February 22, 2019

Workplace Theft Is on the Rise

“Your office is a den of thieves. Don’t take my word for it: When a forensic-accounting firm surveyed workers in 2013, 52 percent admitted to stealing company property. And the thievery is getting worse. The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners reports that theft of “non-cash” property—ranging from a single pencil in the supply closet to a pallet of them on the company loading dock—jumped from 10.6 percent of corporate-theft losses in 2002 to 21 percent in 2018. Managers routinely order up to 20 percent more product than is necessary, just to account for sticky-fingered employees.

Some items—scissors, notebooks, staplers—are pilfered perennially; others vanish on a seasonal basis: The burn rate on tape spikes when holiday gifts need wrapping, and parents ransack the supply closet in August, to avoid the back-to-school rush at Target. After a new Apple gadget is released, some workers report that their company-issued iPhone is broken—knowing that IT will furnish a replacement, no questions asked.

What’s behind this 9-to-5 crime wave? Mark R. Doyle, the president of the loss-prevention consultancy Jack L. Hayes International, points to a decrease in supervision, the ease of reselling purloined products online, and what he alleges is “a general decline in employee honesty.” The changing nature of the workplace may also bear some blame. Full-time employees now spend an average of 3.3 hours a day working from home—a fact reflected in the frequent disappearance of household items from the office. On social media, for instance, anonymous workers have confessed to stealing everything from light bulbs and toilet paper to Oreos, Windex smuggled out in a water bottle, and a fake Christmas tree. After one Reddit user expressed guilt over snatching coffee for weekend enjoyment, another poster offered a compelling rationalization: “You weren’t stealing the coffee. You were planning to work from home this weekend. Obviously you need coffee if you’re going to be working.” With the divide between apartment and cubicle blurring, taking stuff home isn’t even thought of as theft anymore, says Brian Friedman, the asset-protection director for HD Supply. “It’s [considered] an entitlement.””

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