Missing office supplies is more common issue than you’d think. According to a survey by Kessler International, 52 percent of office workers admit to bringing office supplies home for personal use. Usually someone going home with a pen in their shirt pocket doesn’t harm your bottom line in any remarkable way, but costs can add up, especially with high value items.
Theft becomes all the more pressing when you realize that some costly items that have black market value go missing. No, not laptops, or even tablets: printer cartridges. Xerox® writes, “On the open market, toner cartridges are high-value, so much so that there’s a thriving black market for print supplies. Yes—the on-site supply of toner cartridges sitting right next to the printer or in the unlocked cabinet, unprotected and available to anyone.” Large businesses do so much printing and copying that they often don’t bother keeping an eye on how many cartridges get used—until they realize something must be very, very wrong.
Supply theft is especially an issue in today’s contractor-centric office. Many businesses rely on a network of outside firms and short-term contractors rather than full-time employees. Each will need certain supplies to get the job done, often for workers only contracted for a matter of weeks (or a couple times a week). That means a lot of people moving in and out of your office over time! Unfortunately, you often don’t have the chance to vet these workers as thoroughly as you would your staff. And when things go missing, it’s far more difficult to track unless you are prepared.
Okay, so you want to lock it down. What are some steps you can take to prevent your profits from walking out of the supply closet (and out the front door)? Here’s where to get started:
Set expectations ahead of time.
Promoting good behavior at the beginning is much easier than trying to fix bad habits once established. When you take on new employees, give them a rundown on how to get fresh supplies, where to note what they are taking, and who to contact about ordering more. Pushing back against established routine can ruffle feathers with longtime employees who feel unfairly questioned. Start early when it comes to tracking your goods if possible.
Review your buying practices.
The way you stock your supplies will influence the way your employees view your supply reserves. For example, if you always have an enormous wealth of legal pads, people are far more likely to grab an extra one or two (and why not, they are so plentiful!). If you are automatically resupplying costly items without an understanding of how much you are using monthly, you also leave yourself open to theft. Step back and audit how many supplies you are regularly using, and maybe even resupply in a lean way until you find the proper amount.
Set a personal budget.
Give each of your employees a certain amount they can spend annually on specialty items. A specialty budget can include anything from additional back supporters or gel typing pads to an upgraded pen. Giving your staff the freedom of choice, in concert with spending limits, makes people feel involved and more aware of supply budgeting.
Assign distribution to office managers.
Leaving your supply closet to any and everyone is a surefire way to have people taking more than they need. Make one of your trusted managers the point-person for resupplying your staff, and have them keep tabs on who gets what supplies. That way, you can keep track of how much you’re using as well.
Costly stuff? Keep it under lock and key.
You wouldn’t just leave the cash register open for everyone to see, so why keep expensive items like toner cartridges out in the open? Lock expensive items up and have your supply manager track usage. This simple move will help you keep an eye on inconsistencies that you can use to diagnose potential theft.
Stick to the program! Rather than clamping down occasionally, regularly carry on with your supply management protocols. Not only does consistency help produce a routine for everyone, making the process of tracking easier, but it makes tracking regular, so employees don’t feel persecuted when you want to keep an eye on their supply use.
Keep it within reason.
One surefire way to insult your employees is to infer that they are criminals. Keeping a log of your supplies helps you track use, but don’t allow thrift to step on the good graces of your honest employees. If you suspect that one of your employees is stealing from the office, confront them directly. Don’t, say, institute bag checks on everyone looking for staplers. Understand that an occasional pen or sticky-note pad will find its way out of the office (and that’s fine!)
Above all, the first step towards minimizing office supply loss is awareness. Making sure that your office supplies stay put is easy, once you know how to get started. Over time, you may find you’re saving hundreds or even thousands of dollars per year.