As most of the country probably doesn’t know, April 15 was Steal From Work Day, an off-the-grid event that encourages workers to steal from their employers in an effort to even the playing field with their bosses.
Don’t worry. While this does point to the fact that theft in the workplace is becoming an increasingly commonplace event, the scope of this group is narrow at best (it’s basically a deliberate misunderstanding of how the world works to justify stealing stuff). The real question is: How did we get to the point where petty theft has manifested into righteous indignation?
The thing is, qualifying theft isn’t always a matter of missing staplers or a suspiciously “off” cash register. For example, it’s estimated that hangovers alone are costing U.S. businesses $148 billion annually (about $2,000 per person) according to research from the University of California. That’s a pretty big cushion to start with before you even begin justifying Enron-grade embezzlement or barista-grade coffee chugging. Then there’s also the matter of stealing ideas or taking the credit for your subordinate’s hard earned work—a theft that may lead to that same disgruntled employee actually stealing from the company!
On a very basic level, most employees steal because they feel underappreciated and entitled to as much as their employers earn—generally greed over need. In 2011, 43% of people admitted to stealing things from work for personal use. The challenge, though, is defining what constitutes a proper workplace pilferage, and the delicate ways to handle the employees you suspect.
Dealing with theft
Shrinkage vs. theft
The line between forgivable and unacceptable depends on the size, integrity and nature of the business you’re running. It’s important to set a clear example in the workplace of what will and won’t be tolerated.
Immediately begin investigating and get a clear picture of the situation as early as you can—what has been taken, when, etc.— and never accuse someone until you’re absolutely certain they are guilty.
Inquire people beyond the suspects for information so it is known that you’re serious about theft, and that there are investigations and consequences involved.
Preventing theft without breaking the bank
Keep them happy
Any effective employer knows that keeping people motivated to do meaningful work means a careful balance of carrot and stick. But while you may not always be able to reward great work with a cold hard carrot, you can at least make sure they’re feeling appreciated and valued with your words, actions and general attitude.
Surprise your employees with free pizza at lunchtime, or plan an after-hours company party at the karaoke bar down the street — one group rendition of "Bohemian Rhapsody" and morale will be through the roof. And if you can't spring that far, a few well-chosen words of praise will make anybody's day (and don't cost you a thing).
Have some faith
Don’t let the paranoia of being taken advantage of get in the way of building good relationships with your employees. The best way to test their moral fiber is by giving them the responsibility of earning your trust. It’s your basic We’re-In-This-Thing-Together 101, and more often than not leads to mutual respect. However, never put all of your trust in just one person.
Don’t hire Jesse James
Establish a clear value-alignment between the employee and yourself at the very first stages of employment. Take the time to thoroughly check with their references, and remember that old habits can be hard to shake.
For the most part, it really is a few pens that accidentally wind up in pockets—not an egregious larceny. But while it would be a little absurd to assume “today four pens, tomorrow four-digit pins”, you do have to consider the danger of fostering an environment that leads to theft. Being aware of office dynamics and establishing a trusting environment with your employees is a good place to start.
This guest post was written by Cara Giaimo, a blogger for SimpliSafe. Cara covers issues regarding home security, safety, consumer technology, and crime; in her spare time, she likes running, jamming with friends, and making strange types of ice cream. SimpliSafe is a leader in the wireless home security field.