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Is the staff burning through office supplies like there’s no tomorrow?

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Question: "We're having a real problem keeping office supply costs in check. When things are supplied for people free at work, they seem to get extra careless about their use, and the number of pens, sticky notes, plastic spoons, paper towels and cups we go through is staggering and expensive. Our admin team has been trying to come up with signs to place in the supply area and the kitchen reminding people that these costs add up. What could we possibly write that would have an effect?" - Sula, Document Creation Specialist

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Chery P April 14, 2016 at 2:40 pm

We did a cost analysis of paper cups a few years ago and implemented a “Go Green” stance almost completely wiping out the cup expense and providing each employee with one travel mug each year. We spend $500 a year now instead of $500 a month on cups.

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Maria January 8, 2016 at 11:20 am

I believe that an honest conversation between the Line-Manager/Director/etc. and the staff could be more effective, like Michele has already mentioned above.

Which organization raises salaries today? Our doesn’t! So, the motto “do not spend much so we have money to give you a raise” will not work.

An open communication about the subject and the real amount that is spent for office supplies, I think is the best way to reduce the costs.

On the other hand, within the frame of Total Productive Management (TPM), several cost-reduction teams could be formed with members from different Dpts. Every team could work on a specific subject and bring data and ideas that could lead to some good results.

We have implemented TPM cost-reduction teams in other areas in our organization, and the results were pretty good.

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Polly January 4, 2016 at 10:13 am

Some people’s desks or offices just need a good cleaning out too. Have a spring & fall cleanout day. Mandatory.

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Jennifer December 31, 2015 at 9:33 am

Just let them know that by taking more than needed they are cutting the money available for them to get a raise. It is up to them if they want more money.

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Jenni December 22, 2015 at 3:12 pm

We have the same issue. We have a huge workroom that unfortunately doesn’t have many supplies in it because employees can’t be trusted to take only one or two of what they need. Most of our supplies are locked away, and I take monthly inventory of everything (every box of staples, every pen, etc.). We also have “shared” items, like masking tape, that must be returned when the user is done. No one is happy about it (especially me, who has to police these items), but we’ve managed to keep things in stock longer that way.

To actually answer your question, there is no sign that will deter people from taking what they want. I’m pretty sure people know they’re taking more than they need in the first place! Maybe the boss could address the issue in a staff meeting and state that “no more supply orders will be placed until xxx date” and that once items are gone everyone is just out of luck. (Just be sure to set aside your own supply in a separate place so you can get by.)

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Laura December 18, 2015 at 5:13 pm

The more money the company spends on supplies is less money the company has to spend on raises (new equipment, bonuses, you name it)!

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Diane JH December 18, 2015 at 9:36 am

Our company is mid-sized, and we have our challenges with supplies, too. We lock up our paper towels, toilet paper, Kleenex, and hand soap. The rest is in a central area we call the “Work Room.” If you find you need something, check the Work Room. If you find that you have something that you aren’t really using, put it in the Work Room. We still have the expenses; however, we have recycled a lot of things, too. That seems to have saved a LOT of money.

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Korey December 17, 2015 at 4:57 pm

I agree with what everyone says about limiting supplies, placing them under lock and key, and having people provide their own. In my office we rarely use paper supplies, and instead use plates and silverware. This helps keep us “green.” However, having said that, this system does pose challenges when not everyone washes their own dishes!!!

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Karen December 17, 2015 at 4:29 pm

We have 300+ employees so we know firsthand how expensive these supplies cost. To offset, we stopped providing paper plates and cups. If a lunch is brought in, we negotiated with our caterers to include plates, cups, utensils, etc at no additional cost. For the rest of the office supplies, everything is in a locked closet – only the facilities men and myself have the key. When we have a new hire, we set their desk up with the essentials only. I have been cutting all scrap paper in to 4 and pass that out to employees to use as sticky notes (everyone has a glue stick). To further add to savings, we have 3 coffee machines in the building and you have to pay twenty five cents for a cup. That money goes toward the cups, sugar and milk. It was tough to gain acceptance in the beginning but everyone is now on board and you would be amazed at how much money we are saving!

