Co-workers who steal the credit always make the list of employees' Top 10 workplace gripes, and for good reason. Working alongside them is sort of like being back in high school or college with the One Person in your assigned class project group (there was always one...) who didn't work as hard to contribute but sure as hell wanted to ride the group's coattails to extra credit. We found in our research...we? Our? I didn't know you could enter Google search terms on Grand Theft Auto, buddy. Thanks for always being 20 minutes late to our group study sessions, and for texting your friends the entire time, too. Having to drag your dead weight across the finish line was a lot of fun for everyone involved.
Skip ahead a few years and now you work with this guy (or gal). Lucky you. Actually, one survey concluded that men are three times more likely to take credit for a co-worker's legwork, so I guess "we" can go ahead and say "guy." So what are you going to do about this guy, huh?
But before we get to that, let's take a second to discuss why these colleagues are so intent on taking credit for the work they didn't do and the ideas they didn't develop. For starters, we may not technically be in a recession anymore but employees are still in a recessionary, I-may-lose-my-job-any-minute mindset, so they want to move up the ladder even faster to build job security. Taking credit they don't deserve represents an easier path to this goal. Competitiveness between co-workers has also increased over the last decade. Mix two parts cold sweats with three parts competitiveness, and you get quite the perturbing precipitate that's sure to cloud your vision.
The credit-claiming co-worker might also be a passive-aggressive personality. Shamelessly stealing the credit -- or claiming a large part of it -- might be an underhanded way of getting back at you for something you did some time, somewhere, somehow, to someone. This employee can't verbalize anger and resentment, and so he (or she) goes for the jugular in other ways. Who, me!? Yes, you. I wouldn't do that! You just did in the 10 a.m. status update meeting!
But you don't care why this co-worker is stealing your thunder so much as you care that he (or she) keeps doing it all the time. This co-worker's what's-mine-is-mine-and-what's-yours-is-mine mentality is really getting to you. She's always the bride and never the bridesmaid, and you're stuck looking like the taffeta-clad wind beneath her winsome wings. Don't worry; you can still try to catch the bouquet as she gets whisked off to a promotion. It must have been cold there in her shadow, to never have sunlight on your face. Yes, this co-worker is quickly becoming one of the biggest be-aches you've ever met.
So finally we get down to it. What to do about this back-stabbing co-worker. Well, first you have to define in today's collaborative work environments what you mean by "credit." If you're not careful, everyone in the office will think you're just a paranoid whiner and they'll want to throw their bouquets at you. Here, watch this. It's good food for thought, and I like to give credit where credit is due. Besides, not doing so would be rather ironic, don't you think?
You'll also have to examine what form the idea stealing took, because it can vary. Is your name missing from the credit list by mistake, or did someone steal your ideas and/or output in a very-public setting such as a meeting or a major presentation? You'll have to pinpoint the source of the problem.
There seems to be an old, established rule regarding workplace credit stealing: Tend to let the boss take the credit, but call a peer on the carpet. Hmm. Maybe as long as the boss is rewarding you in other ways, such as through great performance reviews, additional job responsibilities (the ones you want), regular raises, and promotions. This situation can be tricky for obvious reasons, and it's very hard to generalize. You'll have to assess how things unfolded and where credit is due. If you find yourself playing Melanie Griffith's Tess McGill to Sigourney Weaver's Katharine Parker without Harrison Ford's handsome Jack Trainer on standby to pack your lunchbox at the end of the movie, then proceed with caution. The real world isn't like the movies. Dancing around the house in your underwear doesn't make you Madonna, unfortunately.
When the credit stealer is a peer, work through the situation in your head (see above) and then pull this co-worker aside for a "chat" before escalating the situation. Stay calm, don't whine or look paranoid, state the facts, and say you hope it won't happen again. If things don't improve and you feel you must take it to a manager, stay calm, don't whine or look paranoid, state the facts, say you've spoken to your co-worker, present a time line, and say you hope it won't happen again. Depending on your job and the stakes involved, you might also start quietly keeping track of your output and ideas since you can no longer trust this co-worker.
Playing the credit card can be tough, especially in the current economy, and you'll have to decide how best to play your hand. Good luck.