How Can I Get Noticed at Work If My Supervisor Takes All the Credit?

Dear GoodTherapy.org,

I work in an office where there are multiple layers of management, making it hard for the people at the bottom (like me) to get noticed by the people at the top. We are encouraged to bring our ideas forward, but to do so within the “chain of command”—meaning my ideas go to my direct supervisor, who in turn is supposed to present those ideas to top executives. The problem is my ideas are often not shared with those at the top, making it hard for me to get noticed by the people who ultimately control my future at this company. Worse yet, in some cases my supervisor is actually taking credit for my ideas. I know this because I have seen memos circulated where my supervisor is being credited and appreciated for things I personally did. This infuriates me!

I know you will probably recommend that I meet with my supervisor about this, but since this person evaluates me and controls my raises, I feel like there is strong potential for negative repercussions. If I go straight to top management, then I am not honoring the chain of command as instructed. And we all know human resources (HR) is there not to look out for employees but rather to protect the company from liability, so I don’t think that’s a viable solution, either.

I just don’t know what to do. I love my job, but it’s very discouraging and upsetting when the work I do is not recognized as mine. It’s hard to feel valued. Do you have any ideas as to how I can get noticed and properly credited for the things I contribute at work? Thank you for your time. —Overlooked

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Dear Overlooked,

What a frustrating situation! It sounds like you feel stuck between wanting the recognition you deserve and fearing the repercussions of trying to achieve it. That feels like a no-win situation, and I imagine you are feeling pretty powerless. This also feels like a clash between what is “right” and what is pragmatic. It isn’t okay for someone to claim credit for your work. It is also true that some people (and organizations) do not operate with a shared sense of ethical obligation. You have every right to self-advocate. You also have the right not to if that is what will ultimately serve you the best.

You are wise to recognize that the person who is in charge of your evaluations and promotions is a risky person to air your grievance with. Unfortunately, your supervisor is also the person whose behaviors you’d like to change—and that will not happen without your concerns being brought to light.

Are there others in the company who have this experience? There can be strength in numbers if enough of you share this concern. If you have colleagues who have experienced this, they may have recommendations about what can and cannot work in your particular office environment. Where might you find sources of support within your organization? Also, is this dynamic part of the corporate culture (did your supervisor experience the same thing as part of “paying dues”), or is it specific to this supervisor? Your most effective strategy will depend in large part on the answers to some of these questions.

I do want to challenge your assumption that human resources (HR) cannot be a resource for you. Supporting employees might be seen as a good way to support the company. HR wants to protect the company from liability, and part of that is making sure employees feel they are being treated fairly (and thus are less likely to put forward claims of mistreatment). I know some agencies offer mediated conversations between supervisor and supervisee that are attended by an HR representative. It might be worth checking in about what resources are in place and how they are accessed.

The question I do have for you is where you stand on the balance of loving your job and being discouraged and resentful about not being recognized for the work you do. At what point will the frustration become big enough to stop you from loving your job?

I am sure you’ve run through various scenarios in your mind. Is your supervisor aware of their actions and the impact they have on you? If this were brought to awareness, would you be met with defensiveness or openness? If you were to raise concerns, would your situation improve or would you risk things getting worse? Might you even risk losing your job?

Without knowing your specific work culture, how feedback is handled within the organization, and how employees are evaluated, it is impossible to give you specific suggestions. The question I do have for you is where you stand on the balance of loving your job and being discouraged and resentful about not being recognized for the work you do. At what point will the frustration become big enough to stop you from loving your job?

We are more likely to take risks when the potential negative outcomes feel manageable. What are you willing to risk in order to potentially make your situation feel better?

One final thought: When we find ourselves in circumstances that are unacceptable to us, we ultimately have two choices—change our circumstances or change how we feel about them. In other words, you can take action (finding a new job, bringing your concerns into the open) or you can find acceptance with the status quo. Only you know which path will best serve you.

Best of luck,

Erika Myers, MS, MEd, LPC, NCC

Erika Myers
Erika Myers, MS, MEd, LPC, NCC is a licensed psychotherapist and former educator specializing in working with families in transition (often due to separation or divorce) as well as individuals seeking support with relationship issues, parenting, depression, anxiety, grief/loss/bereavement, and managing major life changes. Although her theoretical orientation is eclectic, she most frequently uses a person-centered, strengths-based approach and cognitive behavioral therapy in her practice.
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  • Bryce

    Bryce

    June 9th, 2017 at 10:29 AM

    It would be great for you if you could some way figure out how you could circumnavigate and go over your direct supervisors head. I am sure that there is an appropriate chain of command but it doesn’t sound like it is working for you. Do you think that maybe you could go to HR and solicit their help in getting you to the right person, or so you feel that that too would fall on deaf ears?

  • James

    James

    June 12th, 2017 at 2:07 PM

    some people would just say that this is all a part of just paying your dues like every other working guy has had to do at some point in their lives

  • Arnie

    Arnie

    June 13th, 2017 at 3:11 PM

    How about this- you try to become best friends with the guy who takes all your credit? Maybe that way if they have an ounce of a caring bone in their body then they would start to feel bad about the way that they are behaving and they would stop.
    It’s sort of like shaming your friends into doing the right thing

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