My employer steals my money
Not a trivial offense! Theft in the workplace
The office as a self-service shop
Making a few printouts at company expense, taking a notepad with you or putting a banana in your pocket on the way home: Strictly speaking, even such little things are theft. In everyday work, however, it will probably not be fatal for you if you let a ballpoint pen “go with you”. It becomes problematic when inserting objects becomes a habit (why buy printer paper when there is a whole cupboard of it at work) or team members help themselves at someone else's desk: No handkerchiefs with them? No problem, the colleague has a whole box of it. Hungry? There is bound to be a snack or two in the communal fridge.
Theft is not a trivial offense
The reasons for small and large property crimes in the workplace can be varied: revenge on the employer or a colleague, laziness, envy or the assumption that someone no longer needs something anyway. Is there actually more stealing in the office and what can employers do? We asked occupational psychologist Veronika Jakl:
From the supposed trivial offense to deliberate sabotage through theft: What are the motives for theft, especially in the workplace?
Jakl: There are innumerable reasons that can lead to theft. From poor pay (and actual hardship) to insufficiently experienced appreciation (by managers) to hatred of certain colleagues. It can be about the object (“I want it / I absolutely need it”) or about the damage to the victim itself. But I wouldn't rule out kleptomania or accidentally taking the wrong dessert out of the fridge.
Put a packet of tissues in your pocket, eat your colleague's yoghurt, etc. - Do minor, inconspicuous thefts occur, especially in the workplace?
Jakl: I'm not sure if adults actually steal more in the workplace than they do on other occasions. Basically, we just spend a lot of time at work and have a social environment here that consists of not entirely voluntary relationships. Social ties in the family are far too high for mutual theft. And friendships are voluntarily entered environments where, if it no longer fits with one another, you simply no longer meet - which is easier than theft. Small thefts are more likely to happen because they are classified as “not that bad”.
Do you have any advice on how the topic of theft can best be communicated and addressed in a team or company?
Jakl: When an incident occurs, the first thing to do is to appeal to the social norm: We don't do that. As a manager, I would make it clear that there is a suspicion that something has been stolen. Do not suspect anyone in public or behind their back. If possible, create the option of replacing or returning the stolen goods anonymously. And then make it clear that that is the end of the matter and that there will be no further investigation. Of course, this only applies to low-value items or first-time offenders. Otherwise: clear announcements. Theft can be a reason for dismissal!
How should someone who suspects colleagues of theft behave?
Jakl: I would only clarify personal suspicions with the person if there is concrete evidence (e.g. catching someone red-handed). Otherwise the relationship of trust will be permanently damaged.
Do employers have to see their duty here? What happens when a company tolerates petty theft and does not take a stand against it?
Jakl: The employer or the managers should react in any case. If there is no reaction, although it is known or suspected, then the employees learn that it is not important (enough) to the company. And that means for the thief: I can go on. And for everyone else: this is not behavior that is sanctioned. They interpret this either as "We are not important enough to the employer, he does not 'protect" our property or also: "The employer wants to avoid discussions at all costs and does not take his responsibility seriously."
Good to know
- Even if you have great colleagues: trust is good, locking up valuables is better - especially if your workplace is also accessible to external people. Your employer must provide you with a lockable drawer, locker or something similar for your valuables. If he does not do this and you lose valuables, he is obliged to pay compensation.
- Should be a matter of course: Don't leave money, smartphone and valuable things open on your desk all the time, lock the office if possible after leaving.
- Offenses such as theft, fraud or embezzlement can constitute grounds for dismissal.
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