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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

my coworker is taking credit for my ideas and work

A reader writes:

I have an issue with an overly dependent coworker who does not give credit. We are both fresh out of college but I’ve been working a bit longer than him. I had already proven myself in the group and have been given awards by my bosses and managers for the work I’ve done.

My coworker frequently asks me for help; He has an official mentor, but doesn’t go to him for help. I spend a lot of time (hours a day during and after work) teaching him, giving him ideas, guiding him, listening to his concerns, etc. He was getting praised for "his" (my) ideas; mentor was getting praised for "his" (my) guidance. Sometimes he would get credit for contributing to my work, when in reality, he played absolutely zero part in it (he would respond to people by saying thanks). I spoke to him about the dependency, and he still goes up to me with questions. I spoke to him about the credit, and he says it's not his problem to correct.

I would like my boss and manager to be at least aware of the situation, but is telling them unprofessional? I don't want to make my coworker look bad. Any ideas?

Why are you continuing to spend time helping this guy? He's behaving without integrity and when directly confronted about it, he told you it's not his problem. He's a jerk. Why are you continuing to play along?

Frankly, I don't think you should be spending hours a day during work helping even the most gracious coworker; presumably you have your own work you should be doing during that time.

The next time he approaches you, tell him that you need to focus on your own work, which is true. And no, I don't think you should say anything to your manager. Simply stop enabling his behavior and let him rise or fall on his own merits; they'll figure it out soon enough.


Richard said...

I've got to agree - Why are you helping someone who is taking credit for your ideas and work? Stop helping him, and suddenly he's going to have to come up with his own ideas, and refer to his mentor for assistance.

He may complain to management that you are being uncooperative; at this point, feel free to tell them that you have been extensively helping him with his work, and that he has been taking credit for your efforts. Also remind them that there is a mentor system in place for your coworker to take advantage of if he has any questions, and that you need to focus more on your own work.

And there's little doubt all of this help is having an impact on your work flow; stopping to help and guide your jerk coworker, and working long hours in order to do so is going to affect your day. You really should be putting all of your effort into your own work so that your efforts will shine through.

Anonymous said...

Maybe you should be more concerned about doing your job well than worrying about who gets “credit”. If you start complaining about your coworker, you will look petty.

I don’t know why people are so concerned with receiving credit for every little thing they do. If you want to move up, then you need to work on building relationships & networks instead of trying to take credit for every little project.

FrauTech said...

Don't tell the boss but be ready for this guy to get promotions no one's even thinking of offering you. It may be more than just you giving him good ideas or guidance, it might be he is genuinely liked (afterall, you kept helping him) so they have already made up their mind positively about him. So be ready for his rising star to overshadow a lot of your good work. And try not to let it get to you.

evilbunnytoo said...

Be sure to cover your ass when you stop helping this guy or if you continue to help this guy make sure there is a track record of your help.

Maybe an email sent to co worker and cc'd to his mentor (and cc'd to yours)
- dear bob and mentor, you recently asked me how to do [item you should know how to do already], as we discussed today, I'm snowed under with blah project, but maybe you and I could schedule some time with mentor so that we can make sure that when I train you on this task, I don't forget anything.

make him start emailing you his questions (because you are too busy to talk right now but you will email him back as soon as you have time)

-dear bob and mentor, bob was talking to me about X project, and I have some ideas that I wanted to run by the both of you that I think would really contribute to Bobs project. Do the both of you have time to meet on X day? If not I'll just email them to the both of you.

or just email the both of them with your ideas (after telling bob you need time to think and you'll get back to him with your ideas).

this way you can't be accused of not being a team player and there is a paper trail of what you contribute. Also make sure to take credit for your work when you send it out [hey person who assigned this, this was a difficult project, but I'm really glad that I was assigned it. Doing this solo was a real learning process and I learned a lot of new skills and I'm glad you gave me this opportunity to prove myself.]

also, as others have stated be prepared to be screwed over in promotions because you got too involved in helping coworkers, but now you've learned the valuable lesson that sometimes coworkers have to people fail, if not, you just screw yourself over.

stop doing coworkers work for him, let him screw up a few projects and then rescue him at the last minute (making sure that you get the project, finish it, and then send it back to him via email ccing your mentors about how you stayed late last night to finish this up for Bob).

Anonymous said...

You're only getting one paycheck, right? When they start paying you 2 salaries, that's when you take on 2 jobs. Your colleague needs to sink or swim. And it's tough to do but you need to learn to say no. The more you do, the easier it gets to stand up for yourself and what you need to accomplish.

Anonymous said...

In response to “Maybe you should be more concerned….”

Why shouldn’t they be concerned?! What a stupid comment! If this guy is receiving credit for HER work, guess who’ll be promoted later on? She shouldn’t be anyone stepping stone.

TheLabRat said...

It's like an epidemic. EHRL just had one of these too.

Unknown said...

You are bang out with your advice.

Stop the cycle. And yes, it is as easy as that.

Anonymous said...

Good advice all around. I especially like asking him to email you the question and then you respond by cc-ing the official mentor. However it soundsl ike the official mentor is aware that the relationship is not as fruitful as it could be. Do you and your coworker share a boss? Can you (appropriately) cc her?

CCing can be interpreted as passive aggressive so I would say to make sure that you involve the higher up "Ms. X, I know you have experince with Y, is this the best way to handle it?" so that it doesn't look like you are just putting your coworker on notice.

C. Y. A. yo. And do it so that you look like you're helping the team while CYAing.

Person who asked the Question said...

