By Mark Falanga
Photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Let’s face facts, we’ve all done it: taken an extra stapler to keep at a work station, a ream of paper somehow mysteriously appears at your desk, or even a pen from the office somehow ends up at your house one day. It seems harmless, but in reality, it hurts the company and almost always trickles down to the employees. But how much does it hurt? According to the International Foundation for Protection Officers, companies worldwide lose $50 billion annually.
What makes it worse is that sometimes the employees steal things they don’t even need. In an interview with AOL, professional organizer Matt Paxton told a story of a retired worker at Eastman Kodak who had 20 years worth of obsolete items like carbon paper stuffed in his closets. But what exactly brings out this behavior?
In 2010, the California Restaurant Association detailed three reasons why employees steal from their jobs. The first is that the employee feels that the employer has wronged them or is underpaying them for their job. The second is that the employee believes that the employer is insured for any losses that they encounter, or the company is so large that they won’t notice. Lastly, the employee hasn’t seen enforcement of theft prevention; therefore, they feel that stealing items isn’t a big concern for the company.
The last reason is particularly important, because if employees just took a stapler or tape dispenser every so often, the company wouldn’t notice. But sometimes employees tend to hoard expensive items from their employers. When this happens, the effects to the company’s bottom line become more obvious.
This was the case of Ingrid Lederhaas-Okun, who worked as a vice president of product development for Tiffany & Co. That title came with obvious perks. She was able to take jewelry out of the office, in order to garner production estimates from potential manufacturers. However, Lederhaas-Okun didn’t return the items. When Tiffany & Co. asked for the items back, she claimed they were lost or damaged and couldn’t be returned. However, investigators found out she had a buyer lined up ready to pay her $1.3 million for her 165 items of jewelry.
This scenario is not something new to famous rapper, actor, and former jewel thief, Ice-T. In an interview with Bloomberg Business Week, he states, “When you steal things in that kind of quantity, that’s what we call consignment theft. You don’t just put it on the fence and hope somebody picks it up. Everything is bought and paid for long before you steal it.”
Photo courtesy of Mike Kline
However, this isn’t the only thing that employees can steal from an employer. While physical merchandise is expensive and accounted for, there’s one thing employees can steal that is almost impossible to catch… time. Many employees knowingly waste time by surfing the internet at work. According to Forbes, 64 percent of employees visit non-work related sites every day. Of those 64 percent, 29 percent spend two hours per week visiting these sites. That’s a lot of time and money wasted by checking Facebook.
One man even took it to an extreme by outsourcing his own job. According to The Daily Mail, a software developer making $250,000 outsourced his own job to employees in China and paid them $50,000. He then spent his work days watching cat videos and bidding for items on eBay. When management noticed that people had been signing onto their server from China, they checked the employee’s computer and found a number of invoices paid to the men.
So what’s an employer to do about the problem of employee theft? Aleicia Latimer, associate general counsel and human resources services manager for AlphaStaff Group, Inc., tells Human Resource Executive Online that the best short-term solution is to tighten security.
“People are less likely to take more than they need because they have to see someone face-to-face,” says Latimer.
One way you can do this is by assigning a person to keep a record of what comes out of the supply closet and who it goes to.
She also mentions that it’s important for human resources to create and enforce a policy that details what will happen if someone is caught stealing, so there’s no miscommunication between the employee and employer.
“You can enforce your rules and regulations appropriately”, says Latimer, “But if you are going to discipline someone, you have to do it consistently.”
So the next time that an employee tries to hoard something, like a stapler, management should be aware and remove the item from the person’s desk. Hopefully the shamed employee won’t threaten to set the building on fire.