The most common ways employees get away with stealing money

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On the topic of setting an example in the workplace, we only ever hear about the well to do goose eggs that bike to the office every day and stay three hours later than they have to. We rarely hear about the coworkers that tempt their colleagues to misbehave on the clock. Surely delinquency is just as contagious. Thanks to a new paper penned by three researchers based out of the Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis, we get to see the adverse effects of mentorship.

“One important thing we show is that people learn from peers,”  Co-author Yijun Chen explained in a statement. “To make sure employees do not learn stealing from their peers, it’s important to influence them in the first few months. If they don’t know what the typical conduct is, but they see their peers steal, they will follow.”

The Influence of Peers in Worker Misconduct: Evidence From Restaurant Theft

Apparently workplace theft is more prevalent than most people know.  The mispractice occurs so frequently in the restaurant industry that coworkers actually plan their stealing days around their peers as to not step on their thieving toes. The authors came to these conclusions by way of seven years worth of data, comprised of 1,049 different locations, in 46 different states. That’s about 5.7 million transactions shared between roughly 83,000 servers.

An analyst of the data suggested workers were especially impressionable in their first five months of employment. Employees that witnessed another employee stealing during this window were more likely to evolve into repeat offenders themselves, though this particular kind of misconduct seems to occur fairly often with or without the presence of predictors. Fifty-six percent of servers reviewed in the database nicked at least once during their tenure.

“It’s not just to catch stealing,” Chan continued. “People will restrain their stealing behavior themselves if they know they are being monitored.”

Easier said than done, unfortunately.  The study highlighted a long list of clever ways employees get away with pocketing cash discreetly. Like “The Ole’ Wagon Wheel” routine.  Let’s say a guy comes in and orders a basket of fries for eight bucks and leaves a 10-dollar bill. When another comes in later and inevitably orders the same thing, you transfer the first charge to this guy’s bill then pocket the difference. This kind of works albeit more clumsily with voided items too.  With no supervision, I imagine it’s quite easy to bill a person, void the item in the POS then just keep the cash all to yourself.

“We also explored possible differences in peer influence between large and small restaurants, splitting our sample based on the number of median employees at that restaurant in a week.,” the report states.  “The negative correlation in daily error terms is higher in large chains. This finding could be explained by the monitoring attention difference in large and small restaurants. In small restaurants, workers usually occupy multiple roles (bartenders, to-go server, etc.) due to small scale limiting specialization. As a result, managers in small restaurants could take other roles in addition to monitoring the servers and thus have less attention for monitoring.”

The paper was published in the journal Manufacturing & Service Operations Management.