My Boss Took All The Credit For Work I Did

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about not given credit:

Recently my boss and I had worked side by side and planned -for several months- a huge event. The event was a success. As planning was underway we had had many executive meetings with other leaders and staff personnel, and at each meeting they would comment on what an wonderful job she was doing. She never mentioned that this was a team effort between her and me. Even our ultimate boss would make comments to her about how wonderful she was doing and again, she never mentioned that this was truly a team effort between the two of us.

The last evening of the event the big boss thanked her for all of her hard work… and then on her way home she left me a message stating that the big boss should have mentioned my name too because I was just as much a part of this as she was. She NEVER mentioned that before when she had several opportunities in the past, why now? Almost blaming the big boss for not acknowledging me. Maybe he didn’t know how involved I was because she never shared that with him.

I did confront her and told her exactly how I felt and she did apologize and I do forgive her, but I still can’t let it go. I feel I need to discuss this with the big boss, but I want to be tactful. How can I plead my case without putting my boss down who pretty much dumped on me, without coming across that I deserve recognition (that is not what I am seeking), but to let him know that this was a completely shared project… every step of the way? I would like to be affirmed in the hard work that I did… is that bad? Or should I just not say anything and let it go?

Signed, Left Out Of The Praise

Dear Left Out Of The Praise:

I can certainly understand how you feel about this. I must say though, that I don’t think you’re being completely honest with yourself if you say you don’t want recognition for your work. Of course you do–and that’s perfectly normal. It’s why you went to the trouble of writing to us about it!I also think you are angry with your boss about this and you will be for awhile. There is likely even some feeling on your part that you don’t want your boss to get credit for something she didn’t do completely on her own. That would be normal too. Being honest with yourself about your feelings will help you move forward to deal with those feelings, whether or not you can do anything about the cause.

To answer your first question: I don’t think you can go to the big boss about your role in planning the event without appearing to criticize your manager for not acknowledging you, and without appearing to be fishing for compliments. I don’t know your boss or the culture of your organization, but in most organizations I think the reaction would be negative. I have heard comments from executives about similar situations, and it has sounded something like this, “Donna was in my office making sure I knew how hard she worked on the project. I told her we appreciated her and valued her work and made sure I told her how wonderful we think she is, so I think she’s OK now. Good grief!”

You don’t want that kind of thing said about you! Before you decide what to do, I think it would be good to consider some different perspectives than you might now be considering. That may help you feel somewhat less hurt by your boss, and may also help you develop an effective plan of action.

First, keep in mind that the big boss almost certainly DOES know the work you did. Anyone at an executive level knows that a manager who has someone working for or with them is using that person or that group to accomplish a task. It would have been good for the big boss to mention your name, but the fact he didn’t doesn’t mean he isn’t aware that you worked hard on the project. You wouldn’t have been present at meetings or the event itself without being involved.Second, the nature of the work that was done by each of you may make a difference in the recognition given by the upper level boss. For example, the big boss may be the one who gave your manager the task originally, and is aware of the pressure he put on her about it. You were likely not part of those conversations, so you don’t know what was involved at that point. The big boss may feel very grateful to your manager and wanted to thank her personally for her personal role in fulfilling his mandates.

Second, the big boss may have been following the common practice of praising his subordinate–your manager–for working with others and on her own to get a task done. Then, he expected that your manager would praise her direct-report–you–at a later time for the specific things you did.The reverse would also have been true. If you had done something wrong about the project, the big boss would likely not have chided you–he would have talked to your manager about it and she would have talked to you.Some organizations don’t have that kind of hierarchy, but many, if not most, do.The bottom line on many of those things is—who would have taken the major heat if things had gone wrong—you or your manager? Probably your manager. So, she also may very well get the major compliments when things go right. Then, it is her responsibility to ensure that everyone who worked on it receives appropriate praise from her, not necessarily from the big boss.

Third, think about the settings in which you feel your boss could have acknowledged you in front of others. After the big event it would have been a good thing for your manager to direct the boss’s attention to you and point out all of your work, if it was convenient to do so. She may not have felt comfortable doing it or may not have felt the timing was right, or that the boss would want to hear it. I’ll mention that in a bit. She may have loved hearing the good things about herself and didn’t want to share! But it might not have been as mean-spirited as that. As far as the various meetings went–as I mentioned before, if you said anything at all during them, it would be obvious that you were part of the planning and work. You wouldn’t have even been there otherwise. Those present could have commended you if they had chosen to do so. But they might have been commending the overall role that your manager played in the event, realizing the pressure she was under. Yes, she could have redirected the compliments and perhaps should have done so.A fourth issue involves organizational relationships. For example, I am also corresponding with someone who gets along very well with her own manager. But, the second level manager not only isn’t impressed with the employee, he thinks the first level manager highly overrates her–and has criticized the first level manager for continually trying to put the employee in a good light. You don’t say what kind of relationship you have with the higher level boss, so that may not apply in this case. To illustrate that further, I was once praised highly about an ongoing project. I wanted to ensure that my second-in-command, Greg, shared in the credit, because I knew that was important to him.

