Household Management and Theft: Mitigating an “Inevitable”
There is a school of thought within the Household Management profession that argues at some point theft by domestic staff will occur. The argument is based on multiple factors that include:
Human beings are highly unpredictable and prone to temptation
Staff will often rationalize their theft with the thought “well, they have so much already” and "they won’t miss anything I take"
Disgruntled staff explain theft away by convincing themselves (right or wrong) that they have been taken advantage of
Occasionally staff run into financial difficulty and theft is a route to solving their money problems
Sometimes a pretty object or clothing item is simply too difficult to resist
The human mind is an incredible thing and can be used to rationalize all sorts of unacceptable behaviour. Basically it comes down to this…
When you invite someone in to your home to work, you are providing them with access to everything that is yours. The nature of the position dictates the scope of access.
Theft can take on many forms from petty theft to grand theft and beyond. It can be as simple as stealing groceries and cleaning products to jewellery and identity theft. The scale can range from $100 dollars to tens of thousands of dollars. In the case of identity theft, it is difficult to place a dollar cost since repair can be as much or more than the initial financial loss itself.
While I believe that it is a best practice for employers to operate their homes from a position of trust (the reasons vary from optimized operations to building positive staff rapport to maintaining mental health), I do argue that prudent diligence be practiced always.
So what do I mean when I speak of “prudent diligence” and “mitigating the potential for theft?” The truth is there is no single answer. Households need to practice what I call “Security Hygiene” and it starts with the beginning.
Always hire intelligently and try not to be steered by emotions. Referrals from trusted sources are always best. While interviewing do not do all the talking. Ask open questions (not “yes” or “no”). Pay attention to what is NOT SAID as much as to what is said.
Listen for telling pauses. Be on the lookout for odd body language. Be aware of gaps on resumes and ask about them. If the answer is difficult to follow, it might be that you are being duped. Get candidates to talk about themselves and what is important to them. Most candidates these days arrive for an interview with a scripted answer to the question “Tell me about yourself.” So, don’t be afraid to throw a curve ball like “tell me about your last vacation” or “what did you like most about your previous employer?” Then flip the question on them.
Do Background Checks if you live in a jurisdiction that permits them. Beware, however, many Background Checks might not be conclusive since they will only show convictions and not charges, but they are essential.
Offers of Employment
Written offers are always best. Miscommunication and misunderstandings are better avoided when employment offers are in writing. Be direct in the offer. Be explicit about having a “zero tolerance” policy on theft. Remember that lack of employee discretion is a kind of theft, so make sure that any offer contains a confidentiality clause. Be explicit about consequences for theft and breach of confidentiality.
Employer / Employee Relations
Maintain an arm’s length professional distance from employees. It is a good practice generally as it establishes clarity, but it also eliminates any potential for staff mistaking their formal work role for being a “member of the family.” I cannot emphasize enough how important this last item is. An employee who thinks they are a member of the family might feel entitled to taking things. It also confuses relationships that can cause disgruntlement, which can manifest itself in the form of theft at some point in the future.
Install Best Household Management Practices
If there are household accounts with store vendors or credit cards given to staff members, make sure to install effective monthly audits where unexplained expenses can be caught before they are forgotten. Keep your staff accountable for the accounts they manage. Inventories should be conducted, maintained and audited. If staff is paid by the hour, they might “pad” their time sheets. Consider installing digital time clocks like uAttend. If you have sub-contractors working for you, confirm with the business owner why you should feel confident that theft will not occur with their employees. Ask about their insurance and get a copy of their insurance certificate. Finally, make sure to confirm with your insurance company that you are protected against various forms of theft.
Suspicious of Theft?
Begin documenting your suspicions. Make sure to timeline events to the best of your ability. Use the timeline to zero in on a potential culprit. Whatever you do, DO NOT turn a blind eye to suspicion. Doing so can lead to a malignant culture of theft. Remember, if someone steals once, they are likely to do so again.
The best piece of advice is learn from your experiences. Use experience to fine-tune policies and protocols. Theft is likely to occur at some point. If it occurs in your household, it does not mean that you are a bad employer or a bad manager.
Finally - and this is a challenge - if theft does occur fight the temptation to lose trust. Do not let one bad apple spoil your view of all employees. Continue to practice trust. Just make sure that it is mindful trust that is being practiced.
Next time? What to do if you suspect theft.
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