Employee Theft Starts With Your Company Culture

In my last year of university, I started to work for a large prestigious company as a full-time intern. I studied at night and wrote my diploma thesis on the weekends. I was very happy and grateful to be working for this company — not only because it promised to be an incredible full-time job after I graduated but also because they provided food and drinks for their employees. Any employee who took food was supposed to pay into the tin can standing on the counter.

Happy to have a quiet place to work where I had access to food without fuss, I armed myself with sufficient small bills and change. I always wondered why there was so little money in the tin, but I figured a maintenance person came around to collect it.

Weeks into my routine, there was a company-wide announcement that shocked many of us. Apparently, employees weren’t just not putting money into the tin; they were stealing it. Some employees even scooped out coffee from the coffee machines to bring home. Thousands of spoons, coffee cups, and other office supply material was taken every single year. While many of us could not even imagine such a thing, others justified it with: “It’s just a cup — I work so hard — and it is not like it is going to make a difference with a company this size!”

Well, it does. In fact, employee theft costs retailers in the US alone more than $15 billion every year.

How Company Culture Influences Employee Behavior

As my story above shows, employee theft starts with the company culture. While it was incredible that we had such great benefits, the culture was that employees are entitled to it just as they are entitled to their salary if they show up to work.

However, there is more to that. Employees must believe that they will be caught, and there will be consequences. If the culture is one where things get quickly swept under the carpet, and strong office politics are dictating how each person fits into the business structure, you will have a harder time dealing with or preventing employee theft. On the contrary, if your employment culture is one of mutual respect and open doors where employees feel safe to go to their manager or the HR department and report a co-worker’s criminal behavior, chances are, potential offenders will think twice about it.

Employee Code Of Conduct

The company created an “Employee Code of Conduct” that outlined clear guidelines and benchmarks for employee behavior. All existing employees from the marketing intern to the janitor had to read and sign it, and it was made an integral part of the onboarding process for new hires.

Janette Levey Frisch, an employment / HR attorney – also known as the Employer’s Legal Wellness Professional at The EmpLAWyerologist Firm – says:

“Employers who are serious about minimizing employee theft should have clear policies in their Employee Handbooks in which they state that employees found, after proper investigation, to have stolen from the company, will be subject to discipline up to and including termination. Employers should also implement policies regarding internal investigations and then conduct proper, thorough investigations when there is a suspicion or allegation of employee theft. At the conclusion of an investigation, employers should document their findings, their decision, and the reasons. Managers and anyone conducting the investigation should be trained on all policies and procedures and on how to conduct the investigation. While these steps are not a 100% guarantee against an employee lawsuit, they will go a long way toward minimizing an employee’s ability to successfully sue based on false accusations.”

What You Can Do

While a code of conduct will not actively prevent employee theft, it sets the tone. Now it is on you to follow through. Don’t be afraid to put certain steps in place to minimize the fraudulent behavior of dishonest workers. These steps can be:

  • Access Control. Require your employees to wear security access cards that can be set to a particular role and you can grant, manage and remove access rights remotely as needed.
  • Be conscious of odd behaviors. Require your employees to take vacation and be suspicious of workers who are overly protective or exclusive of their workspace.
  • Get financials in order. Reconcile your financial statements on a regular basis to become aware of anything out of the ordinary.
  • Set the right management tone. Management is like parenting. You must be respectful, listen with an open ear, offer help, where help is needed and be consistent — otherwise you not be taken seriously. Have one-on-one time to review your employees progress and get a feeling for what is going on in his or her life.
  • Create an internal control system. Having employees you can trust is great, but you still need to be able to check them. Are your employees staying unauthorized after hours? Make sure, you know about it.

What Steps Do You Take To Prevent Employee Theft?

Have you implemented special steps or created a company policy in your business that have worked in the past? Are there any other steps that you take to discourage unlawful and dishonest behavior? Please share with us in the comment section.