What is Employee Theft?
Employee theft is defined as “the stealing, use or misuse of an employer’s assets without permission”. The term “employer’s assets” is important because it implies that employee theft may involve more than just money or company property. In many industries, there are far more important things than money that employees can steal from a company. Not all of these are tangible items, and because each is unique, there are many different aspects of security to consider when putting systems and policies in place to protect your assets.
Below are some of the different assets that employees may steal from their employers:
- Money: This is most common asset stolen from employers.
- Time: This occurs when an employee is paid for time that he/she did not work. This usually happens through falsifying time keeping records, or when employees are not working while on the job.
- Supplies: Common examples of theft of supplies include office supplies (paper, pens, computers, etc.) and restaurant supplies (food, condiments, silverware, etc.).
- Merchandise/Company Property: Theft of products that are to be sold.
- Information: Stealing product designs and trade secrets.1
Why do people steal at work?
Why do people steal at work or participate in theft? Research supports the notion that many employees engage in theft as a form of counterproductive work behaviour. Counterproductive work behaviours have several underlying causes such as low satisfaction, a lack of organisational commitment, or conflicts with supervisors.2
- Standard of Conduct
Theft can be a sign of disrespect toward the organisation as a whole. Rather than teamwork and a sense of camaraderie, stealing company items for your own personal use can show that employees are thinking in a selfish or singular fashion. The attitude of “what’s in it for me” or “what can I get out of this” can have a negative impact on the overall atmosphere of the office, along with significantly impacting the company’s bottom line.
- Unappreciated Employees
Office supply theft can be a sign of disgruntled employees, according to a 2007 survey commissioned by Deloitte & Touche. The survey found that employees are more likely to steal when they are feeling underappreciated or have to regularly work long hours. Additionally, having a disproportioned work and life balance contributed to unethical behaviour at the office. The higher expenses that often accompany office supply theft can negatively impact the increase in productivity that is gained by employees working overtime. Showing appreciation for the time employees put in at the office can positively affect the company in both morale and productivity.3
Theft of business supplies
The smaller the business, the more like overkill theft-prevention efforts may seem, but a small business can be hit hard by the accumulation of small losses. Employees need office supplies to do their work. Businesses need to control operational costs, including the cost of replacing stolen office supplies.
A theft-prevention plan should focus on creating an ethical environment through clear policies and consistently applied procedures. Here are six tips on curtailing the theft of supplies:
- Examine the company’s processes for the purchase and distribution of office supplies
This will help to identify the places at which theft can occur. For instance, identify employees who frequently need replacement items or monitor the disappearance of office supplies from common areas such as mail rooms.
- Assign specific employees to purchase and distribute supplies
For instance, have your accounting staff order supplies and your office manager monitor and distribute the supplies.
- Designate a place to store office supplies under lock and key
Lock away supplies in a designated storeroom, cabinet, or desk drawer and provide access to specific employees. Limited access ensures accountability.
- Create clear, simple policies covering the theft of office supplies.
List the items defined as office supplies, such as paper and tape dispensers, so employees understand what the policy covers. Define what constitutes theft in the policy, such as removing supplies from the workplace for use at home.
- Distribute the policies and procedures in written form
Request that all employees sign the documentation and provide clear communication that the company takes office supply theft seriously and does not consider it to be different from stealing money or merchandise.
- Formulate particular consequences for the theft of office supplies that match the offense
Maintain confidentiality and take care that the handling of the event does not adversely affect employee morale or the willingness to cooperate in the future.4
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