Out of anything a not-so-great boss could do, taking credit for what someone else did is the worst offense, according to a survey by human resources firm Bamboo HR. Much of that is because it makes us feel so powerless and unappreciated, which threatens our whole sense of self and security. While it can be scary to stand up for yourself if it happens to you, it's important that you do, not just to protect yourself and others in your office, but also to stress what's ethical so your boss can repent and grow.
1. Document everything.
Whether you get permission to use audio recordings or just keep a good stash of notes and emails, create a record of what was said and assigned. If it's appropriate, use CCs or give file permissions to specific leaders/team members, including senior level workers you want to be aware of what you can do.
2. Talk about your work.
Make general references to your work to colleagues, ideally to more than one person at a time. You also can note progress or mention what you're up to in broad terms on social media channels, especially LinkedIn where the professional ramifications of being found out arguably are harsher for your boss. The more you reference the project or are open about your ideas within the bounds of confidentiality requirements, the harder it will become for the boss to get others to believe you were just on the sidelines or not involved.
One trick here is to set yourself up to be an information source. For example, tell others they can come to you with questions about the work. If there are details about the work your boss can't provide when asked, politely offer the information to the person making the inquiry. You're not trying to make your boss look unprepared or incompetent here, and in fact, you can still reference your boss well as you answer. Rather, the objective is to show that you have undeniable expertise that only someone closely connected to the job could have.
3. Reframe your language.
Since you don't necessarily want to humiliate your boss in public, praise or agree with them about the project in front of others. Then slip in your own "I" or "we" statements, such as "I'm so glad I was able to be part of this and take care of x on it!", "I'm really honored/flattered you decided to go through with my idea", or "We definitely worked hard together on this!" Your boss will have to acknowledge these statements of inclusion, but at the same time, you're not saying a single bad thing about them.
4. Take a break.
Emotions can fire hot when you believe your boss has betrayed you. Take a few hours or even a full day to reevaluate your evidence. Because this has the potential to affect your career, make sure you're taking the next steps based on logic and fact, not on spur-of-the-moment feelings.
5. Confront your boss.
Remember here, sometimes a boss doesn't even realize they're hogging the glory--sometimes they just think they're accepting accolades as they naturally should as the team leader on behalf of everyone involved. And sometimes nerves can get the best of even seasoned pros, with "I" becoming unintentionally dominant. Have a private discussion with your boss to make your offense clear. Say what you observed (e.g., "I noticed that...") and ask if that's what they meant to do. The golden rule is to investigate, not accuse.
6. Clarify expectations and policies.
Firmly but politely tell your boss what you expect and remind them of company protocols regarding intellectual property and credits. In many cases, knowing that you understand your rights and have a plan to handle repeated infractions--and, importantly, that you actually have the courage to use that plan--will deter an unscrupulous boss from additional poor behavior.
7. Notify others.
If your boss had an oversight or two they willingly try to correct, forgive and let go. But if the problem persists even after you let them know you see a problem, ask for advice from other senior level employees and/or your mentor. You also should notify HR, formally filing whatever paperwork the department requires. The senior employees/mentors are critical here, as they can verify your work ethic, conversations, etc.
8. Do work on the side.
We're talking here about stretch projects, speaking engagements, ideas or hobbies you're passionate about that can further demonstrate your expertise, and that aren't necessarily completed under your boss' eye. Make the projects and engagements as visible as you can without divulging sensitive information. They will demonstrate your capabilities, interests and potential like your regular work, and your boss can't touch them. They'll also help you build a bigger network of individuals who can vouch for you.
Bosses take credit for the work of others for all kinds of reasons, such as their own need for recognition or because they genuinely believe others will receive concepts better if their name is attached. Whatever their motivator, intentional theft of credit isn't something you should tolerate. Use these strategies to rebuild your relationship or get the company to take corrective action.
Leaving your job because of a boss stealing credit should be a last resort. If you do, make it absolutely clear to HR in writing why you felt you had to go. If hiring managers ask why you left, respond honestly, but emphasize that values like fairness and cooperation matter to you, and focus on the fact that the situation has reaffirmed your positive sense of ethics and personal direction. You'll look grounded and more trustworthy without badmouthing, which is a win-win for everyone.