Office thieves: dealing with employees that might steal

December 2, 2019 Jannine Dockhorn

It can be disheartening and unpleasant to hear that your own employees are stealing from the company. Whether it’s a small office item or something much more serious like money or computers, because we expect a level of trust from our employees, an internal theft can have more damaging effects than if it was someone outside of the company.

But why might employees want to steal from a company and how can organisations deal with office thieves?

When we hire, we tend to look for qualities like loyalty because loyal, trustworthy employees are important for employer brand. But if employees feel like they don’t identify with the company, then they might start to act against their employer’s interests and in some cases, this could lead to them stealing from the company.

Of course, employees might be partial to taking the odd pen or notebook home with them for their personal use but where should we draw the line? For example, does charging a personal mobile phone whilst in work count as theft because they are using the company’s electricity for personal use? And what happens if employees start taking home more costly items like wads of paper or printer ink cartridges? Eventually, it can add up to big costs.

In fact, for some industries, thieving employees can cost companies millions of pounds. According to a recent survey of the retail sector, 28,145 employees were fired for stealing more than $114 million worth of goods from companies.

How can we stop thieves?

Workplace thieves can come from any part of the business, including higher management and the C-level, so they can be hard to identify. It can also be dangerous and damaging to our reputation if we start accusing employees of something they might not have done. But there are ways that companies can prevent thieving behaviour, such as enforcing a stricter code of conduct. For example, following the financial crisis, banks encouraged employees to report irregularities in money transfers or suspicious activity more often. 

When it comes to money theft, however, it can be more difficult for organisations to monitor and identify the person stealing because of the sophisticated techniques that allow money to be transferred across accounts, leaving little to no trace. In this scenario, it’s better to involve cybersecurity specialists rather than trying to deal with the problem yourself.  

Many thieves act as if they are not expecting to be caught in the short term and only a few

think about long-term consequences. This means that many thieves will strike again after the first successful coup and over time they become more careless with their actions. Keeping a watchful eye on finances, suspicious emails and calls that come into the company is important in catching the criminals, whether it’s your employees or not.

The best prevention for workplace thieving is to ensure that you’re creating a good working atmosphere. Anyone who identifies strongly with the company and regards colleagues as friends are less likely to go behind their back and steal from them or the company. Talent management must also consider the self-development and wellbeing of employees and whether it needs improving ‒ this is now one of the most important workforce needs. Preventing or limiting opportunities such as further training, promotions or new exciting tasks, can also lead to alienation from the company. Strategic talent management is the key to mastering the problem: quietly and efficiently.

About the Author

Jannine Dockhorn

More than 10 years of experience in international B2B marketing management in technological environments.

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