It’s keeping you up at night, cold sweats and nightmares about living in a 6’ by 6’ room. You can feel the cold breath of the police on your neck. It’s unrelenting. Justice will be served. You will be caught. And your family and friends will be interviewed for the five o’clock news, assuring everyone that you “seemed so nice”, and that no one “saw this coming”.
All because you stole from the office. It seemed like the perfect crime - victimless, even - but now you can’t escape the long reach of the law. Okay. Maybe not. But it’s very likely that you have stolen something from your employer at some point. Admit it. Right now. Say it out loud. You can’t seek forgiveness until you admit to the sin.
Am I being a tad melodramatic? Yes. Yes I am. Because the data and surveys suggest that we (almost) all do it. Consider:
According to a survey by Banner Business Services in the United Kingdom, stolen office supplies cost British companies £2 billion per year (that’s billion with a “B”). That amounts to $3.045 billion USD. What’s more, over two-thirds of the respondents freely admitted to stealing from their workplace.
In any given year, over 50% of American workers admit to “borrowing” - and then never returning - from the office (a.k.a. stealing).
The U.S. Department of Commerce estimates that employee theft in the United States amounts to $50 billion annually. Now, that figure includes stealing time, money (including embezzling), merchandise, information (industrial espionage), and yes, office supplies. But still..fifty. Billion. They also estimate that that roughly 75% of employees have stolen at least once.
It’s a regular crime wave. Send up the Bat-Signal!
When compared to embezzling $35 million, for example, helping yourself to a few things from the supply closet seems like small potatoes. Here are the top ten most commonly stolen office supplies. Be honest...how many have you taken?
1. Post-It Notes
The yellow (or increasingly multi-coloured) little squares of paper are an office mainstay. They’re ubiquitous and versatile. Launched by 3M in 1977, the adhesive was actually created by accident, and the colour was chosen simply because only yellow scraps of paper were available during development. The rest is history. Every office has packages of them by the score...and they disappear as fast as they’re replaced. Have you ever actually gone to an office supply store and purchased them? Probably not...and yet, you likely have a few packs somewhere in your home right now. Yup. They came from the office.
2. Paper Clips
Tiny. Usually silver metal. But oh-so-useful. The first paper clip patent in the United States was filed in 1867 by Samuel Fay. They’ve been attached to school projects and corporate financial reports ever since. These days, paper clips come in all sorts of colours and sizes, but the basic design is unchanged. Boxes of them are so easy to snag at the office and bring home, right? You never know when you might need one...and it’s better to have several hundred just waiting for that day (however unlikely).
3. Toilet Paper
This one is mystifying. I have never, ever worked or been somewhere that had such silky soft toilet paper in the washroom that I found myself thinking “Well gosh, this is the most comfortable toilet paper I have ever encountered! I simply must take some for home”. Office toilet paper is typically the cheapest, roughest, scratchiest 2-ply tissue that money can buy. But it still goes AWOL...proving that people will steal anything.
4. Copier Paper
Unless you have a copier at home, this one makes little sense. Packs of copier paper disappear faster than it could possibly be used for copying. The numbers don’t add up. In fact, many companies use a counter system, and some even keep track of individual copier usage, to compare the data. Where does it go? Perhaps people are taking it for their home printers (it’s the same paper, after all), or providing it to their kids for school projects or art projects. There’s no way to know for sure, but it is vanishing without a trace.
I’ll be honest. I don’t think I’ve ever bought a pair of scissors in my life, but I always have a pair in my desk drawer (sometimes more than one). How about you? Here’s an interesting tidbit: scissors have been around for roughly 3500 years. Who knew? The earliest examples were invented in ancient Egypt around 1500 BCE. Little did those Egyptians know that their little invention would be one of the most commonly stolen office supplies in the year 2015.
Tape is a prominent and full-time resident of many a junk drawer. But really, besides gift wrapping, what do we need it for? Not sure, but you won’t find an office supply centre without it, and you won’t find said supply centre without an inexplicable run on the stuff from time to time. We don’t usually buy something we use so rarely. When we need it, we open the drawer to find it. If it’s not there, we make a note (on a stolen notepad using a stolen pen perhaps) to “borrow” some from the office tomorrow. We promise we’ll return it, of course. But it ultimately ends up moving in.
Just like sticky notes, notepads are something that we either use all the time, or think we use all the time, so we want a good supply at the ready. They might be slowly disappearing in favour of digital solutions, but notepads still disappear from the office all the time. They are the second most stolen item, trailing only writing instruments according to most data. Do you still use them? What possible advantage can they possibly have over digital notes? Doesn’t matter...we steal them anyway. You can never have too many at home.
Remember Milton (Stephen Root) in the movie Office Space? That man loved his stapler. A lot. It was kind of an unhealthy relationship. Not sure if you have a similar attachment to your stapler at work - or if you even have a stapler at work - but those suckers disappear like a mouse at a cat convention. And that can add up. Staplers run the gamut from cheap and practically disposable to heavy duty and pricey. Do we use them that much? Doubtful. We just like the look of a classic Swingline sitting on our desk. It gives it an air of professionalism.
Does anyone still use these besides children in elementary school? The golden era of highlighting paper reports and memos are surely behind us, yet the brightly coloured things still hold a place of honour in every office supply room or closet. And despite no one really using them that much, companies are constantly running low and ordering more. My guess? Employees nick them for their kids.
10. Pens and Pencils
82% of those surveyed reported pens and pencils going missing more than any other office supply. First overall, although there’s no medal or ribbon for winning this contest. To be fair, a lot of it may be “accidental theft”. You put the company pen in your briefcase, bag, or folder, and forget it’s there. It ends up in your home office...with about 39 other ones. You pick them up absentmindedly all the time. From your office, from the desks of your colleagues, anywhere you encounter them (it’s been suggested, although never proven, that banks lose more each year from “stolen” pens than bank robberies).
In the modern workplace, paper and its related products (pens, pencils, paperclips) are declining in number, while more high tech items like USB drives, computer mice, and mouse pads are rising. And guess what? They go missing, too. It doesn’t matter what the office supply actually is, there’s someone who would rather take it than buy it.
There’s a tiny little thief in each of us. Check your junk drawer or home office. There’s an excellent chance (bordering on a certainty) that you have a stolen item in there right now. But don’t worry. You’re not alone. Safety in numbers, right? Just don’t graduate to bigger and more elaborate heists. If you ever find a company computer at home, it might be time to seek help.
Anything else? What has somehow ended up in your home from the office? Leave your confessions in the comments below.