Theft in the workplace

Terry Sage of Trades Coaching New Zealand

“Beware the Ides of March”. Some dude in a white sheet said this once, quite a few hundred years ago on his way to the Forum. Apparently.

I bring this up simply because the email I just read said, “I need your March content as the mag is being edited now”, and I couldn’t think of any other way to start this article.

However, a client of mine recently — yes it was still February, but let’s just go with some artistic licence here — fell into the saying, boots and all.

I called in to see him as per our usual schedule, and before the normal greetings were exchanged — “where’s my cup of tea and don’t forget the sugar this time” — I was whisked out of the office, down the road and into a cafe which, luckily, had an abundance of sugar.

The reason for this hasty exit and rendezvous into a secretive location was the need to talk about an employee, the one he shares an office with, and who happened to watch this whole evacuation process.

The issue was an unexplained loss of a substantial amount of cash. To cut to the chase, somewhere between $20,000 and $50,000 over two to five years in small weekly amounts.

Why was there such an unknown gap between the 20 and 50, and the two to five? Because there were not the systems in place to substantiate the actual losses.

To clarify the story a bit, this is a very new client of only two months (which could be why he hasn’t sorted the sugar issue out yet), and the reason I am there is he had suspicions there was a problem.

When delving into the business it was glaringly obvious that the systems that were 30 odd years old in some cases, and the new accounting package, just weren’t set up to track money in a fool-proof way — not that many are completely fool-proof, but you should be able to get close.

So we proved there was an issue, we let the staff know we were looking for an issue and, all of a sudden, we had a confessor. Sickening to know it was happening, great the fact we stopped it, and now we are working on the systems and processes for it not to happen again, we hope.

So is theft in the workplace an isolated problem? I would love to say absolutely. That I hardly ever see this with my clients.

Unfortunately, I’d be telling fibs as it is a very popular pasttime — maybe not to the extent outlined above, but anything taken is theft.

In most cases it is not cash, as the majority of employees do not have access to the safe. Stock and assets come in a close second place, but the number one form of theft within the workplace that costs the employers of our nation millions is the theft of time.

Coming in late, going home early, long tea breaks, and sleeping on the job — the list and sneakiness of employees is endless.

This descriptive narrative is not written to fix all the problems, but more to bring to mind that the problems occur. And don’t even turn the page before you have finished reading, thinking “nah we’re sweet bro, all the gang are like family”.

Statistics show family members are the worst culprits. I have stories to fill a dozen mags on unsuspecting rip-off merchants.

There is a saying I have lived by for years within business — “Trust everybody, just don’t trust the devil inside them”. And when money is involved the wee devil grows three horns.

It’s not only the workers to watch out for, because I have had some awkward moments between shareholders too. On a final final note, there are also thousands of awesome employees out there, so let’s hope you don’t become the unlucky employer.