Editor's Note: Work Therapy is an online feature that answers readers' questions about managing workplace stress and anxiety. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, and please indicate whether you would like your name associated with the question.
Question: My boss is inappropriately praised for a lot of work she has nothing to do with. The problem is that she seems to feel a need to imply -- and sometimes outright state -- that she is responsible for the work done by me and others who report to her.
She creates the perception that she has a hand in (or is solely responsible for) every contribution our group makes. And it works great for her; she has received two promotions in the three years I've been at this job, while the most progress anyone who reports to her has made is to have the word "senior" added to our existing titles while we stay in the same pay grade.
How does one address this situation without seeming petty, or is this actually a petty complaint?
Answer: Seething because someone stole your stapler is petty. So is hoarding all of the Splenda from the office kitchen. But feeling frustrated because you're not being recognized for a job well-done isn't. The best managers look for employees to build up and champion. What your boss is doing is the opposite of that.
"One of the things that is key for career advancement is finding a mentor or someone to promote you," says Stephen Gravenkemper, a psychologist at Plante & Moran LLP, a management consulting firm. "Labels such as 'leadership potential' are defined early in a career."
That said, before you accuse your boss of using you to boost herself up the corporate ladder, make sure what she's doing is intentional. It's possible that from time to time she could confuse one of your contributions with hers.
"There are cases where people might hear something in a meeting and then two weeks later they might think it was their idea," says Gravenkemper. "If you give the supervisor the benefit of the doubt, it helps."
If you conclude that your boss has taken credit for your work too many times for it to be an accident, you shouldn't rush to confront her about it. First, you need to prepare yourself for how she'll react when you bring it up. Is she someone who will scream, "How much stroking do you need?" or will she respond more civilly?
"You want to confront this in a way that ensures that the supervisor is going to be receptive," says Gravenkemper. "Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. Do you know of any situations where she's gotten this feedback, and how did she respond?"
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