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Stealing In The Office - How Can Stationary Theft Be Reduced?

Our research from May this year found that employee theft potentially costs British businesses more than £190 million annually. This came from our survey, which found that more than two-thirds of office workers - 67% - admit to stealing in the office.

How big is the problem?

If we consider that, according to the Office of National Statistics, as many as 22.74 million workers are employed in an office then - using our stats - more than 15 million steal from the workplace.

With an average theft value of £12.50, we’re able to estimate the cost for UK businesses at £190 million. Not only this, but almost three-quarters of these people have never been caught stealing, and of those that had more than half got away without a penalty or disciplinary with just 13% losing their job as a result. To some it might seem irrelevant when a few things go missing - post-it notes, toilet paper, a few pens or folders - but, as we can see, this does all add up to a substantial amount.

Why do people steal?

There are a number of reasons for stealing but frequently it’s due to the fact that stealing is so easy - in fact, 26% of people who steal do it because they think the company won’t notice. More worryingly, is that 11% of things stolen are from colleagues - often due to arguments or jealousy. As mentioned before, 51% of those who steal also got away with it without any punishment. Perhaps it’s time employers took a stronger stance on the issue.

What can be done to reduce stationary theft?

When staff begin to steal, it becomes a regular occurrence, with 66% stealing in the office at least one or twice a month. So, how can we reduce stationary theft?

  • Alternating duties - Dean Benard from Benard and Associates says: “If one person is always responsible for the same thing and only they are knowledgeable about that task or area it enables them to do things that no one else is aware of. If you alternate duties and train other people, it’s more difficult to hide things.”
  • Audits and monitoring - If you notice theft but can’t stop it then incorporate a system of auditing that makes it easier to monitor the stationary and other things in the office. This will help you to identify the problem sooner. Potentially, even try to get other employees on board with an anonymous hotline or box to help expose culprits
  • Screening - The easiest fix is prevention and Profile Inc. vice-president, Daniel Ulrich, said: “Your first line of defence is a proper pre-employment screening.” So consider due diligence before hiring anyone
  • Increase employee engagement - Stats have shown that engagement and job satisfaction is at an all-time low. This means that employees can feel undervalued or disillusioned at work. To combat this, you can try office team building (link to team building piece) to engage employees and make them more invested in the company
  • Educate - It might seem obvious but sometimes employees aren’t sure whether they are allowed to take bits and pieces from the office. With this in mind, take the time to run a training programme so no-one can plead ignorance to policies - and they know what to do if there are thefts.

What’s the best way to deal with suspicions of employee theft?

The key to begin with is finding tangible evidence of who committed the theft. CCTV and computer records can work in some detection but for stationary theft, finding hard evidence can be tricky. Sometimes you might see a change in employee persona. Of course, this can’t be used as evidence so it’s likely that legal advice should be sought in the first instance. It is a sensitive subject but cautious interviews/meetings could be an option - alternatively, keep an eye on the situation - and stock take - to see how it develops.

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