Tessara Smith, PayScale
If your business is one that is relies on selling tangible inventory, then chances are you have already had to deal with a worker who you have caught stealing. However, even if your company is one that sells software, you at risk of having mysterious “robberies” take place within the office. If you are lucky enough that this has not happened yet, statistically speaking there is a good chance that a theft incident will occur at some point down the road.
You can’t control other people, but since part of your job description is to effectively manage them, especially when they are acting shady, you should probably understand why they are taking things. I know what you are thinking; if my employee is stealing? Shouldn’t I just fire them? If only it were that easy.
The bad news is unless you have hard evidence, terminating someone because of your hunch that they’re stealing could end in you paying them money. This is true even when you have proof beyond a shadow of a doubt that they have been stealing. I recall that my uncle, who recently retired from a jewelry business, once had to deal with the legal nightmare of firing an employee who had poached hundreds of diamonds from the store room. Diamonds! You see, even though your knee jerk reaction is to immediately expunge this person from your office, for the time being you will need to work with them and prevent them from leaching any more money from your company. Here are a few reasons why employees steal:
- Financial Problems– Many employees have money problems that you are clueless about. A lot of workers radiate a confident and kind persona that would never lead you to suspect that they struggle to pay their bills on time. You might be paying them a fair salary, however divorce, medical costs, car wrecks, and other outside expenses can add up and place a substantial amount of pressure on an employee. People get desperate when life gets challenging, and sometimes stealing feels like the only option. The best thing to do in this situation is to offer your employee resources, and point out the benefits that your company has available to them. It may be that they need to take more time off work, but cannot afford too. The bottom line is that this employee probably doesn’t want to be stealing from you, but feels they have no other option. Try to get to the root of the problem and help them to make some better decisions.
- You are treating them “unfairly”– UGH, massive eye roll, I know. This is annoying to say the least, but still a legitimate reason that decent employees miraculously turn into thieves. They may feel that that their salary is too low or that you are not giving them enough recognition, and therefore they are entitled to steal from your company. While this couldn’t be farther from the truth, you need to have a one on one talk with this employee and start working on building a better relationship. As a leader it is not your job to get your employees to like you, but having a “talk” with this individual will show them that you have an eye on them which should deter them from continuing to take things from the company.
- Lack of Consequences– In many cases, companies do not have any clear policies put in place to deter employees from stealing or worse, they continue to turn the other cheek when theft occurs. Both are a reflection of lazy leadership styles. Yes, an employee is stealing from you however, there isn’t a process put in place to counter this type of bad behavior. If you have one or several employees you suspect are lifting things during their non-working hours, hold a team meeting to discuss internal theft and how you want your workers to hold each other accountable for the well-being of the company. It’s passive-aggressive, but still a valid way of handling employee theft without causing a dramatic blowout.
- Mental Health Issues– Sad but true, some employees suffer from kleptomania and this can be the underlying reason they steal from their companies. Finances and perceived working conditions may have nothing to do with their motives for taking things. These types of employees will continue their behavior until it becomes painfully obvious what they are up to; they just can’t help themselves. Luckily this employee is also likely to implode on themselves, and sink their own ship. A minor confrontation should be all that is needed here, show empathy for this person but do send them on their way.
They say that everybody deserves a second chance, and there are many scenarios where this will rings true. Workplace or not, everyone makes mistakes and not always of the honest variety. If the theft is petty it should be an easy fix, but if it is more substantial you may be in for a legal rollercoaster. Above all else, keep calm, use your leadership skills, and do not lose your cool with your stealing employee.