Stop Your Workers from Singing: ‘Tis the Season to be Stealing!

burglar bandit thief public domainBy now we have all seen the pictures of looters destroying small businesses in Ferguson, Missouri. They make compelling television images and it’s a tragic situation for the local business owners, their employees and the citizens of Ferguson in general.

However, there is another crime spree that’s picking up steam throughout the holiday season that doesn’t provide the network and cable TV crews with the kind of photo ops they thrive on. I’m referring to employee theft. This theft can take many forms and hit virtually any business: retail, restaurants and service providers. Here are some of the causes:

  • Hectic workplace provides better cover for illegal activities,
  • Increased alcohol consumption,
  • Employees experiencing financial pressures,
  • Demanding schedules at work and in private lives, and
  • Addition of temporary workers.

We all immediately think of stealing retail items when we consider employee theft and certainly that is a big part of the problem. But it doesn’t stop there. If you have employees who handle cash, they could be making sales without ringing them up properly and then taking the cash at the end of the day.

Restaurants frequently notice food and beverage costs increasing faster than sales. Employees may be helping themselves to food or treating friends to free food and drinks.

One of the biggest problems that often goes undetected is employees cheating on their time sheets. If you’ve brought in extra help or are scheduling extra shifts, it’s easy for an employee to leave early without being noticed. Further, if you’re pushing employees too hard, they may feel that they are entitled to the extra money and extra time off they get by falsifying their time sheets.

Temporary workers always pose a special challenge during these busy periods. First, owners and managers often don’t screen them thoroughly. Second, usually they are added to the team without any corresponding addition among supervisors. This means some workers are probably not being watched as closely as they would during regular working conditions.

The first, and most important step toward lessening your losses is to be increasingly vigilant and let your employees know that you’re paying attention. Holidays are a time when we often assume that people are at their friendliest and most caring. Unfortunately, theft statistics tell a different story. Be sure you’re doing these things:

  • Change up the way you handle cashiers and monitor/audit their operations frequently.
  • Check references for temporary employees.
  • Provide adequate supervision throughout your operation.
  • Deal with fraud and theft immediately.

Finally, don’t think it can’t happen to you. A 2011 survey conducted by the National Retail Federation reveals that the greatest theft occurs in convenience stores, truck stops, shoe stores and stores that sell office supplies and stationery. The high-end operations, like jewelry stores and Apple Computer stores, suffer less employee theft because they have excellent controls and internal safeguards to begin with.

There’s a lesson in that…

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