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Heavy Meddle: Help! My Boss Takes Credit For Everything I Do

He will often sheepishly thank me for "helping" him, but he never gives me credit for the work I did which saved his keister. (William Iven/Unsplash)
He will often sheepishly thank me for "helping" him, but he never gives me credit for the work I did which saved his keister. (William Iven/Unsplash)
This article is more than 3 years old.

Welcome Meddleheads, to the advice column where your crazy meets my crazy! Please send your questions. You can use this form, or send them via email. Not only will you immediately feel much better, you’ll also get some advice.

Hugs,
Steve

...

Dear Steve,

My boss takes credit for everything I do. Often an important deadline looms and he hasn't begun to think about or plan for steps that need to be taken to achieve the goal. Knowing the repercussions are going to be broadly felt by those I supervise if the work doesn't get done, and knowing he has a lot on his plate, I'll take the initiative to get the ball rolling — sometimes even completing the essential pieces of the work — even though technically it's his responsibility. He will often sheepishly thank me for "helping" him, but he never gives me credit for the work I did which saved his keister.

I really resent this but I'm not sure what to do to change this behavior. How would I like things to be different? I'd like to be asked to step in to the void when one occurs and I'd like to be acknowledged for my contributions to the ultimate success of the projects.

Any suggestions?

Thanks, Miffed

...

Dear Miffed,

I want to note upfront — without compromising the anonymity of your letter — that you are a woman. (I know this because of your email address.) I do so because it probably matters here. To put it bluntly: male bosses are more likely to take credit for work they haven’t done, especially if female underlings carry out that work. Is this true universally? Of course not. But there’s a reason that films such as "Working Girl" and "Nine to Five" — which are based on this premise — remain cultural touchstones. As I’ve said, over and over, the patriarchy dies hard.

Clearly your boss has a problem with deadlines and is using you as his unacknowledged backstop. You have a few choices here.

The first, and most obvious, is to talk with your boss about this pattern. It’s always a dicey proposition to confront anyone about a weakness, a boss in particular. But it’s clear that your boss has no incentive to change his behavior if you continue to save his bacon. What’s more, it’s clear from his “sheepish” manner that he recognizes the debt he owes you. So it may be a matter of respectfully requesting that this debt be made public rather than kept private.

Of course, I have no idea how much truth your boss can handle. If you don’t think his ego can handle this dose, you have other options. The first would be simply to stop bailing him out. I realize this would have a disastrous short-term effect on you and your team. But it would also force your boss to confront how much he depends on you, and how much he takes you for granted.

If neither of these options appeals to you, you can always consider a more dramatic approach, such as documenting all the uncredited work you do and presenting this to a person outside your department, either a higher-up or someone from human resources.

Both of these last two options feel kind of crappy to me, frankly. But it may be that there’s a way to combine them. Here’s how: the next time you have to step in and take charge of a project because your boss has dropped the ball, you might consider meeting with your boss to let him know that you can see he’s going to miss a deadline, and that you stand ready to help out. But you could also let him know that, in the future, you’d like him to ask you for such help, and to give you credit for your contributions on the back end.

To this end, it may be helpful for you to have a few examples of previous scenarios in which you played this role, that you can cite in specific terms, should he play dumb, or get defensive.

I wouldn’t cite these examples in a spirit of resentment (i.e. to rub his nose in his own incompetence). But merely to point out your value to the team, and to ask that you be given the credit earned by your efforts. In other words: keep it business-like in tone and content, so that he can’t make it personal.

Good luck,
Steve

Author's note: Let me be the first person to admit that I’m out of my depth here. I don’t work in an office. Nor do I have a boss. So I’m going to depend on you readers to offer further guidance. What else should Miffed be doing, or considering doing? Your advice is most welcome in the comments section below. And feel free to send a letter to Heavy Meddle, too. You can use this form, or send your questions via email. I may not have a helpful response, but the act of writing the letter itself might provide some clarity. — S.A.

Heavy Meddle with Steve Almond is Cognoscenti's advice column. Read more here.

Steve Almond Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Steve Almond's new book, "Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country," is now available. He hosts the Dear Sugars podcast with Cheryl Strayed.

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