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Admin Pro Forum

It’s back-to-school time: What can we do to stop employees from stealing office supplies?

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This week's question comes from a reader of our sister blog, The HR Specialist Forum...

QUESTION: As we enter the back-to-school season, office supplies have begun to disappear. Does anyone have any policy or procedure in place to thwart this type of behavior? In your experience, will a firm but diplomatic e-mail help? It's getting expensive and embarrassing as large quantities walk away.— K. in FL

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Tom September 21, 2010 at 12:36 pm

When I started ordering office supplies for our office ten years ago, I noticed that before school started we needed a hugh amount of school related supplies also in late November and early December we used a great amount of scotch tape. I attended a supervisor meeting and presented my findings. Now everyone knows that after Thanksgiving until the first of the year you must request tape directly from me. Then in August any supply that could be used as school supplies was locked up. Because of this I have been able to cut our supply order by more that 50% during those periods. It has been several years now and I have been able to put supplies out during those two periods with no problem. During our annual review of our code of ethics I also remind everyone about office supplies.

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Le Dunn September 13, 2010 at 9:20 am

Outside of the Box Thinking:

How about having your company at the beginning of the school year setup a program to offer school supplies (hopefully promotional items)? Place the items in an earth friendly bag and distribute to all employees. Tell them that it is for their child, children and/or neighbor’s child.

This will curb walking off supplies and build a good will amongst the employee and employer (consult your tax consultant for any other benefits). The power of giving and promoting at the same time is a win-win situation.

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lee September 10, 2010 at 2:17 pm

We are very fortunate that our company has it set up with our office supplier that our employees get the same discount as an individual as our company does, which is almost 50%. I think that is a lot of the reason we don’t have that problem. It’s a great employee perk & doesn’t cost the our company a dime & the office supplier gets more business.

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BklyninFL September 10, 2010 at 2:11 pm

I stop stocking inventory and make employees come to me to ask for what they need. It’s amazing that the week before, during and after school starts that many employees don’t need supplies.

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K.Lee September 10, 2010 at 2:06 pm

I have seen this happen at a few companies I’ve worked for over the years. One warning I’d give to any admins: before sending out emails, locking cabinets, posting messages, or changing current systems – talk to your boss. This is extremely important. I’ve had one boss that emphatically didn’t want any procedures changed – and others that wanted to put a message out to the group from their office & not mine… It all depends on the who you work for & what their opinion is. Unfortunately – items walking away happens in just about every office out there… in mine (currently an office of 8), I’ve informed my boss that things were ‘disappearing’ – and at this point he didn’t want anything changed… but he did send out an email stating that outside of printer paper that would be stocked directly to the machines – if items continue to disappear – all employees would be required to purchase their own office supplies & submit reimbursement requests for any *necessary* items. That was about 4 months ago & it seems to have worked!

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Admin123 September 7, 2010 at 10:25 am

Keeping an inventory log and as recommended by others, supplies should be under lock and key all year round. Office supplies are very cheap, I found a box of colors for 20 cents and pens/pencils at 50 cents. If they are stealing, they must really be struggling but of course there is no excuse for such dishonest behaviour. I am sure there is a policy in place and a memo should be sent out by management indicating that supply cost has been high (you have no evidence that people are stealing) and as a reminder, please note policy reference, etc…. I would also recommend that an outreach program be posted letting employees know of community assistance in case they want to contribute or seek assistance! Bottom line, they are hurting the company by stealing but then you can’t just throw that out, just emphasize cost control and quote policy if you know for sure it’s stealing!

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Deb September 7, 2010 at 10:15 am

Yep. As Ama T says, It’s stealing – pure and simple. Sorry Linda, I don’t think shaming people into not stealing will work. Sadly, but shame is in short supply these days. Write them up and give them a final warning. If it happens again, they are all done. That may work.

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AmaT September 3, 2010 at 5:27 pm

I am amazed that people think it is OK to steal from the office. You ask how to thwart “this kind of behavior.” This kind of behavior is stealing – pure and simple. Let’s call it what it is and deal with it like you would any other crime. It needs to be addressed in staff meetings, manager meetings, and employee handbooks.
Good Luck ~

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Linda September 3, 2010 at 5:02 pm

I would send an e-mail letting everyone know that you have taken an inventory of all the office supplies and that “big brother” is watching. Hopefully, if they know that someone is aware and is watching they may think twice about taking things. Our company took up a school supply drive to give to local schools. I don’t know the type of company you work for, but maybe some employees are in need and don’t know where to get help. Perhaps you could check local agencies and let employees know that if they are struggling there are places to go for assistance instead of stealing!!! If they don’t know assistance and are just greedy, maybe it will shame them into stopping.

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Calvin September 3, 2010 at 4:37 pm

Lock the supply cabinet during this time OR have a sign-out sheet for supplies. If that doesn’t work, fire the person or write them up accordingly.

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Journey September 3, 2010 at 3:15 pm

This is considered stealing especially if large quanities of the supplies are taken so employees should really be made aware of this. And, at one time this was also an issue in our Agency (we had folks taking whole boxes of paper, pens, pencils, even cameras and laptops etc). Our Director did send out a notice to each employee, they had to sign and return the notice and it was placed in their personnel file. The notice read that the taking of office supplies for personal use in small or large amount would be in violation of agency policy and action up to being terminated and prosecurtion could result.

Our Director after that, had a detail inventory conducted and then the supplies were separated into locked and unlock cabinets. The unlock cabinet contain small quanities of supplies employees can get and has no more than a weeks worth of supplies at any one time. Items such as sticky notes, pens, pencils, a few writing tablets, tape, staples folders. The locked cabinet is monitored by a staff member and holds the reams of paper, boxes of pens, pencils, sticky notes, scissors, staplers, notebooks, laptops, devices, labels, letterhead paper, envelopes etc. When an employee wants anything from the locked cabinet they will send an email to the inventory person so the items can be issued to them. Our Director does not limit the items, per se but at the same time if someone is needing boxes of pens or reams of paper, or a box of plain envelopes, it will be questioned as to the reason why so much is needed.

This policy has been in practiced now since 2005 and at first, there were lots of grumpy employees feeling as if they were being treated as a child but it’s routine now so no one questions the policy or why its done that away.

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Liz September 3, 2010 at 2:01 pm

I would send a memo to employees in writing notifying them that supplies are the property of your company, that supplies shall only be used for conducting company business, and that it is illegal to take supplies from the company. If caught, employees may be subject to discipline, up to and including termination. I would also ask each employee to sign the memo acknowledging receipt and place it in their personnel file. Is it possible to put supplies under lock and key?

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joyce September 3, 2010 at 1:48 pm

In two of the offices that I worked at, one person controlled purchasing of and maintaining office supplies; supplies were in locked cabinets. Every supply requisition/request anemployee made had to be signed off by their supervisors, and the person would fill the request as needed, and summary reports were offered quarterly (or whenever) so that each department could see how the supplies that they were using. This also allowed the person handling supplies to make sure they had certain things maintained in inventory. We’ve been able to cut office supply costs by 30-50% by having better control and guidelines, and setting standards for what type of supplies the company would purchase.

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celt365 September 3, 2010 at 1:48 pm

A friendly reminder of the Ethics Policy might be in order! Yikes! Perhaps you might offer to place the order using the company account (and discount). The employee pays the cost of their order but gets the company discount. I do this at Christmastime for shipping as well.

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Lynn September 3, 2010 at 1:32 pm

First of all, keep the supplies locked up. Second, implement a check out system. If someone needs something, they have to ask for it and keep a record of what they asked for and when. If the come back sooner than reasonable to ask for another of the same item, that could be a red flag. You’ll have to be careful but I would gently question why they need another item so soon.

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Kelly September 3, 2010 at 1:05 pm

I cannot say I am shocked but I am dismayed that so many people would have no conscience. Perhaps this time of year is appropriate for a Code of Conduct/Ethics review especially about “Never use for your personal benefit, without proper authorization, any equipment, tools materials, supplies, and services…” and “Recognize the trust of your position and accept responsibility to safeguard the assets…” If all else fails, lock ‘em up; the supplies that is.

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Ulla Pinion September 3, 2010 at 12:58 pm

I state in a meeting that we seem to be going through more supplies than usual and to ge a better handle on our needs all supply request need to come through me for the next month. To ensure compliance with this request, I generally lock the cabinet.

No one likes this technique but it’s generally accepted as we need to turn in budgets near or after school starts for the next fiscal year.

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Kim Rider September 3, 2010 at 12:53 pm

We’ve had issues with supplies walking away (usually people from other departments) so we’ve locked up all our supplies and create a request form. It’s very quick and simple – the common supplies are listed so all they need to do is put in the quantity they need. We have an e-mail box set up that distributes the form to 4 of us so it’s not a huge burden on any one person to keep up with and we tell folks that they will have their supplies within 24 hours. This has cut down tremendously on our supplies walking off.

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Mark September 3, 2010 at 12:50 pm

Our HR policy lists several things that are subject to immediate dismissal without the normal three-step warning process. One of the items is “theft of anything, including office supplies.” Secondary to this is that there are security cameras where supplies are kept, so people know they are on camera when taking supplies. At a previous job, one person was assigned as the supply clerk. (It was me.) When someone needed something, they came to me for it, whether it was a case of paper or a black marker. It was my job to report when someone requested more supplies than their position would dictate. When we started doing that, supply costs dropped drastically.

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Marcia September 3, 2010 at 12:46 pm

Can you keep supplies locked up & have people sign for the supplies they are taking? We don’t have that problem where I work but I’ve heard of this policy other places.

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