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TheStreet Open House

30% of Managers Have Taken the Fall for Others

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Should you take the blame for a screw-up at work not of your making?

It might give you some bonus points in the office for taking one for the team -- but it won't do much for your career.

Most likely, taking a bullet for a mistake-prone co-worker or manager also won't get you respect from either staffers or management. After all, bonuses, raises and promotions are tied directly to performance, and there are few better ways to calibrate performance than by counting mistakes made on the job.

So why do so many career professionals take the blame for a problem they didn't cause?

The fact is, many do.

According to a survey from OfficeTeam, a Menlo Park, Calif., employee recruiting firm, three in 10 managers say they have taken the blame for someone else's mistake at work. Of that group, 34% said they felt "indirectly responsible" for the situation, while another 28% said they "didn't want to get others in trouble."

But career momentum has a lot to do with respect, and staffers and managers who step up and take a hit for someone else's problem are likely squandering that respect.

"It's best to accept responsibility when you've made a mistake at work," says Robert Hosking, executive director of OfficeTeam. "However, sometimes professionals feel compelled to take the blame for something they didn't do. Depending on the infraction, being the scapegoat only hurts your own reputation."

A big part of the problem, especially in toxic, Machiavellian offices where politics can trump performance, is that workplace mistakes are widely viewed as a zero-sum game. That is, if a problem arises, the offending party loses status, while non-offending parties may see their stock rise in the office.

Taking the hit for a problem you didn't create shows the rest of the workplace, including management, that you don't know how to handle office politics and might even encourage others to seek you out to take (or share) the blame when a project blows up in their face.

Don't let the blame game happen to you. OfficeTeam has a few tips to avoid being played like a sucker in the workplace:

Always own up to your own mistakes. Managers do appreciate employees who take responsibility for their own errors. Come clean, OfficeTeam says, and the issue won't stick to you.

Know that taking the blame puts you at risk. Don't make a habit of covering for others in the workplace. The person who made the error may continue to make mistakes, and you will be the one whose job could be at risk, the survey says.

Make sure you document responsibilities. If you establish expectations for each worker on the job, in writing, it can not only alleviate the blame issue, but help reduce mistakes. Once a staffer or manager knows their names is attached to a responsibility, odds are they'll perform better. And if they don't, their name -- not yours -- is linked to the problem.

It's also a good idea to share credit when things go right. Do that by providing status reports to management that highlight group and individual employee successes.

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