Employee’s Sticky Fingers (Workplace Theft)

Have you ever eaten a meal so delicious that you force yourself to save a portion of it to enjoy the next day? You carefully pack the flavorful masterpiece and head off to work eagerly anticipating the moment when you will once again be able to enjoy the delectable piece of happy.  At lunchtime, you go to retrieve it from the refrigerator and…IT’S GONE!  You spend a few minutes combing through every shelf and drawer thinking maybe you’ve overlooked it or you hid it so well that discovery requires a treasure map. Deep in your heart, you know the FBI level search is in vain and that one of your inconsiderate, unsophisticated palate having, thieving coworkers has nourished themselves with your scrumptious food.

Employee’s Sticky Fingers (Workplace Theft)

Stolen food, while a major nuisance to the hungry victim, is a minor offense as far as employee theft is concerned. It wasn’t until recently that I realized how HUGE a problem it is for companies.

A July 2015 SHRM article estimated that 1 in 38 retail employees were arrested for theft in 2014.  Survey results from 25 large retailers also revealed that about $15 billion dollars of total losses were attributed to employee theft.  That’s a little more than a third of all reported loss due to theft.

There are a variety of methods employers utilize to minimize and deter employee theft. Amazon, always striving for the “Glassdoor Worst Employer Award” has taken to scare tactics to deter their employees from stealing. They play video clips of past warehouse employees that detail what the former employees stole, how much the items were worth, and the punishment they received, termination and/or arrest.

Working in a corporate environment, I tend to think about employee theft on a grandiose scale: embezzlement, stealing proprietary information, misuse of a corporate card, or kickbacks. We use pre-employment background screenings to prevent this type of behavior.  While retail workers account for the most employee theft, merchandise, cash from registers, and bank deposits are not the only items that employees pilfer.

Employees steal TIME. I would venture a guess that every one of us is guilty of this on some level. It would be great if time spent cyber shopping, checking your Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Periscope, Snapchat, and LinkedIn feeds, and reading all of the great content on #PICHR blog (on your personal  or a company asset) was done only during scheduled break times but we know this isn’t the case. Then there are the trips to the printer or restroom that turn into chat sessions.  It wasn’t your intention to spend 45 minutes talking to your coworker about something non-work related but you don’t make up the time either. Harmless, I know.

To moderate, employers require employees to account for their total time spent working at the end of each day or at the completion of each task via timecards. There are mechanisms in place to limit the time that employees can spend on certain websites as well as sites that are blocked all together.

OFFICES SUPPLIES are seized by employees, daily. There are workers who browse through the supply book and order their children’s school supplies. There are others who take reams of paper for in home use without a second thought that it’s an abuse of resources and just…wrong.

Employers have cracked down on this excess in several ways. Some require all orders be placed via the “Supply Police”, that coworker who makes you use chewed up ball point pens until the all of the ink is gone. Many require charge numbers known only to someone who’s already separated from the company. Others have online systems that require multiple levels of approvals.  These tactics can be an annoyance to some who just want their yearly calendar, but sadly, very necessary.

PAPER TOWELS, PAPER PLATES, CUPS, FORKS, KNIVES, SPOONS, ALUMINUM FOIL, CUP-O-SOUP, MICROWAVE POPCORN, COFFEE PODS, DISINFECTING WIPES, etc. All of those luxuries were meant to be enjoyed at work. They are not meant to fill your pantry at home.

I say it’s perfectly acceptable to stockpile these things in your workspace for later use.  Don’t be the next employee caught on surveillance video stealing boxes of paper goods and aluminum foil for your weekend BBQ.  Just add those things to your shopping list along with the hot dogs and buns.  You don’t want to be the reason the company starts charging for cups of coffee and water and stops providing fancy, free extras to the rest of us.

Is lunchroom theft a gateway drug to more serious employee theft?  Not likely. So, rest assured that the person who stole the leftovers you tucked away in your adult lunch bag, used your lactose-free vanilla caramel coffee creamer, dressed their salad with your creamy ranch, and drank 4 of your 6 strawberry kiwi sparkling waters is only a threat to your appetite. And, instead of putting your name on your refrigerator items, try labeling them with some kind of biohazard to repel the “lunch bandit”.

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M Puglise


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