Thieves are on the loose in offices across the country.
They're called idea thieves, taking the best from their colleagues and claiming those ideas for themselves.
Though they may not go to jail for their crimes, those who have been their victims probably would love to sentence them to some hard time in an unemployment office.
In a survey of 444 workers done by OfficeTeam, a staffing service specializing in placing administrative professionals, 29 percent of workers in an office environment say they have been bothered by a co-worker taking credit for their ideas. Still, 51 percent said they did nothing about it.
"Today's workplace is more competitive than ever and, unfortunately, there are people who will go to great lengths to make themselves look good or get promoted, including taking credit for someone else's ideas," said Robert Hosking, executive director of OfficeTeam.
Andrew Sassaman, division director with Pittsburgh-based Robert Half International, said, "What happens is that in an uncertain economy, a lot of employees resort to things that they ordinarily would not do."
Theft of one employee's ideas by a colleague shows up in any number of ways, Mr. Sassaman said.
"Sometimes it's one employee overhearing something that another person says in a nearby cubicle. Or it can even be as blatant as taking ideas off desks."
Certain office settings are more susceptible to idea theft than others.
"If an office has a very team-oriented culture, where ideas are frequently voiced, you are less likely to find this kind of behavior," Mr. Sassaman said. "But if it's a competitive environment, which doesn't foster ideas and opinions, you're much more likely to have a problem with idea theft."
The best way to handle it?
"Being proactive in sharing your vision with your manager and colleagues early on can help ensure that others know the concept originated with you," Mr. Hosking said.
Here are some tips the two experts offered:
•Use status updates to remind your boss about your ideas, along with progress reports about how and what you're doing to make your idea a reality.
•You might want to ignore it if the idea stolen is just a small one. But if it happens a lot, you need to speak up for yourself.
•Go to the colleague you think stole your idea to give that person a chance to explain. The whole thing may be a misunderstanding.
"This is a conversation which needs to happen in a private place. It shouldn't happen in an open area," Mr. Sassaman said.
"You say, 'I felt that was something I deserved credit for.' You ask them in a nonaccusatory manner, 'How did things happen that way?' "
•On the other hand, if you are the one being credited for an idea that wasn't yours, make sure you tell those in charge and your colleague who really had the idea so that the situation can be corrected, or at least aired.
The Block News Alliance consists of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Blade. Mr. Hammonds is a Post-Gazette reporter.
Contact Don Hammonds at firstname.lastname@example.org