I have recently been made aware of cash shortfalls at the tills in our small store. It is not a high-tech operation and the five staff I employ at the counters are all long-serving and, I believe, trustworthy. However, as only they and myself and the owner have access to the tills, I can only assume it is one of the five. How can I get to the bottom of this?
Dishonest behaviour and theft in particular can be a very upsetting experience for a company or organisation, and it is more prevalent than many would imagine. A published estimate is that one in four employees steal something from work, with another source suggesting up to 46 per cent of employees have stolen from their companies. Employee theft is defined as any stealing, use or misuse of an employer's assets without permission. These assets include money, time, supplies, company property as well as information. Apart from more serious theft like money, even small items like office supplies can cumulatively have a devastating effect on a company.
Although no less disturbing, your experience of theft is a microcosm of a broader global issue of eroding business ethics, where according to a report by the Global Economic Crime Survey in 2014, it found global economic crime to be a major concern for organisations of all sizes, across all regions and in virtually every sector.
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The high profile corporate corruption cases of Enron, Worldcom, Lehman Brothers and Bernie Madoff, are unfortunately not misdeeds from a darker era. The same is the case of alleged financial misrepresentation by the world's second-largest furniture maker, Steinhoff, which has wiped off nearly €10 billion (Dh43.56bn) in shareholder value and caused the company stock to drop 93 per cent this month.
Creating an ethical culture and enforcing ethical behaviour is the function of upper management. The time to avoid the results of unethical behaviour is before it occurs, not after.
Companies with a strong ethical identity tend to maintain a higher degree of stakeholder satisfaction and financial results, according to the Ethical Investment Research Service.
Unfortunately, unethical behaviour is not the sole domain of the private sector as worldwide, numerous public sector leaders stand accused of violating the oath of office.
In times of economic constraints people are more likely to get desperate and make compromised ethical decisions. It may also be a counter-productive work behaviour stemming from an employee's low satisfaction, a potential conflict or a sense that they are being unfairly compensated.
Regrettably, it could equally be as simple as an opportunity that has presented itself with a perceived low risk of being caught.
So, how may you get to the bottom of this? As you are unsure of who the culprit may be, it is important to gain the necessary evidence before you confront anyone. Firstly, start to create a record. Note the exact time and date you first noticed cash missing. Record the names of the employees who worked at the time of the theft. If you have access to video surveillance, review the footage for any proof. Note the start and final totals for each till and look for inconsistencies in your records.
Investigate "no sale" or "refund" transactions closely as these are most often used in till theft. Conduct one on one interviews with your staff, explaining you have been made aware of this situation and you would like their help and support to resolve it. This may also allow the space for staff to offer information or details of what they have noticed.
To deal with this effectively, consider the evidence you have, the severity of the theft, the company policy and the legal implications. Two options are available: a disciplinary followed by dismissal; or as it is a criminal offence, getting the police involved. Theft is considered a serious crime in the UAE and the punishment can range from a fine to a jail sentence. Similarly, it is important to follow a fair and reasonable process in conjunction with the HR department to avoid possible legal consequences associated with dismissal.
Yolande Basson is an executive coach and consultant at Ashridge Executive Education – Middle East