Editor's note: Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues -- everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.
A reader writes:
I work for a medium sized company on a very small team. For all intents and purposes, it is just me and my colleague, "Joe." Joe and I both started at the same time and work on the same types of projects. The similarities end there, as Joe is the type to take 2-3 hour lunches and surf the internet, while I am working hard only a few feet away.
About six months ago, Joe was assigned a very large, very visible project. He struggled to handle it, and I was quickly pulled in to help by management. As Joe would freely admit, I ended up doing a majority of the project myself. It was extremely important for the company, and a month or so later we both received employee of the month for our contributions.
Fast forward to today, when Joe revealed that he has been selected as company-wide MVP based, in significant part, on this project. I congratulated him, but I can't help but feel betrayed and disheartened by this turn of events. I worked day, night, and weekends on that project to make it successful after he all but gave up on it. Since then, he has turned down several large projects while I have taken on significantly more responsibility, yet he is the one receiving awards.
Part of me wants to speak with my manager and ask why someone received an award based on my project, but part of me thinks maybe that would be viewed as petty. I am already looking for another job, mostly due to the fact that I often feel I am being overlooked and under appreciated, but this was still a big shock. Do you have any suggestions? Is there even any point in trying anymore?
Yes, talk to your manager. This is a reasonable thing to ask about, and any halfway decent manager would want to know that you're feeling this way and have the chance to address it, especially since you're job-searching over it.
The key is in how you approach it. You don't want it to be a complaint about your co-worker being recognized, but rather an inquiry into what's going on with how the company rewards you.
Here's what I would say if I were in your shoes: "I want to ask you about something I feel a little awkward about bringing up. I don't want to question whether Joe deserves the company-wide MVP award because that's none of my business, but my understanding is that it's based in significant part on the X project. As Joe himself would tell you, I did probably 90 percent of that project -- working nights and weekends on it and fixing a lot of the obstacles he wasn't able to resolve. I've also been taking on work like X and Y. I'm getting the sense that I'm not getting the same recognition as he is, despite making what I think are significant contributions, and I wondered if we could talk about why, and whether there are things I need to be doing differently."
The tone you use here is one of concern, not complaining. The tone is "I'm trying to figure out what I'm missing, and whether I have deficits I don't know about, since otherwise this befuddles me." It's similar to tone you might use if you were having this conversation about someone else ("Jane did such a good job on the X project -- why aren't we recognizing her for it?"). It's collaborative problem-solving, and it's information-seeking rather than grievance-airing. (Also, because tone matters so much here, this must be done in person, not over email.)
Now, this may or may not get you results, depending on your manager and the rest of the landscape there. But it will certainly get you information -- it will tell you how your manager perceives your work, what she thinks is appropriate recognition for your work, and perhaps what your prospects are for future recognition. You might discover that you're not as under-appreciated as you think, or that your manager genuinely didn't realize the role you played in that project, or that she did know and is annoyed with the person who made the award decision. You might learn other things too -- who knows, you might discover that Joe's award isn't based on your project at all but on some other, more legitimate basis. Or you might get confirmation that you're being overlooked.
But regardless, you should leave the conversation with a much better idea of where things stand and why, and that should help you figure out where to go from here.
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