No matter how hard it is, you need to confront a credit-stealing co-worker to protect your work and your ideas. Here’s how.

Share story

“I can’t believe he presented my work as his own! He didn’t even acknowledge that it was my work,” a career-coaching client in the tech industry told me.

“Now what am I going to do? And what if he does this to me again?” she asked.

Unfortunately, my client’s situation wasn’t unusual. The Great Recession spawned a new era of workers competing against each other to get noticed at work — something especially rampant within tech industry companies in the Seattle area.

How to handle the situation of someone trying to take credit for your work depends on how egregious the credit stealing was.

Let’s look at two examples of when a co-worker tries to take credit for your work.

Low-key situations. If a co-worker left your name off the list of project participants in the presentation or didn’t include you on the email distribution list for work they completed with you, then the solution may be as simple as speaking with your colleague to understand what happened and why.

Your actions: Seek out the offender as soon as possible after it has occurred. Remember, sometimes it can be a simple oversight on their part. Gain their agreement on how they will fix the situation and that it won’t occur in the future. Depending on how the person reacts, you may want to let him or her know that, if it happens again, you’ll need to escalate the situation to your manager.

Bigger-issue situations. If a colleague presented your ideas for a new product, service, program or promotion and tried passing off your ideas as their own, or if he or she used a report, business plan or presentation you had created and changed your name to theirs, then you should speak with the credit-stealing co-worker and your boss.

Your actions: Seek out the offender for a discussion (as mentioned above). After this, have a confidential discussion with your manager. Remain calm and avoid whining about the situation. You are there to inform your boss of what occurred and to explain the actions you took (speaking with your colleague) to keep it from happening again. Come prepared with any evidence that demonstrates the unethical behavior.

Dealing directly with a credit-stealing co-worker can sometimes be difficult, but it’s the right thing to do. It puts the offender on notice that you realize what they did, and it lets them know you won’t stand for that type of behavior in the future. Not dealing with the situation allows the co-worker to continue the unethical behavior, which could hurt your career in the future.

Bottom line: No matter how hard it is, stand up for what is right to protect your work and your ideas.

Lisa Quast is a certified executive coach, and the author of the book Secrets of a Hiring Manager Turned Career Coach. Email her at