Bullying in the workplace can take many different guises but what do you do when an employee is stealing?
Bullying is a difficult situation to deal with in the workplace, especially if it's challenging to get a factual and impartial record of events. This sort of harassment can take many forms at work and it's important that HR professionals are prepared to deal with any iteration of it to ensure employees feel comfortable calling out misdemeanors.
Theft is a form of bullying that can happen either between colleagues or an employee taking from the company itself. Where employees steal from their employer, it can be a costly and damaging experience for the organization, and it's not as rare as you might think.
Data suggests US employees steal around $50 billion each year and that it spirals, with people increasing the value of their theft over time, rather than giving up. This means it's crucial for HR to be able to identify the tell-tale signs that people are stealing from the organization or another colleague.
Broadly speaking, there are two types; tangible and intangible theft. Tangible theft is the stealing of anything physical, such as the purse of a colleague or a company laptop, while intangible theft concerns non-physical, intellectual property like copyright or trademarks.
Although the latter tends to be more costly to businesses, HR needs to be prepared for both kinds of theft in the workplace.
Investigating workplace theft
Theft is a criminal offence and there may be circumstances where the police need to be called in to deal with the matter fully. However, this doesn't mean that HR can't look into it themselves and this is often necessary if you don't want to be wasting the time of authorities if it's an insubstantial accusation.
When you hear a suggestion that theft may have occurred, the most important thing is to be as discreet as possible in your investigation at the beginning. The last thing you want is for the alleged perpetrator to get word of what you're doing and either destroy any evidence or run, potentially taking more before their departure.
What's more, rumors that HR are investigating a theft in the workplace of any sort is likely to spark paranoia between colleagues, creating low morale and a difficult working environment for everyone.
If you don't have a suspect and just missing items, it's crucial that you consider everyone in your investigation and that each employee undergoes the same level of scrutiny. Not doing so will leave the company open to complaints of bias or prejudice.
You may also want to change certain systems to either expose the thief or at least prevent them from stealing anything further. This can include access to certain information, resetting passwords, or even out-of-hours building access. Implementing small changes that make the theft trickier can be enough to deter stealing in future and can even encourage the perpetrator to own up or get caught.
Preventing workplace theft
There are a number of ways that HR can work to prevent stealing in the workplace, but looking for sudden changes in behavior can be the most noticeable. However, to do this to the organization's full ability, HR must work alongside the managerial team to identify any disruption to normal employee conduct. This may be working unusual hours, unwillingness to work with others or just a sudden change in character.
There are also other measures employers can take to prevent professionals stealing from the organization, such as regularly changing passwords and reviewing which employees have access to sensitive material. Less can be done when it involves one colleague stealing from another but managers can be trained to spot the warning signs and employees can be educated about what legitimate behavior is.
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