I have frequently heard managers conveying the wrong message when addressing associates about employee theft consequences. These managers say things like “Don’t steal, or you will get caught” or “We have a good loss prevention guy and he catches everything, so don’t steal.” “Don’t steal because it is not worth it” is a loss prevention cliché. Do we ever take the time to explain why it is not worth it?
Some companies don’t like to talk about internal theft because of the uncomfortable feelings it produces. The advice in this post is meant to ease the discomfort and tension and improve the message that retail associates are being given about the risks of internal theft and hopefully give the discussion a new, common-sense approach. A better way to convey the risks of employee theft would be to explain to the associates what I call the ‘risk vs. gain theory.’
I have found that discussing with associates the risks of theft and comparing them with the potential gains greatly reduces their potential to steal from their employers. Most associates do not consider the punishments and risks when they steal from their employer; they steal a $100 pair of shoes and risk losing their $20,000 to $30,000 salary.
Once, I interviewed a part-time employee who stole a $179 fishing reel. I asked the associate how much he made, and he told me $20,000 per year, plus medical benefits. I asked him whether he ever thought about getting caught. The thought had never crossed his mind. I took two sheets of paper and wrote down $179 on one, $20,000 on the other. I asked the associate which he’d prefer to have. He immediately chose the $20,000. We also discussed the fact that the $179 reel could have come from his $20,000 salary and he would still have $19,800 to pay his bills. I asked him, “If we had this talk at the beginning of your employment, do you think you would have stolen that reel?” He said, “Man, I would have left that reel in the store.”
The concepts of risk and gain are common sense, but the wrong messages are sent out to associates regarding employee theft consequences. It seems to me that the message is currently “Don’t steal, or you will get caught,” when it should be “Don’t steal because it is not worth the risk.” Employees risk so much when they behave dishonestly. These are the risk factors that can be discussed with employees.
Three Common Employee Theft Consequences
Employment. The economy is better now than it was in the Great Recession, but it’s still an uncertain environment. Surely a person would not want to be unemployed right now. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U-6 rate (defined as all unemployed, plus “persons marginally attached to the workforce, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the labor force”), although improved in recent years, is still higher than the pre-recession data as of February 2017. Some economists also worry that the jobs that have been added are low-wage, low-skill positions.
Reputation. When things go bad, our reputation may be all that we have left. Imagine being fired from a store that employs 50 to 100 people. Every one of them will soon know what happened to the dishonest employee and why, and that reputation will spread.
Salary. Without steady income, a life can turn upside down. Most states will not award unemployment benefits if there is a theft issue at hand. A dishonest employee could lose his or her car or house, or even fall behind on important payments, like child support or alimony.
Your choices today affect your life tomorrow. Success for today means success for the future. Failure at one job can lead to related issues at another job. Most people are terminated from different jobs for the same reason (tardiness, harassment, drug use, etc.).
The risk vs. gain theory can be used by loss prevention professionals to help employees better understand the risks being taken when dishonesty presents itself in the workplace. The next time you close an interview with a dishonest employee, grab a sheet of paper and detail everything that the employee has lost. Ask him or her if it was worth the risk and listen to their response. Their sadness at the realization of their poor choices should motivate you to better convey the stakes during your next orientation.
This article was originally published in 2011 and was updated May 2, 2017.