OK, admit it. You’re guilty.
You’ve gone home with something from work that you didn’t bring with you. Pens, paper and Post-it Notes are the most common booty, although workers have been known to walk off with computers, potted plants and office furniture.
Don’t worry. No one’s here to bust you. And, no, you’re not alone.
“I know myself, if I need printer paper for my printer at home, I get some and I bring it home,” admits Greg Ellis, a Baton Rouge CPA and financial consultant.
Ellis isn’t technically stealing. Since he’s the co-founder and part owner of his firm, EA Financial Group, his money actually paid for the printer paper and the yellow highlighters that he occasionally liberates from the office. But a recent national survey, while unscientific, shows that a fifth of employees admit to pilfering office supplies from their employers.
“It goes on. I know it goes on,” Ellis says. “Maybe some people think it’s their right. ‘If I need some stuff for my house, I’ll just go get it.’”
Spherion Corporation, a recruiting and staffing company that claims about 650 locations in the United States and Canada, recently commissioned an online survey of 2,137 employed adults.
About 69% of respondents say taking stuff home from the office is wrong, but nearly one in five respondents, or about 19%, admitted doing so. Of those who did so, only 21% say they felt guilty or regretted the act.
The office supply bandits were given a range of justifications to choose from. The primary reason given for office supply theft was that they “needed” the item, at 41%. Nearly a third, or 32%, say their boss or manager said it was OK, and 15% say the company would never miss the items. The most common types of items taken were pens, pencils or rulers, at 25%, and paper, Post-its or file folders, at 19%.
Among various age groups, younger workers, including 25% between 18 and 24 years old and 29% between 25 and 29 years old, were the most likely to admit to taking office supplies. Workers age 65 and older were the least likely at 9%, and were the most likely to say it’s wrong to take office supplies for personal use at 83%.
Perhaps surprisingly, the biggest culprits according to the survey are the workers who make the most money. About 23% of respondents who admitted taking office supplies say they make $75,000 or more, more than any other income group.
Brent Short, managing director for Spherion’s Professional Services group, says higher earners may have a sense of entitlement because they see themselves as the ones who pay the bills in the office. Many senior-level workers may figure that since they’re taking so much work home with them, it’s perfectly acceptable for them to go home with a pack of pencils or a few ring binders that might not actually make it back to the office, he says.
Some companies are fighting back.
“One organization refused to buy Post-it Notes,” Short says. At least one large accounting firm in Tampa, Fla., decided to stop buying calculators because they kept disappearing, he says. Some are even resorting to security cameras.
Short doesn’t suggest that business owners, office managers or department leaders employ such extreme measures. He does, however, recommend keeping a close eye on all office expenditures.
“If there’s a spike (in spending), there should be a good reason for it,” Short says. A medium-sized company, for example, might see a big jump if they have to replace four outdated laptops at the same time.
Short says many employees no doubt walk off with office supplies unconsciously, rather than maliciously. He says that as a general rule, most companies that he knows of don’t consider it a serious problem; some simply consider it part of the cost of doing business and budget for it as they would any other routine expense.
Any anonymous survey depends on the honesty of the participants for its accuracy. Short concedes that the actual percentage of employees who have taken office supplies is probably higher that the survey indicates.
In fact, similar surveys have found much higher rates of thievery. Last year, 58% of participants in a Harris Interactive poll admitted to taking office supplies for personal use, while 60% admitted the same in a survey by Vault Inc.
Our own unscientific survey of a few large organizations with a significant local presence shows that either those companies don’t consider office pilfering a significant issue or would rather not talk about it. The Shaw Group, Entergy Louisiana, Capital One, Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation & Tourism and the law firm of Kean Miller all either did not respond to inquiries or declined to comment for this story.
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