Lunch Theft—A Common Crime

Lunch theft is such a common issue in offices that it has appeared in sitcoms like “Friends”and “Good Times.” NPR devoted an episode of “This American Life” to the problem.

A survey, highlighted in the New York Post, by online grocer Peapod found that 71 percent of employees have had a snack, drink or meal stolen from a workplace kitchen.

“People steal all kinds of things at workplaces,” said Art Markman, professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Texas at Austin and author of the Fast Company online article The Psychology Behind Why People Steal Their Coworkers’ Stuff. “They take coffee without paying for it when there is an honor system. People steal office supplies for home use or make copies for personal use at work. [They feel] the company owes them that for being a good employee.”

Food, it seems, falls into the same category. Researchers who placed $1 bills on a plate in a workplace refrigerator alongside a six-pack of soda lost their drinks but kept the money.

Markman said workers tend to rationalize swiping someone’s lunch with thoughts like this:

  • It’s like the fridge at home—everything’s up for grabs.
  • I was ravenous and couldn’t help myself.
  • It’s not like I’m taking someone’s money.

“People do a lot of things that are easy to do,” he said, adding that research shows that “people will cheat on small things that it is unlikely they will be caught doing, just because it is easy. They aren’t really thinking about the consequences.”



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