my coworker is taking credit for my ideas and work

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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.

{ 25 comments… read them below }

  1. Richard

    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.

  2. Anonymous

    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 dont 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.

    1. J

      I totally do not agree with you. There are those who work very hard at their job and for someone who takes credit for other people’s work is inappropriate and very much out of line. It shows that person to be lazy, doesn’t have enough work to do, and can’t get their own ideas. I work hard and do my work well, take the initiative to improve, and get along with pretty much everyone. However, this co-worker stays in her office, keeps her door shut, doesn’t communicate with anyone, takes credit for doing tasks she didn’t actually do, nor does she share any knowledge pertaining to a specific project to the people involved in the project. And yet she’s favored by the manager, even though not many people like her. I’ve told her my ideas and she turns around and tells the manager those ideas.Tell me how that is petty? That’s not how you keep your valuable employees motivated, especially if they’re not appreciated. The one main reason why people get so frustrated at work is because they aren’t appreciated for the work they put in. They’ll put in hours after work, on the weekends and you wonder why people are so concerned about receiving credit? You need to wake up and take a course in employee motivation.

  3. FrauTech

    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.

  4. evilbunnytoo

    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).

  5. Anonymous

    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.

  6. Anonymous

    In response to Maybe you should be more concerned.

    Why shouldnt they be concerned?! What a stupid comment! If this guy is receiving credit for HER work, guess wholl be promoted later on? She shouldnt be anyone stepping stone.

  7. Anonymous

    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.

  8. Person who asked the Question

    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 hes 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 ownonly 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.

  9. Richard

    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?

  10. Cassie

    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.

  11. Anonymous

    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.

  12. evilbunnytoo

    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]).

  13. Anonymous

    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.

  14. Anonymous

    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.

  15. Anonymous

    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.

  16. Anonymous

    Though this blog is about a year old on this subject, I will offer this comment:

    Don’t feed your co-worker with help, when he is not helping you.

    Also, you can tell him politely that you do not appreciate his taking credit for your work or ideas. Tell him specifically which ideas he took and then ask him to stop.

    Easy to do? No, but completely necessary. Soften the comment with some BS, that you still want to be friends, etc. Just that he cannot take your ideas.

  17. Anonymous

    I am a fairly recent employee at a government agency, having worked there for eight months. At this point, I can work relatively independently. I have a mentor who has been very helpful, but I notice that in his status reports he overstates how much he has helped me. He takes credit for my ideas, and makes it sound as if he has to help me at every step of the way. As I stated before, I am fairly independent at the point, even though the work is complicated. My lead has basically only helped me with things I couldn’t possibly know as a new person.

    I recently did something that would have been considered incredibly productive by any stretch of the imagination, and no one in management said anything about my accomplishment. My lead, however, made it sound as if he had done all the work. I am concerned there may be some gender bias here; I am a woman on an all-male team. I last worked at a company where management kept people from stepping on each other’s toes.

    At this point I am strongly considering transferring to another branch. I honestly don’t think the project can be done without me.

    I am not sure whether to talk about this with anyone or not. Because I am such a new employee, I think maybe it would be better not to rock the boat. I have a good relationship with everyone, and I want to keep it that way.

    My lead has a reputation for “overhelping” people.

  18. Miss

    I have been in this situation recently.
    I offered to help my co worker with a huge project, that took 3 days to complete. My co worker started over in the middle of the project because of a mistake my co worker made in the beginning, so we wasted the first half of the time working on it. On top of that (Which I hate wasting time) my co worker left two of the 3 days for over 3 hours one day and all after noon the first day for supposed urgent family matters. I look back a few months and this same situation happened.
    Except it was our project, not soley my co workers.
    This last time I really got fed up and threw my hands up and said your on your own, after my co worker came back from the so called urgent family help (I found out half was needless help because this person decided to run errands while out) I went back to my own work and said I was behind on it. But then I think now that some people dont give me many projects to help with because I believe he made a comment on me not finishing help or too busy to help.
    The thing that gets me mad is that I sat in front of one of the people the project was for and listened to a phone call that said yeah the co worker is doing it now and she is helping with it, BS< my co worker was gone, not even there working on it!

  19. Anonymous

    Hi there. I realise that this is an old post now but I came across this article because of an incident that happened to me today at work. Albeit a small incident it has left me feeling rather demotivated. My colleague & I were discussing ways to help save the company from our printing & paper costs. I volunteered some thoughts that I had been having about the way our department does things, I felt really good about contributing – I’ve not felt brave enough to step up & put an idea or two forward before & i’m fairly new at this workplace.
    Anyway, within a few minutes a notice went around about a new post on our internal blog….lo & behold. there were my ideas sat there with her name credited to them.
    I’m certainly not going to point anything out – I don’t fancy friction overshadowing our department & I don’t want to seem peety or bitter about this.
    I’m just going to have to learn to watch who I share my ideas with but I feel robbed & cheated – even though it was a small thing to most people, to me it was quite a moment that I had felt proud of until it had be stolen.

  20. Random-Smokey-Stickers

    I commiserate with you all.

    Have you ever had a situation where you and your co-worker are working on the same project, and you are at equal levels in the organization… Then they (who have more experience than you) make situations where they pass off work you did as if they did it? It could be through emails (asking you to email them) or it could be through other forms like ideas? How do you stop this from hapening when you are on the same project?

  21. Skweekah

    Yeah, there are some rodents like this out there.

    It’s a tough situation to be in and everyone seems to have an opinion on how to deal with it. It all comes down to how assertive you are, how reasonable the offender is, and how competent and intelligent your manager is. In the end, changing workplaces may end up being your only option, but try to exhaust other avenues first. Who knows, this bootlick may end up leaving in a few months. You just never know.

    Keep your chin up and be resilient. Dont take it too personally if possible and cut some ties. Just go about YOUR business as usual.

    Best of luck. I know how anxiety-inducing these kinds of situations can be. Try not to lose any sleep over him/her though. They’re not worth it.

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