Dear New Shrink,
On several occasions my boss has taken wrongful ownership of projects I have developed by telling upper management that these are his own works. He does not acknowledge any of my work and, despite my five years at the company, he has still not acknowledged my request for a promotion. I have considered leaving the company because of him, but I feel like that is unfair to me and all of the hard work and time I have invested in this company. Please help!
I am sorry to hear that you have been placed in such a difficult predicament, but want to applaud you for continuing to motivate yourself despite the unprofessional actions of your boss. It can be especially difficult to remain professional when you see your boss acting inappropriately with no known consequences for such behavior. Unfortunately, having a tense relationship with a boss is more common than it should be; in fact there is even a saying that people leave bosses, not companies. My hope is that with the right approach you can protect yourself from further problems.
Considering this has happened on several occasions it sounds like this has become more of a pattern than an unintentional mistake. Still, stepping back and evaluating this situation may provide greater clarity. In what circumstances have you seen your boss take credit? Are you present for the entire conversation or presentation? Perhaps he has been acknowledging you in other ways with his managers. Further, have you examined the finished product? It may be possible that he is using your work as a base but adding on more significant information before presenting it to the management team. Before taking action, it might be helpful to use your investigative lens to gather more information.
While many managers are evaluated on their abilities to lead a team, this typically does not involve taking credit for the work of individual members. By my definition, a successful manager should be someone you trust who can motivate you to succeed, but who also acknowledges your key contributions to the team. Even if the focus of the company is on collaboration, individuals should still be recognized for their unique additions. In these team-oriented environments projects may be branded as team efforts, but in your case even this is not happening. It seems rather that your individual efforts are celebrated as someone else’s personal accomplishments.
This situation is especially difficult because your boss may be in direct control of your own professional development. As you mention, despite your five-year tenure you have not been promoted. Do others see your work and projects or do they go directly to your boss? Perhaps your supervisor is keeping you in your current position because he is relying on you to do his work. Although it may not be right, being silent can be interpreted as giving consent.
Now, before you confront your supervisor, you may want to consider your working relationship. For instance, what communication style works best for him? Sometimes playing the game can help you to get your message across. If your supervisor is likely to get defensive, you may want to phrase your conversation with something like, “I would like your advice on how I can receive credit for my contributions to this project.” By asking for his input you will open up two-way communication which will likely make for a more effective and less defensive conversation.
Find other partners and cheerleaders within your organization who will help support your professional development. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the idea that moving up in the organization can only take place through your current department. Consider ways to show your expertise and hard work on cross-functional projects or seek out a mentor in another division of the company. Some companies offer a professional development program where you will have a chance to interact with other employees within the organization.
You also need to protect yourself from future problems. Keep a file of all your electronic interactions with your supervisor; you may even want to store this on your computer at home. Consider documenting the projects you are working on and perhaps saving a PDF of the projects on your computer with a time and date stamp. Finally, the primary person who should be considered about your boss’ performance is his supervisor. Consider copying the supervising manager on upcoming deliverables.
KATRINA DAVY is a professional career counselor who has worked in university and private settings. She holds degrees from Cornell and Columbia universities. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. All questions are kept anonymous; let us help you with your life matters!