There are lots of potentially difficult situations that arise in most workplaces—anything from annoying coworkers, to incompetent people on a project team, to having to work twice as hard in an effort to pick up the slack for a lazy, under performing colleague who always seems to wiggle out of trouble. But the truth is, one of the most challenging professional situations to have to deal with is a scheming and self-serving boss who is constantly stealing your ideas or taking credit for your work, leaving you in the dust with nothing to show for your efforts and accomplishments.
Hopefully this doesn’t sound familiar or hit too close to home for you—but if it does, we know how difficult it can be. The last thing any of us want to do is put ourselves into an adversarial situation with our bosses, so there’s a real impulse not to say or do anything about it—which can quietly “signal” your boss that you’re okay with their bad behavior or at the very least not going to rock the boat for them, which means the theft may continue (or get worse).
It’s important to do something when your boss is stealing your ideas. But how can you handle the situation delicately enough so that you don’t make things unbearable for yourself, yet firmly and decisively enough to send a clear message that you’re not willing to put up with this?
If you or someone you know is struggling with this reality, there is hope, and a way forward. Use the following to help guide you through the potential hazards and pitfalls of the tough spot you’re in and hopefully make it through unscathed.
Step 1: Evaluate the situation
When you first start getting the feeling that your boss is taking credit for your ideas, your first step is not to unleash the fury on the powers that be in an effort at vengeance or retribution. Take a step back to get some valuable perspective and evaluate the situation.
Is your boss really stealing your ideas or just aggregating and presenting the work for the team that reports to her or him? Are you absolutely certain that you’re not getting credit for your work? Just because you may not receive instant adulation for your ideas does not mean that your efforts are going unnoticed.
Perhaps your boss is not the overly effusive sort, but nonetheless is appreciative of your contributions and is giving credit where it’s due in a subtle way, or is simply waiting for your next review period to give you your well-deserved rewards? Bottom line—make sure you know for sure that your boss is stealing your ideas before taking things any further.
Step 2: Get a second opinion/witness
Okay, so you’re fairly certain that your boss is indeed taking credit for your work—what should you do next?
The next best step is to get a second opinion in an effort to have a witness to the situation in your corner. Why is this so important? Because without a witness, unless you have absolutely irrefutable evidence it’s basically your word vs. your boss’s, and in this scenario the boss often wins.
Don’t put yourself in that scenario—instead, choose a credible and reliable witness, preferably someone with a little clout at your workplace, and help your case by having that person in your corner. It could make all the difference if you decide to take things further.
Step 3: Document your case
A strong, impassioned story and credible witness will go a long way towards supporting your claim of idea theft, but nothing beats a solid “paper trail.” Wherever feasible, have some ironclad evidence that documents the onerous events—everything from emails to recorded instances of theft and proof that the ideas were indeed yours to begin with will all serve to substantiate your claim.
Nothing is more disheartening than making a bold claim of theft that you’re unable to prove and it ultimately goes nowhere. Not only will your work situation not improve, it will likely become even more uncomfortable for you there.
Step 4: Communicate with your boss
No, we’re not suggesting you kick open their office door and yell at them at the top of your lungs in an effort to get them to admit their wrongdoing. Instead, we’re saying that there may be a more peaceful and professional way to reach a satisfying conclusion.
If you politely discuss the situation with your boss, they may be able to capably explain why you’re mistaken about what has transpired. Or maybe they’ll realize they’ve failed to properly give you the credit you’re due are willing to make amends.
Often, the path of least resistance is the best one to take first. Hopefully your boss is reasonable enough to deal with, provided your approach is free from hostility and you’re open to reasonable and equitable compromise.
If you think your boss might be profiting from your ideas without sharing the credit, don’t just do nothing—but don’t do anything rash, either. Take a breath, assess the situation, and make your way through the measured and professional steps mentioned here to come to a resolution that gives you the credit you deserve.