Employee Stealing? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

I read last week’s column with interest because I am also a fairly new manager in a small organization who isn’t sure whether to speak up about a problem. I have five direct reports. Two of them have come to me to say they have seen an employee who reports to another manager stealing things such as office supplies, toilet paper, and teabags and coffee from the break room.

I was going to stay out of it—until I actually witnessed her emptying half a box of artificial sweetener packets into her purse! I was sitting close by, and she didn’t even seem to care that I saw her do it.

This behavior strikes me as really odd. I would assume people know they are not supposed to help themselves to items meant to be used by people at work.

I have no experience in how to deal with this. Should I tell my manager? Should I tell the person’s manager? I kind of hate to get her in trouble, but I also don’t want to send the message that the behavior is okay.


Dear Unsure,

You really need to say something. As a manager, you represent the organization so your silence has power. Now that you personally witnessed this behavior, to not report it would be seen as condoning stealing. Stealing is a strong word for this kind of petty theft, but it is technically the truth.

I guess it might be possible the offender doesn’t realize what she is doing is wrong. It may simply be that her own manager needs to talk to her about it.

The more likely scenario is that she does know it’s wrong and either has some kind of underlying compulsion she needs to deal with or is hostile in some way toward the organization. Perhaps she feels she is underpaid and therefore entitled to these extras.

So you need to tell someone—it could be your own manager, the manager of the offending party, or if you have an HR person you could start there. Even if you feel a little like a rat, it is the right thing to do.

Love, Madeleine

About the author

Madeleine Blanchard

Madeleine Homan-Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!

Leave a Reply