Is it ever acceptable to take a pen or pencil from work? Picking and choosing our battles is one of those lessons we learn in the workplace and in life. Sometimes situations seem so trivial that we wonder if itís worth the time and effort to take the time and effort to think about them. The same is true with how to handle small ethical situations. Often times the situations seem so small, so trivial, we donít think about the larger consequences.
On the surface, this may seem like a perfectly innocent question. We need a pen during an errand at lunch, or we have run out of pencils at home. Is it acceptable to take just one pen? What possible harm could there be in taking one pencil? After all the company has plenty of money, right? Consider a company of a thousand employees each taking one pencil. Many donít stop at just one pencil; however, itís back to school time. Kids need entire boxes of pencils. They lose them during the school year and all of a sudden the company is providing school supplies to entire busloads of children. In a company that is watching every penny to save jobs, what is the impact of the office supply budget going to supply what used to be only one pencil, to now purchasing school supplies for an entire company of employees?
Take the same concept into your own home; you have bought those pens and pencils with your hard earned money. Imagine every time your neighbor came over, they took one or more of your pens. Now itís time to write out checks to pay bills or you need a pen to write down a number. Imagine that all your writing instruments are now gone and you need to go to the store to purchase more. How would you feel? Is it stealing? Absolutely, after all you donít have the money to buy supplies for the entire neighborhood.
As light-hearted and trivial as it may seem, itís not just about pens, pencils and paper. Taking time off from work without reporting it on your time card, taking a few extra minutes for lunch, or using the Internet during work time Ė all of these situations can potentially be considered ďstealingĒ from your employer. But you work hard, right? You should be entitled to a little bit of a ďfreebieĒ, right? The employer will never notice, will they?
Perhaps not the pen here, or the five minutes there, but when you have an office full of people engaging in the same behavior, it does become noticeable. Employee theft, whether itís a pen, pencil or time has a huge impact on a companyís bottom line. Sometimes it is the difference between keeping one more employee, letting someone go or giving a raise. Even if that were not the case, they donít belong to you which is, in essence, stealing.
ďWell, everyone else does it.Ē Does that make it right? Sometimes it takes more courage and more values to do the right thing then to keep engaging in activity you know to be wrong. So the moral of the story? Next time you think that no one will notice you taking that pen, take a moment to think about the bigger picture and hopefully you will leave that pen in the office.