Companies called lax in curbing theft by employees
Companies don't do enough to stop employee theft. Management often reads that employees are taking billions of dollars of goods and services from companies. But according to a newly released study, companies don't do much about it. The best solution to this problem is for a company to articulate clearly a strong corporate policy against it - to let workers know that helping themselves to merchandise, supplies, or cash is stealing - and to make sure they know the policy will be enforced.Skip to next paragraph
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Controlling theft is much like any other management problem. ''How management operates and relates to employees is the major determiner of theft and counterproductive behavior,'' says John P. Clark, a sociology professor at the University of Minnesota.
Making employees feel appreciated and secure in their jobs isn't all there is to it, though. ''You can give people a nice warm feeling about the company, but if you don't make it clear that taking from the company is stealing, you've still got a problem.''
Professor Clark, along with Richard C. Hollinger, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Florida, has just completed a quarter-million-dollar study on employee theft for the United States Justice Department. The professors and their researchers looked at three cities, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Cleveland, and Dallas-Fort Worth, and three types of enterprises: retail stores, electronics manufacturing (in the Twin Cities only), and hospitals.
Their biggest surprise, they say, was how little companies do to prevent theft. Why don't they do more? ''It's not their main business,'' Professor Clark says. ''Companies say, 'We hire people to do the work. We're not their social workers. We take them as they are.' ''
Professor Clark says companies see themselves in business to manufacture a particular product or provide a certain service. They regard taking steps to prevent employee theft as a distraction.
Companies maintain this attitude at their peril. The Minnesota study found that one-third of all employees surveyed reported having committed some sort of theft against their employer - a figure Clark regards as low because it comes from the employees themselves.
''The notion of good management of your assets ought to extend throughout the organization, and not be just the province of the security staff,'' he says. Conversely, good security teams tend to be an integral part of good management teams.
Technically sophisticated security measures aren't necessarily what's needed. ''We found that quality of security measures did not relate to rate of theft, except in the retail area,'' Clark says.
The Minnesota study found that certainty of sanctions was a greater deterrent than severity of sanctions. In fact, the greatest deterrent was the employees' perception that if they stole they would be caught - and punished.
Professor Clark adds, ''Detection (of theft) by co-workers is more important than detection by management. If management standards against theft don't penetrate to co-workers, people are still likely to be thieves.''
''Gray areas'' of policy and capricious enforcement often turn out to be the black holes into which inventory slips. ''Sometimes things will change when there's a new supervisor coming on. Or there's a new production quota, or suddenly three people decide to take a mental-health day all on the same day. Then you've got trouble.''