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Employees Steal from Super-markets as a Way To Get Even

April 1, 1993
Related Topics: Miscellaneous Legal Issues, Featured Article
When it comes to employee theft, supermarkets are among the hardest-hit of all businesses. In a recent study conducted by Rosemont, Illinois-based London House and the Food Marketing Institute, supermarket employees admitted to stealing an average of more than $168 a year. What's more important, respondents estimated that co-workers pilfered an average of $1,040 a year. Multiply the figures to cover losses for a 100-store company, and the amount totals a whopping $2.5 million.

The most commonly stolen items? Cigarettes, meat, cheese, and health and beauty items. The problem isn't getting any better. During the past three years, the figures have increased by a staggering 400%—from $44.72 in 1989 to the current $168.48.

Why do employees, including managers, steal at such levels? The reasons are numerous. Clearly some feel disenfranchised and exploited. Says one employee, "During the last couple of years, the company has kept raising the standards and cutting back on the hours allotted to keeping those standards up. If you don't work off the clock, the job won't get done. Some people steal as a way to get even."

Equally vexing is the question of why employers don't do more to stop them. Of course, the nature of the work makes it difficult to use surveillance effectively, and it's virtually impossible to position a security guard in every aisle. What's more, employees generally have free access to the warehouse areas in which the supermarket stores its goods. In most cases, thefts occur during the night shift by newer employees who have had three or more employers during the previous year. Employees also help each other steal merchandise by not charging the full price for items they buy at the store.

Human resources departments, increasingly savvy to these facts, are turning to integrity tests. London House found that companies that use such tests are 20 times less likely to experience losses than companies that use no type of screening. As Wathen puts it, "The more questions you ask and the more screening you conduct, the less you're going to get hit."

Personnel Journal, April 1993, Vol. 72, No. 4, p. 86.

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