Workplace Doctor: Co-worker keeps taking credit for my hard work

A co-worker persistently takes credit for my hard work. The other day I overheard him accepting praise from a senior manager for securing a new account – an account I had worked extremely hard to win. This is not the first time my colleague has done this; he seems to ride on my coat tails and then take all the glory. I want to highlight this issue but don’t want to come across as petty. IN, Dubai

Not just in the UAE, but across the globe there are cases of co-workers stealing ideas from others, bosses accepting praise without mentioning the long nights worked by their team, and colleagues stepping forward when the real catalyst happens to be out of the office. If these people spent less time trying to find ways of taking credit away from others and more time focused on their own work, they could actually deliver the high quality outputs that they lay claim to.

I would have liked to take the moral high ground in my response to you, and tell you that your hard work and persistence will speak for itself, but in situations like this it is no good waiting for others to recognise where their behaviour is unacceptable. If your colleague is brazenly passing your work off as his own you need to take action fast. At the moment, senior management credits this colleague with your work, putting it into a mental “bank account” that you don’t have so much as a chequebook for. Given that management will refer to this “bank account” when considering future projects and promotions, you can’t afford to be sharing it with another.

As you are consistently unnoticed for the work you have done, it would not be petty to raise the issue with the offending colleague. However, it is important you do your research before approaching him. The nature of collaborative team-based working often means that there are multiple people involved in projects at various stages and he may still have some claim to the outcome, just not to the extent he is proclaiming. Make sure you can clearly identify your own contribution to the project and the evidence you have. Stay away from ideas generated in meetings or intangible statements made in passing and gather concrete evidence; emails, project plans and reports you have prepared. Then have this ready and at your disposal if need be.

When you do approach him, instead of making accusations and pointing to this evidence, ask some questions. Allow him to explain why he felt justified taking credit for the project. Let him illustrate where he feels he has contributed and see if he begins to recognise his behaviour and the effect it has had on you. You could ask something like this “I noticed that when our manager mentioned securing the new account you accepted a lot of the responsibility but you did not acknowledge anyone else’s efforts – I felt I really worked hard on that and am wondering why you did not say anything?” If he brushes it off or denies it then you can show him the evidence. There is no way he can argue with facts, and this approach should either embarrass him into amending his behaviour, or make him aware that you are not an easy target.

I also suggest you arrange a conversation with the senior manager about the new account for you to share where you feel you have contributed. Focus primarily on the work you did as part of this project and even be honest that you felt a bit upset the hard work you have put in remains not just unnoticed but attributed elsewhere. As part of this, also acknowledge the contribution of others as part of the project, including the co-worker in question, and perhaps even ask to be made aware when there are opportunities to do more of the same work. This shows you are taking a positive approach to the problem, not simply seeking your share of the credit but making yourself an asset. You can also start to build your credit back up by making sure your manager is aware of your successes. Simply copying them in on emails where you close a deal will ensure they get the news “straight from the horse’s mouth” and know exactly who is responsible.

Doctor’s Prescription:

Do not let this situation make you protective of your work and avoid collaborating in the future. Many who have experienced a “credit thief” naturally lock up their contributions and only share them when they feel safe to do so. First speak up for yourself with him and then show this co-worker and others that you are equally very generous about sharing credit and recognition to avoid any bad feeling. Ask others, especially those on your team, how they want to be recognised, and speak up on their behalf when an idea is praised. This will help create a more sharing atmosphere, and encourage the team to stand up for the people who truly deserve it.

Alex Davda is a business psychologist and consultant at Ashridge Business School, based in the Middle East. Email him at for advice on any work issues.

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