Taking credit for the work of others (Toughest HR Question)

HR needs to establish controls to protect ethics, values
By Yaseen Hemeda
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 09/09/2013

Question: As an HR professional, how do you handle a complaint from an employee that a co-worker or manager is taking credit for her work?

Answer: Relatively few ideas in the workplace are the product of one individual as there are usually many people involved in the process. Some even feel managers and employees should not be concerned with receiving credit for work activities because they are serving the collective interests of the organization.

Harry Truman, former president of the United States, once said: “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.”

Most employers have a code of business conduct and ethics that stipulates it has full rights to intellectual property created by employees within the course of their employment, whether that’s content or ideas.

However, obtaining credit when credit is due is essential to growing an employee’s personal brand, as well as for future opportunities outside the organization.

But the reward factor associated with taking credit for work activities can create a highly competitive work environment that often causes employees and managers to behave unethically.

Twenty-nine per cent of employees reported having their co-workers take credit for their work, according to a 2010 Office-Team survey. Taking unjustified credit can be as simple as using someone’s PowerPoint presentation or substituting your name as the author of a document.

Such unethical behaviour can even be viewed as a form of workplace bullying. It should be made clear in the organization’s code of conduct that false attribution of ideas, tasks, projects and overall work performed is unethical and will not be tolerated.

How to deal with credit stealing

Whether the credit stealing is by a co-worker or manager, employees should be counselled to first approach the individual directly before involving HR or senior management, as there may have been a misunderstanding about the employee’s claim for credit — the accused may not have been aware she was taking unjustified credit.

During the conversations with employees, it is important to avoid accusatory language and express concerns in a business-like manner.

The next step would be to wait and listen to the person’s response and possibly escalate concerns to management. If this encounter does not resolve the matter, HR may need to play a more active role.

It must be understood that HR is neither an employee advocate nor an employer advocate in these situations, but is there to ensure justice is served by upholding the organization’s ethical standards.

When a manager or executive is the one falsely claiming credit, the situation becomes more complex because the playing field is skewed in management’s favour. Managers may believe that since they are in charge of their direct reports, they should reap all the rewards from their efforts.

This is where HR needs to step in and provide additional training to management on the importance of acknowledging subordinates’ work activities in order to give each team member the credit they deserve and ensure they remain fully engaged.

To avoid future disputes involving employees falsely claiming credit, employees should be encouraged to keep an accurate record of all their work activities by using email to communicate to their team about projects they are working on, as well as keeping track of their ideas and suggestions so everything is well-documented.

Managers should also keep track of their direct reports’ work activities and establish clear guidelines on who is responsible for particular assignments and projects to avoid any confusion.

If employees are required to work collaboratively with others on a project, there should be specific tasks assigned to each team member.

Again, email communications among team members and management should be used frequently to avoid confusion about who performed the work on specific tasks and deliverables. This is also important so employees are held accountable for their work activities.

Yaseen Hemeda is a product writer for Consult Carswell. He can be reached at yaseen.hemeda@thomsonreuters.com or visit www.consultcarswell.com for more information.

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