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Theft at the Workplace: Good, Bad, and the Ugly

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Theft at the Workplace: Good, bad, and the ugly


A business or company has to deal with tremendous amounts of pressure from all directions in order to deliver a bottom line that improves everybody wealth inside and outside the organization to include employees, managers, CEO's, governments, stockholders, and other invested interests. Despite the attempts of these companies to deliver increased revenues and dividends year after year, the same employees being paid by these companies continue to steal from their workplace at an alarming rate. From pencils to paperclips, clocking in late or leaving early, meandering while at work, or billing personal items as business expenses, employees continue to invent new ways to steal from the workplace that employs them. This essay briefly explores the consequences of theft at the workplace, how companies may choose to deal with the issue, and whether theft at the workplace is an issue at all.

Keywords: bad behavior, dishonestly, ethics, paperclip, pilferage, theft.

Theft at the Workplace: Good, bad, and the ugly

In today's economy there are numerous influences affecting a business's bottom line or revenue. Natural disasters, changing business and tax laws, ever rising fuel costs, and the simple concept of supply and demand are all examples that affect a business's income. Many of these issues can be accounted for, written off, or even become the foundation for future increases in revenue. The business world changes daily, if not at a quicker pace in today's computer, internet, Twitter, and Facebook age. That being said, one aspect in business that has not changed significantly over time is that of dishonest or unethical behavior (think Enron or WorldCom). Perhaps the most abundant and controllable issue of bad behavior that a businesses continues to deal with from all levels is employee theft or pilferage. It is vital that a business or organization eliminate or minimize small theft and pilferage as it affects a business's ethical atmosphere, the bottom line of the company, and the salaries of the employees. Not everyone agrees on how to combat theft and pilferage at the workplace, but what may be surprising is that some professionals question whether there is a problem at all.

The Impact of Theft at the Workplace

Hollinger and Clark (1983) define employee theft as "the unauthorized taking, control, or transfer of money and/or property of the formal work organization that is perpetrated by an employee during the course of occupational activity" (as cited in Sauser, 2007, p. 13). Theft can range from surfing the internet during normal work hours, taking home a few paper clips and pencils, stealing money from a register to billing the company for personal expenses (the bad). An estimate of the actual dollar amount attributed to employee theft differs widely from 15 billion to 200 billion a year with a figure of 100 billion worldwide (the ugly) to be an extremely conservative and reasonable approximation (Sauser, 2007).

Wells (1994) describes employee thieves as being one of three categories: Occasional, Chronic, or Professional. An occasional pilferer is someone who takes home a few pens or calls their mother on a company long distance line. Occasional pilfers are not generally thieves or bad employees. Chronic pilfers can begin the real problem in the workplace as they typically take things home in plain sight of other employees and feel entitled to the items. The other concern with chronic pilferers is that it is a learned behavior (Wells, 1994). Although they are not usually stealing large sums of money, the biggest affect is seen by creating a negative atmosphere in the workplace where other employees may feel left out of this self-perceived perk system. This also can lead to the real offenders, the professional pilfers (pilferage and theft itself can be a slippery slope). Professional pilfers are employees who schemes to steal from the company they work from. An example would be a supply clerk who every month redistributes funds to a personal account covertly adding up to large sums of money over the year. Professional pilferers are premeditated and methodical often getting away with the crime for many years before, if ever being caught.

So how is this affecting the employee who steals from their employer? First, the obvious answer would be as a consequence of being caught. Most companies have some sort of stance on employee theft, many resulting in termination of the employee. Although this may depend on the climate of the company, how high the offense goes up the chain, or the severity of the items stolen or offense committed it would be hard for the employee to prove they deserve a pay raise or increased benefits shortly after being caught. The Coca Cola Corporation's Code of Business Conduct (COBC) clearly states the following:

"Theft of Company assets - whether physical theft such as unauthorized removal of Company product, equipment or information, or theft through embezzlement or intentional misreporting of time or expenses - may result in termination and criminal prosecution" (The Coca Cola Company COBC, 2008, p. 16).

Employees who steal from the workplace affect more than the companies they steal from. The simple fact remains that the more income a company loses to internal theft, the less potential income the company has to pay their employees. While an employee may think they are getting ahead financially by taking home office products to save a few



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