HR Strange But True!
June 14, 2007

Did the person who took your sandwich from the workplace fridge simply make an innocent mistake or are there deeper issues at play? A clinical psychologist says it is the latter.

Carolyn Kaufman tells Andrea Kay, a columnist with the Gannett News Service, that while people pilfer from the workplace fridge for a variety of reasons, all of them know what they are doing: taking food that they didn't bring to the office.

She tells the Kay that some workers see the company refrigerator as a place where the food is up for grabs because someone probably has forgotten it and would never miss it.

Other pilferers have a sense of entitlement and believed they are owed something, Kaufman says. Workers with a sense of entitlement? No way!

For some workers, it's about feeling a sense of power in a place where they may have little, she says.

Some pilferers find comfort in the anonymity of it, Kaufman says.

"Research shows that people do things they otherwise wouldn't when they feel anonymous," she tells Kay.

When caught, they rely on one of two excuses: (1) They mistook, say, that sandwich with smoked turkey, Swiss cheese, avocado, tomato, fried onions, and roasted red peppers on pita bread as theirs or (2) they were going to replace it, Kay notes.

Readers of HR Strange but True! may remember a novel and inexpensive way to keep employees honest in the workplace. As we reported last year, scientists from Newcastle University in England conducted an experiment that found employees were more likely to be true to an honor system if a poster that included an image of person's eyes was placed nearby.

If you have had a rash of thefts from your workplace fridge, maybe you can try hanging such a poster near your fridge, reminding workers to be sure they are taking their food and not someone else's. If you do, we'd love to hear about the results.

In the HR Forum, we started a thread for you to share your stories about pilfering from the workplace fridge.

Source: Gannett News Service, via the Ithaca Journal

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