Stealing Credit

While many office workers steal paperclips, post-it-notes and pens, there is another breed of office thief making the rounds. He’s not after the supplies – he wants the credit.

A credit grabber manages to appear as if he is the center of a project, the vital link and the essential go-to person — when he’s anything but. This person is adept at taking credit for others’ work, underplaying their contributions and appearing to be more important than is the case.

Credit grabbers steal ideas and represent them as their own. They can be bosses or co-workers. They are ambitious and make a point of being “seen” at all the right events, with all the right people. They drop names with ease.

Coping with credit-grabbing staff, colleagues or superiors is difficult. They have a knack of making any discussion about their “grabby” behaviours appear trivial, especially on the part of the theft victim. Indeed, telling someone, “You stole my idea and represented it as your own,” can sound like sour grapes.

But credit grabbers hurt morale and increase stress. They make work less enjoyable and breed protectionism and suspicion. Their behaviour makes others hide their work, refuse to collaborate or even give up. While the credit grabber boosts his or her own career, he saps the organization of its strength.

So what can you do if you work with this kind of person?

1. Analyze The Situation and Yourself

When you are the “victim” of a credit thief, it is important to take stock of the situation and analyze the behaviours you are witnessing and experiencing. Does the credit grabber steal your idea or work, put their name on your efforts or claim your successes as their own? Or is the behaviour more subtle? Do you notice that you are not named when it comes to acknowledging effort, or that the acknowledgement is made in an offhand way? Or, does your contribution and role in the team effort get gradually usurped as the credit grabber maneuvers into a prominent position in others’ minds?

It’s also important to notice how the credit grabber works with other people. You may observe a common approach to team work on this person’s part. If you notice that others may be experiencing similar behaviours, it may help to enquire about the grabber’s previous role on group efforts. Has this individual gained a reputation for this type of behaviour? Other “victims” may signal that they are unimpressed and are ready to provide you with moral support.

The reason for analyzing the credit thief’s behaviour is to understand in what contexts he or she tends to practice the habits the most. This helps you establish a game plan that will reduce the behaviour.

At the same time, consider what’s motivating this person. Generally, such individuals are trying to further their careers, create a positive reputation for themselves or coast at work. If the reason is ambition, this can have an impact on how you approach the person. If it’s laziness, you may need another approach.

Lastly, think about your own views on getting credit. Do you believe it is important to be a team player–all-for-one-and-one-for-all? What happens to that belief if you find that others don’t play by the same rules? Are you prepared to maintain your values about team work and act to ensure that fair play is a part of the team’s conduct? Or, along with being a team player, do you believe that speaking up about this kind of issue makes you appear “grabby” yourself?

2. Create Your Game Plan

One you’ve identified the type of behaviour that bothers you the most and you have grappled with your own reactions to it (you may be tempted to hoard information, withdraw from the situation or bad mouth the grabber behind her back), it is time to design a game plan. Begin by deciding to maintain your ground. This is important: Believing that your contributions are worth recognition will help you get that recognition when appropriate.

Talk to your supervisor about the issue (if the supervisor is not the problem). Tell him or her that you are concerned that some of your efforts have gone unnoticed and even attributed to another person. Say that you’ve decided to talk to your co-worker about the issue and you will report back about your success with the conversation.

Next, talk to the grabber. You can start the process by telling the individual that you notice that giving credit on this team is hard. People seem to take credit well, but it’s not shared effectively, you could say. Tell your co-worker that this has happened to you and mention an incident—“I worked really late on the last project to get it in on the deadline and when our supervisor said that it was a good job and on time, you quickly said, “Thanks” without acknowledging me.”

Then, mention how you’d like the behaviour to change—“I’d like it if you would tell the supervisor about how the report ended up on her desk on time, that I had worked overtime to get it done. I can then acknowledge how you were important to the professional presentation of the material”.

Recognize that you may need to have this conversation more than once. Return to your supervisor with a report on what you said along with the individual’s reaction. Mention that you will continue to monitor the situation.

If the credit grabber is a supervisor, you can alert the boss to the problem as outlined above. You may need to be prepared to go over the supervisor’s head if you have to. However, before taking this route, try to accompany your supervisor to meetings where projects you’ve worked on are being presented or implemented. In some situations, it helps to ask the supervisor to discuss the issue with his or her colleague or superior present. If you are unable to eventually be credited appropriately, consider moving on.

Credit thieves deplete an organization of its creativity, resourcefulness and morale while discouraging team work. Dealing with them is important for your career and well-being and for the organization’s success.

Dr. Jennifer Newman and Dr. Darryl Grigg are registered psychologists and directors of Newman & Grigg Psychological and Consulting Services Ltd., a Vancouver-based corporate training and development partnership. They can be contacted at sunmail@newmangrigg.com

Identifying information in cases cited has been changed to protect confidentiality.

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