Busted! Are You Stealing From Your Company?

At my bank Board meeting last week, the Chairman grimly announced that fraud has increased significantly from the previous year.

“It’s the economy,” everyone said, nodding their heads as if that one word packed a Bernanke speech’s worth of explanation.

I suppose that when under financial stress, some may be tempted towards unseemly conduct that they might not otherwise consider, especially if their jobs involve handling money: a teller, for instance; or a cashier. Or the CFO.

Speaking of which, later that same week, a friend revealed that his company discovered its long-time CFO had embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Scandalous! 

Not really, though, because this was about the thousandth time I’ve heard that story, especially coming from smaller, privately-held companies—which are more vulnerable, since they don’t always have the appropriate fortress of auditing checks and balances to monitor these things.

Judging from the daily business news, though, it appears epidemic. Fraud, embezzlement, inside trading—there’s a plentiful stream of bad behavior feeding the media. You’d think the public shaming of people getting caught red-handed and sent to jail would deter those with any inclination to do the same. But human nature is fairly consistent: an unfettered combination of greed, self-justification, and the delusion of not getting caught.

And don’t think you are exempt either, my dear Christian friend with a fish bumper sticker flashing from your car and a cross dangling from your weathered neckline. Christian organizations are equally subject to these wayward shenanigans.

Back in the day, my wife once worked for a reputable Christian bookstore, a hushed and stoic establishment where you’d expect to find upstanding and trustworthy Christian workers. She had befriended a sweet middle-aged woman whose sunken eyes told quite another story of lean hardship. The two would pass their minimum-waged work hours exchanging spiritually supportive chit-chat as the generic praise of Sandy Patty flowed through the speakers. One day, however, her fellow comrade was abruptly dismissed. This woman had been stealing cash from the register at the end of each day to help make ends meet. It was wrong, I know, but we kind of felt sorry for her.

Stealing may be criminal, but it doesn’t always involve cash. I know of a sales executive who was dismissed because he was spending several hours each day driving around on personal business rather than company business. The suspicious President installed a GPS on his company car, and—well, you can imagine the rest.

Although we may shake our heads at the brazen corruption, let's not be too quick to judge; there are certainly more subtle opportunities for stealing right in front us. At times, we may even be the guilty party. I cringe remembering one of my first summer jobs (a real job, mind you), where I spent more time sneaking off to talk on the phone with my girlfriend than doing the actual work they were paying me for.

Really, how much time are you spending on the internet while at work? Are you frittering away hours in gossipy chit-chat while your assignments pile up? Are you holding back from giving the most of your self, fully engaging in the work you have been given? Complacency, slacking off, cutting cornersthese all count in the scheme of things. Only you won’t get sent to jail if you get caught.

I opened up a fortune cookie the other day that said, “Character precedes leadership.” Wise advice, indeed. I've heard character defined as "the things you do when no one is watching."

It comes down to this: Do your absolute best. Apply yourself with diligence. Work with excellence. Take pride, no matter how tedious or menial the job. People notice these things, you know. It builds up your character, slow and steadyand no one can ever steal that from you.

Post by J.B. Wood.

Image by Mike Bitzenhofer. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr.