Back to School … With Your Office Supplies?

If you’re the person who orders office supplies in your organization, take a look at your month-to-month purchasing in recent years. Do you notice a spike in spending—triggered by a drop in inventory—from mid August to early September?

While no studies have proven it, much anecdotal evidence points to a great shift in pens, pencils, binders, folders, erasers and other office supplies from America’s workplaces to America’s classrooms as students return from summer break.

Also, in late November and December, some companies report a surprising disappearance of Scotch tape.

While this isn’t the most pressing issue facing HR or your company’s bottom line, the theft of office supplies does add up … and it can spotlight character flaws in certain employees. If a person is comfortable stealing six Bic Ultra Round Stic Grip pens, what’s next?

More than half (56%) of people admit to taking supplies from work for their personal use at home, according to an OfficeMax survey of 600 working Americans.

And we’re not just talking just about dipping into the supply closet. More than four in ten (42%) confess they’ve actually taken supplies from a co-workers and never returned them. With thieving colleagues surrounding them, it’s no wonder two-third of workers say they hide their most-loved office supplies in a special drawer or other hiding place.

The biggest MIA items: pens, pencils and highlighters, followed by paper products, paper clips, staplers and scissors.

What’s HR to do? Your options run the gamut from subtle hints to an Alcatraz-like lockdown and surveillance on the supply drawer.

Start with a simple e-mail reminder to employees about the company policy on theft and the need to keep operational costs low. You could put one person in charge of supplies have employees sign off on everything they pick up.

One company sent a memo to employees saying that if supply inventory kept disappearing at the same pace, all employees would be required to buy their own office supplies and submit reimbursement requests for any “necessary items.” Needless to say, that worked.

Another company set up a deal with its office-supply vendor to offer individual employees the same discounts on products that the company gets—about 50%.  

So have you noticed the back-to-school vanishing act performed by your office supplies? If so, what do you do to stop it?