There's a Good Chance Your Managers Are Taking Credit for Employees' Successes

Step into any bar across America at about 5:30 p.m. and you'll probably find at least one patron drowning their work-related sorrows and complaining about their boss.

Few things can bring a worker down as fast as a bad manager can, so it's important for companies to keep tabs on their supervisors.

Forty-four percent of respondents to HR software developer BambooHR's "Bad Boss Index" survey said a bad boss has been the primary reason they have left a job in the past. Bad management, real or perceived, can affect the bottom line by increasing turnover and hiring costs and lowering productivity.

Stop Hogging All the Credit

The most unacceptable thing a boss can do in the eyes of employees is take credit for the accomplishments of subordinates, according to 75 percent of employee respondents to BambooHR's survey. Conversely, only 52 percent of manager respondents recognized this as a problem, suggesting that many bosses may not even realize they are failing to give recognition to their teams.

"I believe it stems from what I call 'contextual myopia,'" says Rusty Lindquist, vice president of thought leadership at BambooHR. "When someone becomes a boss, they suddenly forget what it was like to be an employee."

Of course, on an intellectual level, these managers do retain memories of their employee experiences. However, in the course of their day-to-day managerial duties, they forget about the realities of being an employee.

"[They] forget about the context of being an employee and don't behave in ways that would demonstrate they're actively empathizing with their employees," Lindquist says. "They become myopic to the context they're currently in."

We write often at Recruiter Today about the correlations between employee engagement and retention, so regular readers should understand by now that acknowledging employee contributions to successful endeavors is key.

"The reason this is important is because I suspect the discrepancy gap is even greater than what it appears in the survey," Lindquist says. "In the survey, a larger portion of respondents are likely to be more actively switching contexts, but in the day-to-day behaviors of real-world boss behaviors, it's likely much worse. No wonder, then, that organizations everywhere seem to be suffering from an epidemic of bad-boss behaviors that are making the workplace less workable."

Lindquist says the problem is compounded by a tendency – especially apparent in small and medium-sized businesses – to promote top performers to management roles, even if those top performers don't have very good managerial skills.

"When a fledgling boss has an opportunity to shine by stealing the limelight and taking credit for an employee's work, they often will do so," Lindquist says. "The problem intensifies when either the boss is new and trying to build a reputation of success or when the department is struggling. At these times, the boss is trying to prop up their reputation and validate their position as manager."

Good bosses understand how team contributions stack up to create successes, and they also know how to represent those contributions to their own bosses and to the employees themselves.

"The thing bosses often haven't realized yet is that the performance metric changed when the context changed," Lindquist says. "Now, they need to start demonstrating that they are a good manager, not a good top performer. To do that, they need to start highlighting and openly celebrating team member triumphs."

Managers who gain a reputation for giving credit where it is due will attract more top performers to their teams. The best way to gain such a reputation: openly celebrate team triumphs.

"Leverage them for reward and recognition opportunities; celebrate them openly and publicly," Lindquist says. "When you do this, you will be seen as a boss who helps employees win and celebrates those wins when they happen. That's when the other members of your team tend to step up their own [efforts] while overall team outcomes climb. These metrics are the ones that bosses can more appropriately put their names beside."

Turning Bad Bosses Into Good Bosses

Managers who prefer to hog the credit may find themselves with less credit to hog in the long term as unrecognized workers become unproductive.

"If employees realize that the boss is likely to take credit for star performance, they're a lot less motivated to be star performers," Lindquist says. "Worse still, you can end up creating a culture of credit-taking."

People like seeing the fruits of their labors, and they want others to enjoy those fruits alongside them, Lindquist explains. However, when organizations aren't careful, they can end up creating cultures that celebrate credit-takers rather than the people whose labor actually produced the fruit.

"[T]he organization can end up cultivating the wrong thing," Lindquist says. "Instead of cultivating value-producers, they cultivate credit-takers, and then it's just a race to see who can take credit the fastest. It becomes a toxic cultural spiral."

If you're a manager, it's time to self-evaluate. Make sure your team members get the recognition they deserve for their accomplishments. Executives should also review themselves and the managers under their supervision.

"One of the reasons the epidemic of bad-boss behavior is so pervasive is that we're not trained to look for [these behaviors], and we don't understand their impact when we see them," Lindquist says. "The first and easiest step an organization can take toward treatment [of the epidemic] is to simply increase awareness."

Increasing awareness means training managers to watch out for behaviors that negatively impact employee sentiment. If managers can recognize these behaviors early on, they can intervene and prevent disastrous outcomes.

"Helping managers recognize bad behavior and the sweeping impact of it can go a long way to solving the problem," Lindquist says.