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Sue White December 17, 2015 at 4:24 pm

In my place of employment, there is one central supply location for our entire building (it is basically akin to a “warehouse”). If we need to order supplies, we have to order them with an order slip which is processed by our in-house “warehouse”. The supply “warehouse” is locked and can only be accessed by the people who are in charge of it – it’s not open for all employees to have free and unsupervised access. Even though our employer orders supplies in large quantities for extra savings, the “cost” for supplies “purchased” by each unit is taken out of each unit’s supply budget. Unit managers are very aware of unit spending as a measure of checks and balances and seems to work well for us.

If your supplies were to be kept under lock and key with only one or two people who have access to that key, you would probably notice a significant decrease in the amount of supplies that “grow legs” and disappear. People are much more likely to be honest and take only what they truly need when they have to purposefully seek out another individual to gain access to the supplies and be held accountable for what they do take.

Additionally, our employer does not provide utensils/paper plates/cups, paper towels, etc. – if employees want those things, they provide their own.

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Bonnie December 17, 2015 at 4:16 pm

Make accessible the basic needs (pen, pencil, paper, sticky notes) — whatever it is to do the most common job (more call center reps vs analysts). Everything else, keep out of a common area. This has helped my unit keep our costs down and shifted the mentality that, if you want something “special”, now is the time to purchase with your own funds. Most individuals know where I keep “good stuff” (i.e. post-it flags) and no one abuses it.

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Ce December 17, 2015 at 4:15 pm

A simple but crazy thing that may work is to keep a smaller quantity in your supply closet and the bulk of your supplies “reserved” in a more secure place. I used to keep all of our stock in our open supply closet, and I was replacing handful upon handful of pens and pencils every day, particularly around the beginning of the school year. I’ve found that if an employee sees only five pens left in the closet, he’s less inclined to take more than one. Strangely, it seems to work. Batteries, which kept disappearing around Christmas, are now kept in my office. I know what equipment we have and the type of batteries each takes. If an employee needs batteries, he brings the old ones to me (to ensure that they will be disposed of properly), and trades them out for new ones. Finally, I’m the only female in a department of 35 linemen and engineers. I’ve learned that if I fuss at them a little in a joking manner, they usually take the hint, and that holds true for most things!

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Laura December 18, 2015 at 5:20 pm

Great point Ce! I do keep low quantities on hand. You are probably right that the low quantity level keeps folks from taking more than they need!

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Bianca Constance December 17, 2015 at 4:13 pm

Unfortunately, you may need to put these supplies under lock and key with a written formal request required in order to obtain supplies.

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Michele December 17, 2015 at 4:04 pm

A discussion with staff about the expense of those items may be more effective than a note. Regular reminders also may be necessary. As Mark stated, just not supplying some of them anymore would reduce expense, especially cups and silverware. Our workplace provides paper towels for the restrooms and our kitchen area, but the Environmental Services Department pays for them. However, we don’t abuse their use, either. Since our department provides promotional materials, we could use those pens, but most people prefer their own pen anyway. However, it seems logical that if you’re working in an office, they supply the basics, such as pens, paperclips, notepads (small and large) and possibly, sticky notes (could use small notepad paper for that. Name brand supplies are not necessary.

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Cheryl Sadler December 17, 2015 at 4:04 pm

I am not sure of the size of your organization, but when it came to cutting supply costs at my previous hospital job, we were not allowed to order any supplies for about 3 months except for paper. During that time we set up a supply exchange space and cleaned out all hidden areas of supplies. Individuals could “shop there when they needed something. We also created a distribution list for all the assistants so one email could request a needed supply. You would be amazed at all that was stored in out of the way places. Good Luck!

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Robyn B December 17, 2015 at 4:01 pm

I moved over to the corporate office 9 months ago from a satellite site. We keep office and building supplies locked up. Yes, its a sad that we have to do that but I understand the why. Its not just staff who use supplies indiscriminately but its also clients and others who are in the building who help themselves.

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Mark December 17, 2015 at 12:05 pm

We reduced expenses for some of those things by not offering them. We stopped buying sticky notes; if someone wants those they have to buy them themselves. A paperclip and piece of paper works just fine. We stopped buying paper/foam cups; you want water/coffee, you bring in your own glass or mug from home and wash it in the sink. We buy pens, but they are the cheap Bic stick pens with our name & logo on it; nothing fancy, nothing expensive.

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