Expense fiddlers and paper pilferers beware

A recent survey by online recruitment site Fish4jobs.co.uk found that 78% of office workers have taken home stationery from work...

A recent survey by online recruitment site Fish4jobs.co.uk found that 78% of office workers have taken home stationery from work in the past year and 59% have put personal post through the company mail. But while small-scale pilfering and expense fraud are commonplace, employees who abuse the system can end up in big trouble, writes Nathalie Towner.

"Dismissal is justified by theft, and boosting expenses is theft," says Diane Sinclair, adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

Sinclair warns that certain organisations, particularly financial companies, regard honesty as absolute and will dismiss any member of staff immediately if they exaggerate their work expenses.

When it comes to pilfering, what employees get away with depends on the attitude of the employer. "In the public sector there are very clear lines of accountability as you are ultimately spending the taxpayer's money," says Sinclair. "It is likely to be quite different in a small, private firm."

In addition to widespread petty theft, Fish4jobs' survey found that a significant minority of workers in the UK feel they can get away with a great deal more.

One IT director told researchers how he went to a lap-dancing club with some friends and charged the drinks to his company as client entertainment. Even if it was happy hour, this would have amounted to a considerable sum and if he is ever found out by his employer he will doubtless face some form of disciplinary action.

Other flamboyant claims revealed in the survey include one individual who was asked to carry out an audit of the number of laptops in the company, he deliberately left one out, took it home and sold it.

Another employee took all his dirty washing that needed dry cleaning on a business trip so he could have the hotel take care of it and charge the cost to the company.

Many office workers justify their actions by saying they are simply getting back a little of what their employers take from them. A hefty 67% say taking home stationery is justified due to having to make work calls from their personal mobile phone. And 29% say "getting a little back" on expenses is OK because bosses often ask for extras such as having to work extra hours.

Although Sinclair advocates honesty at all times, she does not see any benefit in the over-vigilance practiced by some companies. One big corporation has the secretarial staff check all phone calls that cost more than £10.

Sinclair believes most managers avoid this sort of checking because they prefer to have an atmosphere of trust. "Most organisations take honesty as a fundamental requirement of any job," she says. It is up to individual employees to ensure that this situation continues.

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