However, the executive thought Greg was too needy about that kind of thing and felt I catered to him too much. When the executive praised me, I mentioned Greg and started to say how hard he had worked. The executive frowned and said, “I didn’t ask for a sales pitch for Greg, I was just letting you know YOUR work was appreciated. All you have to do is say thank you.” As I said, that might not be any part of this issue with you, but it is something to consider. Or, it may be that the big boss knows your manager, but does not know you or know you well, and simply prefers to focus his praise on managers as way to encourage other managers.Your big boss may even have the attitude expressed in various business-quote books, that, “It would be wonderful what we could accomplish if we didn’t care who got the credit.” (I’ve always thought that was a very unrealistic philosophy!)

The point to all those thoughts, above, is that there are many aspects to this and other situations that you don’t know about or that you may be incorrectly interpreting. I can see why you would be frustrated and perplexed, I just want you to consider that it might not be as purposeful as it seems. Of course, you may be exactly correct and your manager may have purposely tried to shut you out of any recognition.The fifth thing I want you to consider is the fact that your manager apologized to you when you said something about it. That indicates that she is at least willing to accept your feelings as valid. Some bosses would be very offended at an employee confronting them about anything. They would not apologize and would say they don’t have to seek forgiveness from an employee. I mention that to suggest that you don’t want to burn bridges with a boss who apparently cares enough to discuss your feelings with you and even to apologize.

Here is another way to look at this: Is this behavior by your manager typical for her. Does she often ask you to do work without thanking you for it? Or, is she usually considerate and supportive so this is unusual? Don’t let one negative situation over-shadow many positive ones. If this is very typical of her and she often has shown that she doesn’t respect you or acknowledge you to others, that might encourage you to push this a bit further.You may also want to consider what your working relationship was like during the planning for the event. Was your role primarily to do what you were told to do, or were you expected to think of things on your own and do them without any direction by your manager? Did you work as a peer with your manager or were you directed by her? Did she do most of the conceptualizing while you did administrative and logistical work, or did you also make key decisions about how things were to be done? If your manager was the decision maker, she may feel she had the greater burden and may think the praise of the boss and others is for that effort on her part, not for the other tasks involved.Did you have any conflict during the planning and work, that might diminish her desire to share the praise with you? Again, I’m not saying that’s the case, I’m just encouraging you to look at every possible reason this might have happened. If your manager felt you sometimes did not support her decisions, or didn’t do things as she wanted, she might be less inclined to share commendations about the finished project.

It may also be that she feels she DIDN’T do very much and doesn’t want others to know that someone else actually did her job for her. You did say, however, that it was a shared project, so apparently she worked on it a fair amount. In some organizations, all of the work would be turned over to a hard-working subordinate and the manager would do very little. At least in this case you were not alone.The final thing to consider is what praise DID you receive. If you received a written thank you or commendatory note from your manager, or any other tangible expression of thanks, you have received as much as most employees would receive in this situation. If you only received a verbal recognition, I think you should try to get something in writing so you can have good documentation for your personnel records.Here would be one way to approach it to at least receive some additional recognition:

Tell your manager that you would like to be able to use the great experiences you gained from the project, on your resume. Say also that you would like to have a permanent record in your files in case it could ever be helpful to you in the organization. Ask her to write a memo to your files detailing the level of work you did and the good results. You may want to give her a list of the key tasks you performed, to make the writing even less time-consuming for her, or write a draft yourself. If you feel comfortable talking about it, you might say, “I really WOULD like for Mr. Stevens to know I worked hard on the event. Do you think it would be appropriate to forward him a copy?”The other benefit of the written memo would be the value of it for reference in your performance evaluation.Another thing you could do is to make a list of the people who were resources for you and your manager during the project–including those who attended the meetings. Then, you might write a thank you letter to them on behalf of your manager and you, for your manager’s approval and forwarding, by email or hard copy.In it you could have at least one line that says something like, “I want to thank you for the support you provided to me and to Administrative Assistant Donna Smith as we worked on this project over several months.”One thing you don’t want to do is to let this be the last big project you work on, if you want to demonstrate your knowledge and skills. So, work to make sure your manager knows how much you enjoyed the project and that she can depend upon you next time as well. (That is assuming you DO want to do this kind of thing again.) That will be far better than having her think that such hard feelings resulted from this that it would be easier to not include you next time. Even without acknowledgement, you may find this kind of task is a good enough experience that you want to have further opportunities.You will most likely be working there long past this one situation. So, you will want to weigh all the issues to decide what will achieve your ultimate goals. Best wishes to you as you think this through and decide how to approach it.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.