Theft In The Office

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about stealing:

I am the manager at a small three-physician office. One of the doctor’s favorite employees is taking home office supplies and I am afraid she is also taking cash co-pays. Once before I was told that this employee was taking home supplies like garbage bags, so I informed the Dr. of it and I was told to mind my own business. This month I have kept my eye on the supplies, like the coffee and noticed that after I left early on Monday there was a can missing. I feel torn as the Dr. may again look at me as the squealer. I just don’t feel anyone should STEAL from the office; all of our salaries are on hold, and we were asked to think of ways to save the company money. What should I do?

Signed, Office Manager

Dear Office Manager:

You should not “mind your own business.” Your job is to mind the business of the office and that means keeping track of supplies and money. You are right to be alert to stealing. The doctor who advised you to mind your own business probably meant you should not accuse an employee of stealing garbage bags based on hearsay. Until and unless you have quite solid evidence of stealing, I would avoid any more accusations. Your challenge as office manager is to establish policies and commitment to the safe keeping of supplies and money. In a small office, that probably entails also being a watchdog. As manager, you should know everything that happens. Supplies should be housed and their use should be tracked, just as you must do so in order to know when to order their replacement. Also there should be rules for housing co-pay money taken in, recording how much was paid or not paid by patients each day. Possibly before closing this should require a two-person check out of what was taken in and their sign-off as money is placed in a safe.

In short, rather than approach this matter of stealing as an investigation, might it be a time to make a concerted more general effort to improve the operation of your office? As manager you can both propose and work collaboratively with all who should be concerned to develop office policies. You might not be able to pull off scheduling a time to discuss office policies with all employees and your three doctors, but there should be a time-out time to meet with those you manage to review and confer about policies and practices. Then separately you can meet with your three doctors, one by one to talk with them about what you and your staff are proposing and to get their approval and/or suggestions, if any. Once there is agreement, policies should be clearly stated and posted.

Understanding them and buy-in to their implementation tends to be higher when they are collaboratively generated. Also engaging in their development and their periodic review is a way of generating commitment to improving office efficiency and effectiveness.Your commitment to integrity coupled with a watchdog attitude will do much to set forth an ethic of honesty. I predict that theft will not be a matter of rumor or real concern if you will engage all those working in your office in an office-wide effort to cut waste and deliver high quality. I might place too much faith in communication, but I will continue to do so until it is proven to fail. Do these thought make sense? Do they lessen your anxiety about being perceived as a squealer and do they provide some practical suggestions that might prevent stealing? Think engagement and you will see ITS pay-off because you and your staff will see that working together with hands, head and heart takes and makes big WEGOS.

William Gorden