I have frequently heard managers conveying the wrong message when addressing associates about theft. These managers say things like "Don't steal or you will get caught" or "We have a good loss prevention guy and he catches everything, so don't steal." "Don't steal because it is not worth it" is a loss prevention cliché. Do we ever take time to explain why it is not worth it?
Some companies don't like to talk about internal theft because of the uncomfortable feelings it produces. This article is meant to ease the discomfort and tension and improve the message that retail associates are being given about the risks of internal theft and, I hope, give the discussion a whole new common sense approach. A better way to convey the risks of employee theft would be to explain to the associates what I call the 'Risk vs. Gain Theory.'
I have found that discussing with associates the risks of theft and comparing them with the potential gains greatly reduces their potential to steal from their employers. Most associates do not consider the punishments and risks when they steal from their employer—they steal a $100 pair of shoes and risk losing their $20,000 to $30,000 salary.
Once, I interviewed a part time employee who stole a $179 fishing reel. I asked the associate how much he made and he told me $20,000 per year plus medical benefits. I asked him whether he ever thought about getting caught. The thought had never crossed his mind. I took two sheets of paper and wrote down $179 on one, $20,000 on the other. I asked the associate which he'd prefer to have. He immediately chose the $20,000. We also discussed the fact that the $179 reel could have come from his $20,000 salary and he would still have $19,800 to pay his bills. I asked him, "If we had this talk at the beginning of his employment, do you think you would have stolen that reel?" He said, "Man, I would have left that reel in the store."
The employee was disappointed when he heard this. The concepts of risk and gain are common sense but the wrong messages are sent out to associates regarding employee theft. It seems to me that the message is "Don't steal or you will get caught" when it should be "Don't steal because it is not worth the risk." Employees risk so much when they become dishonest. Here are the risk factors that can be discussed with employees:
The Four Common Risks of Stealing From your Employer
The national unemployment rate is somewhere between 9% and 10%. Surely a person would not want be unemployed right now. Many of those who do find employment are under employed because they can't find jobs that pay equal to what they were making.
When things go bad, our reputation can be all that we have left. Imagine being fired from a store that employs 50 to 100 people. Every one of them will soon know what happened to you and why and that reputation will spread.
Without steady income your life can turn upside down. Most states will not award unemployment benefits if there is a theft issue at hand. You could lose your car, house, or even fall behind on important payments like child support or alimony.
Your choices affect tomorrow. Success for today means success for the future. Failure at one job can lead to the same issues at another job. Most people are terminated from different jobs for the same reason. (Tardiness, harassment, drug use, etc...)
The Risk vs. Gain Theory should be used by loss prevention professionals to help employees better understand the risks being taken when dishonesty presents itself in the workplace. The next time you close an interview with a dishonest employee, grab a sheet of paper and detail everything that the employee has lost. Ask him or her if it was worth the risk and listen to their response. Their sadness and realization should motivate you to better convey the stakes during your next orientation.