How To Deal With Co-Workers Getting Credit for Your Work

Shot of a group of business colleagues meeting in an office.
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Picture this. You’re sitting in a staff meeting and a recent project you worked hard on comes up. Your chest swells with pride, but before you realize what’s happening, your co-worker is basking in the warm praise of your superior and your contributions haven’t been acknowledged at all.

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You’re so stunned that you say nothing as the meeting concludes, but now you’re left wondering: Was your co-worker intentionally taking credit for your work, or was it an unintentional mistake? 

Before making a snap judgment, it’s important to assess the situation carefully. Then, you’ll need to deal with the co-worker who took credit for your work. Here’s how to handle the situation gracefully and professionally.

Make Sure You Haven’t Misunderstood

Anjela Mangrum, founder and president of Mangrum Career Solutions and a certified personnel consultant, said you can save yourself a lot of potential awkwardness and embarrassment if you simply step back and analyze whether you have a solid reason to believe that your co-worker intentionally took credit for your work before taking action. 

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“From my observation, it’s common for people on the same team to talk about projects like they own them; they expect everyone to understand it’s a group effort, and no one actually thinks they’ve done it all, anyway,” said Mangrum. “Sometimes, people who spend time helping others on projects also feel like they deserve credit and may hijack it entirely if you don’t provide any acknowledgment. Make sure that isn’t the case, especially if you’re new to the workplace.”

Talk To Your Co-Worker Calmly and Privately

Even if you suspect that your co-worker intentionally and knowingly took credit for your work, proceed with caution. Matt Erhard, managing partner with the recruiting firm Summit Search Group, said it’s always best to give your colleagues the benefit of the doubt until you have a reason to do otherwise.

“Start off by having a one-on-one conversation with the person who took credit, explaining the situation from your perspective and how it’s made you feel,” Erhard said. “Keep anger and blame out of this conversation as much as possible. Sometimes, people don’t realize their behavior is a problem until someone points it out to them, so taking that step first is always best.”

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Mangrum said that confronting your co-worker will have one of the following results. 

“They will either be embarrassed and apologize or even agree to tell your manager you did the work,” she said. “Or, more likely, they’ll refuse to acknowledge what they did. The latter is when you should go to your boss to rectify the situation.”

Gather Proof

Before you go to your boss, Erhard suggested taking firmer ownership of your contributions.

“The specific ways to do this will depend on the type of work you do, but the bottom line is you need something physical you can show to your boss or co-workers that proves you were the one who did the work,” he said. “Simply taking this step can stop the credit-stealing, and if someone does still try, you have more than just your word to go on when you push back.”

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Speak With Your Manager Privately

Once you have the proof in order, set up a meeting with your manager.

“Clearing things up with your lead can help you get the recognition you deserve for your efforts,” said Mangrum. “It’s best to go and talk about the issue, especially if your work was significant enough to count in your favor during performance reviews or when discussing a raise or a promotion.”

Mangrum said that if your boss appears skeptical about a co-worker taking credit for your work, you should take steps to communicate more with your boss in the future. “Sending brief emails with intelligent questions or asking for suggestions while you work can highlight what you’re doing,” she added.

Be Prepared the Next Time a Co-Worker Takes Credit

“Feeling shocked and confused is normal when someone takes credit for your work during a meeting, but promptly handling the situation in a way that shows you were actually the one to do it all can discourage such co-workers from repeating their habits,” Mangrum said. 

“For instance, if they’re presenting your work, saying something like, ‘Sorry to interrupt, but you just skipped talking about XYZ, which is crucial to address since I spent a lot of time perfecting it,’ can help. You can also add to the conversation creatively without actually saying, ‘I did it, and they didn’t.’ For example, a side comment or specific question asking for feedback with phrases like ‘Did you like how I…’ or ‘I was aiming for…’ can help draw attention to the fact that you deserve credit.”

Know When To Brush Off a Co-Worker Taking Credit for Your Work

Erhard said that it’s probably not worth raising the issue with leadership if the tasks were small and wouldn’t have any bearing on your (or anyone else’s) standing in the company — or potential for raises or promotions. 

“I still wouldn’t suggest overlooking it entirely, though,” he said. “Credit-stealing is often a sign of a deeper problem that could create a hostile or toxic work environment if left unchecked, so it’s something you should at least keep your eye on and be wary of, even if it doesn’t feel worth going to HR over.”

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About the Author

Cynthia Measom is a personal finance writer and editor with over 15 years of collective experience. Her articles have been featured in MSN, AOL, Yahoo Finance, INSIDER, Houston Chronicle and The Seattle Times. She attended the University of Texas at Austin and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English.
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