Theft in the workplace is one of the most perplexing issues for business owners and managers. What causes it?
After thinking, reading, and agonizing over this issue for a decade, the answer finally seems to be quite simple.
Our hunter-gatherer past entailed a need to continually scan our environments for all sorts of useful items. Finding such an item, being able to pick it up and take it home to use for ourselves gives us a feeling of extreme joy and pleasure–akin to finding a small treasure.
Modern humans go to their workplaces, still with their hunter-gatherer brains, and find a plethora of useful items which they may not have in their own homes (or, in order to get these items, would have to expend some of their own resources–usually money–to obtain). Taking even small useful items–a pen, a folder, toilet paper, other useful items, or secretly making telephone calls at the employer’s cost–feels like finding a small treasure in the environment.
How do workplace thieves feel? Most people face temptations to steal/use workplace resources for personal use. However, they can be divided into four categories.
Category One: Many people are tempted to make small thefts, occasionally take very small items, and DO feel guilty about it afterward.
Category Two: People who take small items and feel no guilt whatsoever. Some managers also steal services from the workplace, such as having company workers coming over to work for free in their private homes. Generally, these managers justify their thefts with either perceived poverty, or revenge-like motives:
“It’s just something small, and not worth a lot, so it’s meaningless to them.”
“They have more than they should, and I have less than I should, so I am ENTITLED to take these items, or the items I want.”
“They don’t pay me enough money, so I deserve to take the items I want to make up for it.”
“This is my prerogative, just for being a manager.”
Category Three: People with personality disorders (sociopaths, narcissists; predators without any conscience). These people take jobs in order to be able to steal resources, whether embezzling funds, or just stealing physical items for personal use. Some employees sometimes even steal company products and resources in order to sell them privately or on the black market.
Category Four: People who take pride in their honesty, and resist stealing even the smallest item. These people guard company resources and use them carefully, as if they were diligently caring for their own resources.
This post is only about understanding motivation for workplace theft; what to do about it will be dealt with in a future post.