A top complaint among employees is that employers simply don’t recognize their contributions. When a supervisor doesn’t acknowledge the hard work an employee has put in, it makes that employee feel as if all of that work is for nothing. This is especially true when a boss takes a team member’s idea and pitches it as his or her own. Over time, businesses that have supervisors who do this sort of thing usually end up seeing higher turnover and lower morale.
It's easy to feel frustrated if you deliver an outstanding recommendation, only to have your boss repeat it at the next big meeting as though it was their original creation. Especially if clients, board members, or coworkers compliment your boss, you’ll likely find yourself biting your tongue, fearing that if you speak up, your job will be at risk. However, there are a few things you can do if your boss has taken credit for your ideas or hard work.
As upsetting as this behavior can be, it’s important to check your emotions and consider if it’s really an issue. Don't make the wrong move, let your ego get in the way and insult your boss somehow, which could put your job at risk. It's entirely possible your boss could be concerned about his or her place in the company and is just grabbing ideas in a desperate effort to appear relevant.
Try a different way of looking at the situation. Your leader’s theft may actually be the recognition you’re seeking. In many companies, the fact that you work under a supervisor means he or she is responsible for (and can take credit for) your helpful ideas. Also, the fact that your ideas are worth stealing is a compliment and if you can see it that way, you may be able to eventually grow comfortable with it.
Related: How To Be An Ethical Leader
2. Have witnesses.
Let's say that these instances of "idea theft" have happened more than once and you feel they are hampering your ability to advance in your career. If it's becoming an ongoing issue, it might be time to shift your approach. Make sure the rest of the team can see what's happening. If they have no idea what your boss is doing, wait to offer ideas or talk about the work you’re doing until members of the team are present. Make sure your coworkers and colleagues witness your idea pitches and hard work so that they can vouch for you if it comes down to your word versus your boss’s. Ideally, these witnesses will be able to serve as references if you need to move to a new job.
If you're realizing that your boss plans to take credit for your work, you may feel it's important to start creating a paper trail in the event you need to demonstrate that you were the origin of the ideas. Work via email as often as you can and even save copies of those emails. You can also make note on your calendar on those dates when you passed ideas or completed work on certain projects. If your boss someday leaves or you move to a new job, you’ll have that documentation to support your claims that you were behind those successful endeavors, should you be questioned or challenged.
4. Discuss it.
Before you start looking for another job, consider approaching your boss to express your concerns, especially if the theft has occurred more than once. Taking credit for your work may never have been their intention and once you mention that it bothers you, you may find that your boss gives you full (or at least partial) credit moving forward. Make sure you give your boss the benefit of the doubt at first, using wording that makes it clear your superior may not be aware of the theft at all. Keep emotion at bay and use productive, professional language that mentions the work you put into the project or idea and how you would prefer to be recognized for that.
Watching your boss take credit for your work can be difficult, especially if it keeps happening and it's hurting your career. Keep calm, carefully consider your approach and take measures to document things in case you someday might need to prove the work was yours.