How People Justify Theft from Your Business


If you work for a large corporation or a governmental agency, a think tank, or a gas station, chances are very good that you work with thieves.

Theft is a part of life. It is a sickening reality, one that is increasing in frequency and intensity.

Many retail stores have adjusted to consider it just a cost of goods sold, a debit to an asset account of inventory. How sad this is from every point of view. Employees at some retailers are told to not even act against the thieves, who walk out with merchandise unimpeded, perhaps even heckling employees, on their way out the automatic doors, alarms blasting. The management has thusly, potentially, made a thief of the employee, who begins to consider how nice it would be to have a item for free, without consequences.

The result of this failure of our justice system, followed by the failure of the security system, followed, inevitably by the failure of the business, itself, is an odd experience for the honorable. We wrestle to open packages, beg to get a razor from the locked cabinet. If you need a thumb drive, you had better be prepared for a hard road! Ultimately, we all suffer because the collective success of the business is eroded by these actions. It is that collective success that we, the honorable, rely on for our compensation.

My father taught me the importance of honor. As my father said, crooks are not smart people. They steal for many reasons, but they know, at some level, how wrong it is to take something that is not theirs.

This produces a conflict within the thief that must be satisfied. Thieves do not go through life hating themselves for their transgressions. (There is a subconscious effort to self-punish that I will discuss later) They justify their actions.

A thief who is socially exposed will always have worked out the justification early in the process. They are not wrong for stealing. Often it is the fault of the victim.

  • “Like Mr. Smith – that rich old bastard – is going to miss a couple of glasses”
  • “The CEO makes five million a year, and they are worried about a couple of bucks on the company card?”
  • “He got me a lame Christmas present – so I helped myself to a little bonus”
  • “The Saudi-Arabians think the information that I compiled is worth $ 500,000. My own government thinks I am worth $ 65,000. a year.”

Eventually the few remaining threads of honor break down, and theft becomes “ordinary.” They are no longer burdened with the constraints of honor. They are, at last, a real thief. It may start with office supplies, but it will rarely end there. Without a real and valid threat of consequences, it will escalate to the most extreme level that the structure will allow.

Many business people, particularly in the current era of political correctness, would never think of securing areas or valuables, lest they insult someone. They pay for their foolishness.

The honorable accept security. They honor boundaries and they respect secrets. Thieves, once converted, may crave the excitement of the next event. They plan, contrive, and execute, smiling at you, in your office, on their way out the door.

There is an odd, nearly unbelievable thing that happens, too. As a man is converted into a thief, he becomes filled with hate. With every trust he breaks, his hatred grows. It is a hatred for the one who trusted him. It is a hatred for the one who is damaged by his actions. So many of these damaged people, as they are dragged to the waiting police car, or black SUV, are screaming at those who they have betrayed. How odd we men are, that our psyche would develop such a mechanism to protect itself against our own failure of honor!

So, the thief becomes an enemy. He is an enemy of the organization and he is an enemy of the man for whom he works. He reflects a smile and hides his secret. He begins to enjoy the erosion of the collective of which he is a part. He may wish for an end to the ruse, which he may effect by making his behavior more obvious, resulting in his exposure, or he may secretly enjoy the complete ruin of the whole, happy as he removes his box of personal goods from the foreclosed office building. He will go elsewhere, but, he is unchanged, and he will repeat his actions.

It is not a pleasant job, but it is, none the less, the job of the supervisor or manager to find, stop, and prosecute theft from your organization. It is the honorable and faithful in the organization that thieves are stealing from. Everyone’s livelihood is negatively impacted by theft.

The methods of making the repair to an organization that suffers from such problems are varied, and will be covered in a separate writing, but, generally, the most effective methods are statistical oversight, followed by ever-increasing scrutiny of department, area, and ultimately, employee.

If you are the uninitiated, allow me to explain, you will not find the Justice Dept. very willing to help. Few judges feel sorry for the businessman, taking action against the poor, disadvantaged and wronged employee (which is how it shall be portrayed). The success is not one, generally, of wiping out theft. The best that one can do is to push it down the road to a new venue. You must.

Scott Cahill