Here’s the problem: Most employees who suspect or actually observe an employee theft incident are deeply disturbed by it, but often don’t do anything about it because of either their reluctance to “blow the whistle” on a fellow worker or their hesitation about personally becoming involved in any way. They fear possible repercussions. The result is that thefts go unreported, honest employees remain uncomfortable, morale goes down and employees begin to blame – and sometimes resent – store managers for not taking enough action and allowing such things to go on.
However, it would be wrong for store managers to interpret employee reluctance to report their suspicions as meaning that they don’t care. What it really means is that certain conditions for reporting such occurrences have not been satisfied in the employees’ mind, and therefore employees simply don’t feel comfortable enough to come forward.
In order to feel comfortable in reporting their suspicions, store employees must first know that management wants them to come forward. Secondly, management must be able to answer the questions that employees have such as, “What will happen if I report it?”… “Will I become involved?”… What if I’m wrong?”… It is primarily these unanswered questions which stop many employees from doing the right thing. However, if store managers are able to provide acceptable answers to their questions in advance, employees will more frequently come forward, if only to relieve themselves of the heavy burden of knowing what’s going on, or just to reduce the anger associated with seeing it continue.
Some retailers have a formal policy and procedure regarding how to report suspected dishonesty, while others do it more informally. The procedures can vary by company but every store manager must make it clear to all of his or her associates how suspected employee theft is to be reported and how the company will respond to the information received.
Before opening a discussion on the subject of reporting employee theft, it is important for store managers to insure that such a discussion will not cause employees to feel mistrusted or unappreciated. Therefore, it is worthwhile to remind all employees who are currently working for the store that they are trusted or they wouldn’t be in their present job. The store doesn’t keep employees it doesn’t trust.
However, in the past, there have been varied attempts to steal and there is no guarantee related to new people hired in the future. It is well known that some individuals take jobs in retail stores for the sole purpose of stealing. Since no individual can be in all placed at all times to detect a possible theft, be it a store manager or security person, it becomes obvious that all employees must become involved in prevention if internal dishonesty is to be kept to an absolute minimum. Therefore, although only a few employees may be part of the problem, all employees must be part of the solution.
To help alleviate concerns and virtually guarantee improved participation, provide all store associates with the following information, consistent with company policy.
1. Tell associates what to report and when to report it.
Many employees are not sure of what to report and often wait too long before doing so. To help employees come forward, employees must first be taught what actions by co-workers are considered suspicious. Second, employees should be kept informed, on a regular basis, about internal thefts which have been uncovered, and the attempted methods used. This helps all employees become aware and remain alert to potential problems.
It should also be made clear to employees that any observation or suspicion of dishonesty should be acted upon immediately. Many employees are reluctant to report suspicions because they don’t want to get anyone in trouble unless they are 100% sure. While this is a noble value, they may never be 100% sure, or when they are it could be $10,000 too late.
2. Tell associates exactly what will happen when they provide information.
Explain that an independent investigation, not merely the informant’s word, will decide what action is to be taken. Since it is recognized that anyone with a malicious motive could say something derogatory about someone else, it would be unfair for the company to accept such information as truth without verification. Therefore, employees who report their suspicions need not fear that they will ever be responsible for improper action against another employee, even if they were wrong. It must be verified first.
3. Give associates alternative ways to report their concerns.
Although the information provided by employees is considered confidential, some employees would actually prefer that their identity remain anonymous. This might be because they fear being identified as the person’s accuser, or they don’t want to be looked-down upon as someone who ‘bad mouths” others, or because they simply don’t want to become more involved.
Although only about 30% of employees prefer to remain anonymous, all employees must be given this option and receive an e-mail or traditional mail address, a hotline phone number or a dedicated person through which they can report their suspicions and concerns.
For the 70% of employees who are willing to come forward in person, let them choose the person they prefer to contact – don’t make the choice for them. This person could be a store or district manager, a VP or a security person. Who they choose is not important. What is important is that they feel confident that the person they choose will handle the information discreetly and in the proper manner.
4. Reassure associates that they are doing the right thing.
Too many people get hurt when employees steal. Most employees are honest and word hard for the money they earn. It’s unfortunate that a few employees think they have the right to get something for nothing.
Employees are doing the right thing when they report their suspicions because internal theft cannot flourish without the sanction of co-workers. It is extremely rare for large scale theft to occur without others knowing about it or becoming suspicious. Employees who immediately report their suspicions are preventing a smaller problem from becoming a major one; and this will benefit all employees who work in the company.