Office Supplies: Stopping Employee Theft!

It may start off as simply as taking home a pencil or pen tucked into a shirt pocket or dropped into a purse by accident. Maybe it’s a box of highlighters and a binder for a child’s school project. But employee theft of office supplies costs companies over fifty billion dollars each and every year and affects everyone, from the honest employee to the manager to the salesperson to the consumer who ends up paying higher costs overall. And far from being a victimless crime, the theft of office supplies has been found to be a major factor in many business bankruptcies!

But where do you start in dealing with employee theft of office supplies without seeming to be petty or a vindictive employer? Follow these tips below and you’ll find your costs decreasing in having to replace and purchase new office supplies almost instantly.

First, make it clear to your employees that office supplies are supposed to be only for the office and not for personal or home use. True, a box of pencils or erasers might each only cost a few dollars but if ten or twenty or a hundred employees help themselves to these office supplies you’ll find your accounting department spending far more than you had estimated. It doesn’t have to be just pens and pencils, office supplies include the paper needed to run the copy machine; binders and notebooks that all add up quickly when employees help themselves to the office supply cupboard without restraint. Estimates range from one third to one half of all business bankruptcies having some sort of employee theft as a main cause, and stealing office supplies ranks highly in these studies.

Establish a tracking system for your office supplies in order to see where they’re going and at what rate they’re being used. It may be as simple as asking your staff to sign a clipboard each time they take a box of pencils out of the office supply cabinet. Or as complicated as having a lock placed on the cupboard and a specific employee assigned to track and sign out boxes of office supplies when needed. This may seem excessive, but the cost can be substantial over time when you find out how many office supplies are disappearing without valid cause.

Getting to the root of employee theft of office supplies is hard because most employers don’t see it from their staff’s point of view. A low-paid employee might justify the theft of a stapler and office supplies for their daughter because they feel the company “owes” it to them due to their low status in the company. They might feel that it’s a form of compensation due them and will freely take office supplies using this justification. After all, it’s only a few dollars here and there – and if an employee feels that they’re being underpaid or underappreciated the theft of office supplies isn’t really a theft, it’s just getting equal.

An employee higher up in the company may see office supplies as nothing more than a bonus, the items owed to them purely on their status. After all, a few stacks of printer paper taken out of the office supply cupboard and moved to their computer printer in their home isn’t going to drive the company to bankruptcy, right? And if they do any work at home it’s justifiable to use office supplies including pens, pencils, erasers and computer supplies.

And the theft of office supplies can happen before they even get into the cupboard or onto the shelves! The receiver who signs for thirty boxes of highlighters or pens but only places twenty-nine into the office supplies area for the employees. The “misplaced” box can then be resold for profit and the employer is none the wiser, having paid for office supplies that will never be used. And over a single year this theft can cost a company thousands of dollars and not only cut into profits but also drive a company to bankruptcy – and all over “just” office supplies!

The best way to combat the theft of office supplies is not only to track where these supplies are going, but also to create high employee morale in your workplace. If your employees are happy in their job and in their relationship with the company they are less likely to pilfer office supplies in the long run. If they realise that the loss of office supplies to employee theft affects everyone as well as the overall health of the company they may be more aware of the amount of office supplies used as well as maintaining higher internal security. They may not realise that those pennies and dollars are adding up to the point that they may not only lose their company raise or bonus, but perhaps their jobs if the company has to close!

As well as raising the company morale you may want to discuss this with your security officers. Many times the simple theft of office supplies go unchecked because the security officers are looking for larger items such as laptops or computer parts, making it easy for an employee to take office supplies tucked into their briefcase or knapsack. An alert officer may notice an employee taking home an unusually high number of notebooks or binders and should report this to their superiors. It may seem petty to the employee and possibly the security officer involved, but with fifty billion dollars a year being estimated as the loss to companies from employee theft it needs to be taken seriously even at the lowest level.

Of course you don’t want to make your office supply cabinet a battleground for your employees and managers, but by creating a positive employee atmosphere and taking a few simple security measure you can cut down on the theft of office supplies from your company. And far from being the bad and nasty boss you can create a healthier and happier workplace where your office supplies are used efficiently and freely for the benefit of the company and not for the employees or their families.

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