I was in a big retail store a couple of days ago and for the first time ever I was asked to show my receipt as I left the store. This somewhat surprising event caused me to think about the increase in theft in these kinds of stores and why people steal in the first place.
Doing some online research I came across the typical employer-based laments about stealing by employees. There’s the personal grievance issue, there’s the “my boss was mean” issue, there’s the “I was stealing from the company so no one’s really getting hurt” issue, among many others. And while there is some truth in all of these excuses, what I found interesting was that almost all of them were employer or corporation derived. Apparently, the employees who have these kinds of ethical breakdowns are not really canvassed deeply as to why they do it.
Stealing is almost always a fireable offense. While I certainly don’t condone stealing, I began to think about what an employer of mine told me. The gist of it was “if you don’t pay your employees enough, they’ll steal from you.” From here, I began to focus on a broader view of American wages and the status of workers. I’d like to quote a wise and knowledgeable man, former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich.
“For most Americans, real inflation-adjusted wages continue to drop. Any pay increases workers may have earned in the past few years have actually been pay cuts, because wages have lagged behind the rising costs of basic necessities — like housing, food, childcare and healthcare.
You don’t have to be a financial wizard to see why some workers might say the hell with it.
So, what should be done about the difficulty employers are having finding workers? Simple. If employers want more workers, they should pay them more.”
Dr. Reich is talking about keeping workers in the workforce, but it’s an easy extrapolation to include these facts as a reason why many employees steal from their employer. You can see the strength of his argument when you realize that CEO pay has risen 1,460% since 1978. In contrast, typical working wages have increased 18.1% over the same period.
I’m not going to detail all the inequalities and hardships that working people face in the Flathead Valley because they’re well known to many, I’m sure. I just wanted to point out that when it comes to the ethical attributes of theft by employees, there are other factors besides those given by the corporate world. Generally speaking, corporations have never done better; which is especially shameful in this time of inflation. Paying a living wage is the greater part of the ethical equation here. Perhaps more enlightened employers will begin to factor this into their complaints about theft and retention of employees.
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