clearly documenting the incident. Then approach your coworker and firmly but politely let them know that you noticed it happened, and want to ensure there isn’t any confusion about where the idea came from. 

Most often, they’ll appreciate your honesty and take steps to correct their mistake. 

First and foremost, remember that this behavior isn’t always intentional or malicious. Creativity is contagious, and sometimes people don’t even realize they’re taking undue credit. 

WHEN IT’S YOUR BOSS 

Sometimes your manager or department head is the one taking credit for your work. This could be overt (say, presenting the idea to leadership with a statement like “I was thinking we could do this”) or subtle.  

Either way, though, it’s important to remember that good leaders credit their employees for hard work in order to encourage and foster individual growth, as well as innovation across the organization. 

If you have a manager who consistently takes credit for your work, it’s a good idea for you to take a few key steps to curb the problem. First, be sure to specifically document the times this has happened. Then, have a conversation with them to explain your point of view. State calmly and clearly that you are concerned that your idea has not been credited to your name within the organization. 

More than likely, your boss wasn’t aware of this behavior and will appreciate your honesty. However, if they have an aggressive or unpleasant reaction, you may consider speaking to someone in senior management or HR about the pattern of behavior. 

KEEP IT FROM HAPPENING AGAIN

While you can never completely prevent coworkers and bosses from taking credit for your work, there are a few simple steps you can take to minimize it in the future.

  • Discuss and document expectations for roles and responsibilities before starting a project. 
  • When appropriate, share your ideas with a larger team (not just to one individual). 
  • Ask for the opportunity to present your work, so that you retain control of how it’s shared. 

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In our Office Etiquette series, we're answering common questions about workplace behavior. Do you have one you'd like answered in a future column? Add it to our comments section below.