Rate of occupational fraud has doubled as employees steal laptops, data and ideas from their companies
It is surely no big deal to steal a ballpoint pen from the office stationery cupboard, or some paper. But what about a mug, some furniture, a laptop? Many Americans apparently think it is fine to steal almost anything you can from work, a new report has found.
The study, by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE), found that non cash property theft which spans everything from notebooks to Nespresso machines to personal data by employees has almost doubled in the US in recent years from 11% of occupational fraud cases in 2002 to 21% in 2018 (a trend also reflected globally). And they predict the rate of fraud will continue to rise.
According to the anti-fraud organization workers ranging from entry-level employees to C-suite executives are all at it, with corporate fraud costing businesses globally more than $7bn in losses between January 2016 and October 2017 alone.
Jacob Parks, one of the authors of the ACFE report and associate general counsel at the organization, points to the changing nature of workplace fraud to explain the rise.
Much of the non-cash fraud thats happening now is theft of intangible property like client contact details, copyright, business ideas and data. As data becomes an increasing asset on organizations balance sheets, it becomes more attractive to steal, says Parks.
Such is the normality of workplace stealing that it doesnt seem to have the same stigma as other crimes and has become almost socially acceptable.
A designer probably captured the sentiment of many when she said: I guess we all like freebies and people work so hard that its our little statement of I deserve it even if its not mine.
But for some it is claimed as a political act albeit one that neatly dovetails with self-interest. One creative, who has stolen clothing, alcohol, a hard drive and nesting tables from work, told the Guardian that he does it to redress the power balance. Or as he puts it: To stick it to corporate America.
Taking this idea a few steps further, the international anarchist collective Crimethinc runs an annual steal something from work day to coincide with US tax day, aimed at recognizing workplace theft as an act of undercover protest.
Wed prefer to live in an egalitarian society in which everyone has direct access to the resources they need but so long as we dont, we think it is important to reflect on the ways ordinary people get by in the prevailing order, explained an anonymous spokesperson by email.
Lisa Penney, an associate professor at USF Sarasota-Manatee and a specialist in counterproductive work behavior, said organizational justice plays a significant role in workplace theft.
If people feel theyre being paid unfairly, treated unfairly, meaning that procedures, decisions about promotions, are not being administered fairly without bias, if they feel they are being disrespected by their supervisors: all of these things can factor into employee theft, she says.
When workers are under stress and feel like they cannot control their work environment, she says they might withhold effort, take long breaks or steal to try to regain some power.
Generally, prosecution of employment fraud is in decline, according to the ACFE report, because companies fear the potential reputational damage of pressing charges. The low probability of legal consequences is probably a motivating factor for some.
But for those whose bosses decide to prosecute, the consequences can be grave. In 2015, a former Philadelphia water department employee was sentenced to two years in prison after he was involved in a million-dollar printer ink cartridge scam.
Occupational property theft is nothing new. Its a phenomenon with literally ancient roots. In their article Employee Theft as a Social Exchange Process, researchers Jerald Greenberg and Kimberly S Scott cite Egyptian papyri describing scribes stealing fabric and grain from temple storage.
But this latest spike is probably down to increased job insecurity, said Dr Yannick Griep, assistant professor at the University of Calgary and an expert in industrial and organizational psychology.
Despite buoyant employment rates, for many Americans stagnant wages and the gig economy are contributing to a mounting sense of uncertainty. If you no longer perceive that your job is secure, which is very common in the gig economy youre more likely to get the idea of free-for-all, Griep said.
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