About Stealing Office Supplies…

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Or, How Red Licorice Can Kill Your Organization


I was waiting in the lobby of a cool high tech company.  Or, at least they thought they were cool.  The company was a high flyer just a short time ago but now it seemed stuck – not big enough to go public but not small enough to be a startup.

Lobby waiting and observing can reveal a lot about a company.  While sitting there I watched a young man duck into the break room, reach into the Red Vines tub and stuff a big batch of them into his backpack.   Then he reached into the cupboard and stuffed a few packages of Cup-a-Soup into a different compartment of the backpack.  Maybe he was about to hike the Appalachian Trail but it looked like he was stealing the free stuff in the break room.

While still waiting, a young woman on her way out of the office, helped herself to a few notebooks, pens and, while we’re at it, how about a printer cartridge.  Maybe she was delivering office supplies to another office.  Or, maybe she was contributing to a remote village in Africa.  Or, maybe she was stealing office supplies.  It was clear to me that both employees had just taken advantage of a their employer by stealing.

Stealing supplies at the office is a common practice. Anonymous surveys show that between forty and seventy five percent of workers steal everything from post-it notes to toilet paper.  (Really people, toilet paper?)  The surveys say the items most often taken are pencils and pens.

It’s terrible in so many ways.  (Forget about the toilet paper.)  Besides the stealing thing, there is the cost to the employer.  And, no you don’t deserve it because you worked late last week.   It is not a victimless crime.  In a workplace where stealing office supplies is a regular occurrence, the biggest problem is the culture that is created.  Stealing those pencils is not OK.

Think of it this way.  When you board an airplane and the seat pocket in front of you is stuffed with used tissues and candy wrappers, doesn’t it make you wonder?  If the cleaning is so lax, what about maintenance?  Is the crew that handles the fuel and the brakes as sloppy as the crew that handles cleaning?  It might not seem like much but it is not ok to have airplane cleaning poorly done.  It sets a tone and perception (culture) in the organization.

The same is true of office supply stealing.  A few pencils missing may not seem like much but it sets the standard and tone of the organization.   (Stealing printer cartridges is another matter.) It’s not ok.  Corporate cultures are formed by what is accepted as well as what is prescribed.  Plus, who wants to work with thieves?

Take a look around.  Each of us helps create the corporate culture and pilfering a few supplies sets a tone of loose standards.  Keep the sticky fingers off the sticky notes.  And remember, eating too much licorice is not good for you.

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