I am the one who asked the question-

Thanks for confirming I shouldn't bring it up to management. I've been wary about doing it. I'm beginning to stop helping, and I am getting better, but as Richard said, I am afraid of being blamed by management if he messes up (and he’s messed up before when I didn't help - but it was for something that didn't matter TOO much). Question is, should I watch him mess up therefore affecting our team goals, or should I just help him? So that is the only reason I go back and help. Looking at all these responses has given me a good idea of what I am going to do. Thanks Askamanager and all.

anonymous: it's petty when it happens once in a while.

frautech: yes, that's true. I suppose the likeable ones do have that advantage. I understand it becomes a criteria for promotions.

evilbunny: good ideas. I'll try that out. Actually, I've 'let' bob work his project on his own…only to find out they weren't close to finishing.. and 'saved' him last minute. I was worried the boss would blame me .. as I am their coworker. But I suppose next time I should just tell my boss about how I helped them finish it.

Anonymous: I'll keep practicing saying no.

Anonymous: Yeah, it's a bit frustrating to be a stepping stone.

Labrat: Good to know it happens elsewhere. (also bad that it happens.)

Corporate Daycare: True

Anonymous: Yes, we share the same boss. Good idea, I didn't think of that either.

Richard said...

First of all, it shouldn't be a problem: Like you said, there's a mentor system in place for a reason which he should be using to seek assistance.

However, and this might depend on how your team works and the urgency of the project etc., but if your managers are any good, they'll be assigning team members specific tasks, and they'll notice when your coworker's tasks are slipping past their deadlines, and should either have somebody help him complete those tasks, or reassign them to somebody else.

And of course, if they're really good, they'll be making note of your coworker's inability to complete tasks without assistance.

Basically, your managers should handle any fallout from the lack of your usual assistance, and place blame accordingly if they're tracking tasks properly. Any action of their part will also create a paper trail that will lead to you receiving credit for the work that you're actually doing, rather than you offering assistance without management being aware.

Opininos, anybody?

Cassie said...

I am in a similar situation, except that it's not a coworker - it's one of the top people in our dept (Betty). Though she doesn't take credit (she will tell anyone who listens that I help her so much, etc), it makes her direct subordinate unhappy because Betty won't ask the subordinate for help.

I would suggest trying not being so helpful. Like using being too busy as an excuse why you can't help RIGHT NOW, tell coworker only what he asks - not additional hints/tips, stuff like that. For me, I don't mind helping Betty but it does get tiring sometimes. However, I'm hoping that if my current job fizzles out (due to lack of funding), that Betty will hire me... so that's one reason why I'm still helpful.

Anonymous said...

Seems to me the mentor, not you, should be taking the fall for his mistakes. Ditto the too busy advice, but if people turn to blame you, I'd ask if mentoring your coworker was a task that you should be taking on. They are then forced to say yes or lean on the mentor and if they do, you can now take credit for mentoring him and "turning him around." And I'd do it loudly, everytime they try to give him credit for your ideas.

evilbunnytoo said...

depending on your relationship with your mentor, another way to handle this is to ask for coaching from your mentor.

Present the problem to your mentor in a non-accusatory way: you've been helping a co-working to finish his projects at the last minute and training him on the company systems a lot, to the point that its interfering with your ability to complete your own work (you've had to stay late to complete your own work or some other excuse). You want to be a team player and of course you're more than happy to pitch in whenever you're needed, but you need coaching on how to handle this. You've been worried that if you don't help your co-worker your team will look bad, but your own work is starting to be impacted and you're concerned about this, can you give me some mentoring advice about how to draw the balance between being a team player/contributing to team projects and making sure what you contribute is the best work you can do. Make sure the way you present it is all about you and your learning while conveying that this "last minute help/training" is now routine and you want your mentor to coach you through how to balance your work vs teamwork.

See what your mentor suggests [again making it all about your concern that you need time to complete your work]. Your mentor may give you clues as to how corporate culture handles this. Your mentor may even suggest that you redirect your coworker to his mentor (which you should start ASAP with phrases like "coworker, I'm so snowed under right now, I think this is an issue you should take to [his mentor's name]." Follow up with an email to coworker saying something like, "[coworker], I just had a thought, while I'm on a tight deadline [or some excuse, working on a heavy project, etc.] right now so I can't brainstorm with you, [mentor's name or someone else] is a wiz at solving the problem you just talked to me about. I really suggest you go to them because they're a real resource in that area" [you direct them to others while CYA so you can't be accused of stranding coworker]).

Anonymous said...

It is the team's manager to take responsibility for the team's goals (achievements and failures). It is the responsibility of each team member to complete the tasks to which they are assigned. A good manager should not be blaming one team member for another not completing their tasks.

Please continue to resist the urge to do his work. Also please resist the urge to take responsibility for the entire team's work. And the manager's. If you don't get off that treadmill, you will find yourself taking responsibility for other people's lives before you've even given them the chance to live it--I've seen far too many people do exactly this.

Anonymous said...

Discuss this use of your time with your manager to see if training is where they want you to focus your attention. If they do think this is a good use of your time, then document your training efforts and report your progress to your manager on a weekly basis. Getting this added to your objectives is a good way to show that you are effective at enabling others and this is a hallmark of a goood manager.

Anonymous said...

I help a friend by feeding ideas for which she takes credit. She has never thought to credit me but worse is that she has never thought to thank me. I suppose she is not really a friend. Following an incident that just took place, the well is now dry.