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damage control

The question

I work in a senior management level job where unfortunately our board thinks that all of my stellar work reflects significant input or direction from my boss, who in reality makes no contribution whatsoever and even takes credit where none at all is due. Of course, I cannot virtually stand up in a meeting when they say “thank you” to both of us and yell: “But no – it’s just me!” How do I handle this without approaching my boss, who clearly wants the credit, and the financial bonus? Signed, me: Frustrated and upset star worker not getting the credit

The answer

My 23-year-old self would hate me for what I’m about to say.

Twisting a lock of his foppish hair around his index finger, frowning and tugging thoughtfully on his earring, he’d be like: “Dude, what have you become? Where is your optimism, your child-like wonder, and faith in human nature?”

Answer: I left it on the Hampton Jitney.

My first job out of school was at a Long Island newspaper called The East Hampton Star. I remember on the bus on my way out thinking “Not only will I admit freely to my own mistakes; sometimes I will nobly ‘fall on the grenade’ for my colleagues, and take the blame for their mistakes, too.”

When the shiftless layabouts and trust-fund dilettantes who comprised the staff of The East Hampton Star found out this was my policy, they dumped their mistakes on me wholesale, and my contract, as they say, was not renewed at the end of the summer.

“Hmm,” I thought, back at my mother’s, sleeping on her couch, licking my wounds. “Is it time perhaps for me to rethink my assessment of human nature?”

Long answer: “Maybe so.” Short answer: “Yes.”

The rat-race has always been dog-eat-dog. It’s fun to socialize with one’s fellow humans, laugh and sip chardonnay in the sunshine. But too often, those good times are tainted by some people trying to get ahead, to gain the slightest advantage and/or cover up their shortcomings/incompetence/lack of talent.

Now, with COVID-19 destroying everything in its path and economic thunderclouds roiling on the horizon, work I can only imagine is more a knife-fight than ever.

What I would suggest in the case of your boss is, first and foremost: take notes, detailed and dated, of each incident of his credit-grabbing antics.

To what end? Not clear yet. But “notes” carry an almost numinous quality of super-legitimacy; and if push comes to shove, you may find a lawyer, or someone from HR, or one of your boss’s bosses, asking for “your notes,” at which point, hey presto: you can produce them.

But here’s hoping push doesn’t come to shove. Next step: quietly find a way to let your boss’s bosses know it was you, and not your boss, who was the genius behind the “stellar” report or spreadsheet or pie chart or whatnot that was so widely praised.

Do this (ideally) in person, or (less ideal) over the phone. Stay away from e-mails or texts. With e-mails and texts, you’re on the record. Also, e-mails and texts have a way of persisting unto eternity; and they hold up in court.

But if you’re just having a “casual chat” with one of your boss’s bosses, you have plausible deniability. It’s just hearsay: he said/she said.

Am I, an advice columnist, advocating backstabbing? Double-crossing your boss? Long answer: “Well, I could see how one might interpret it that way.” Short answer: “Yes.”

(Yes, 23-year-old self: this is what I’ve become. This is where I’ve landed.)

But ask yourself this: who would you rather see out on the street, come the holidays, without a bonus, you or your boss?

Anyway, he or she started it. And who knows? You might even get a raise and/promotion and/or supersized bonus out of the whole escapade.

Are you in a sticky situation? Send your dilemmas to damage@globeandmail.com. Please keep your submissions to 150 words and include a daytime contact number so we can follow up with any queries.

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