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How to punish pilferers

"Dealing with employee theft and workplace crime can be an extremely uncomfortable issue. However, if you fail to take affirmative action against a laissez-faire attitude to company property, you’re leaving the door open to increasingly serious breaches of trust.

"Over half of UK employees admit to taking items from work in the past six months, despite being aware of the financial strain that many businesses are under. These, in the main, will be minor goods such as stationery, or food and drink, which many managers may turn a blind eye to. Yet consider the financial implications if half of your workforce are routinely pocketing supplies. It’s important to stress to staff the difference that using office items prudently can make to the business’s balance sheets. You should make it clear that removing company property for personal use is entirely unacceptable.

"To avoid an assumption that minor goods are fair game for employees, managers should ensure that all members of staff are fully aware of company policy over such matters, and should make sure that anyone openly abusing this is dealt with appropriately.

"However, relying entirely on staff honesty is not a feasible option for most businesses. Inventories and stock lists should be in place to reduce the opportunity for the removal of goods. This is extremely important in the case of IT and electrical equipment – research undertaken by RSA indicates that approximately one in 20 employees will have taken computer hardware, mobile phones or laptops from their workplace without returning them. A carefully maintained inventory of communications and computer equipment should be kept, with regular stock checks in place.

"Laptops and mobiles in particular should be subject to stringent procedures for logging in and out. Once this becomes a habitual office process, any discrepancies will be noticed quickly. Any member of staff not utilising the system should be reminded directly to do so.

"The inflation of expenses and overtime is understandably another point of contention with businesses, although this area is rarely appropriately policed. Again a simple but thorough reporting system is necessary, with clear penalties for abuse. If each cause for query is followed up with a thorough – but not confrontational – approach, employees will understand the message of vigilance.

"If you fail to demonstrate clear systems and policies that protect against unscrupulous behaviour by your employees, you’ll send out a message of vulnerability in the face of more large-scale theft."

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