A Dilemma Only Jell-O Can Solve

I know I’ve been quiet for the last week or so, but life has once again gotten in the way of my more enjoyable activities, as it often does… too often, if you ask me.  But hey, I’m back!  And I have a very important topic to discuss.  Lucky you!

Yes, I thought it was high time I addressed something increasingly pervasive throughout our culture. Many have turned a blind eye, allowing the behavior to go unchecked and spread like wildfire over cubicles across America. Perhaps you yourself have participated in this questionable behavior.

Office supply theft, an apparently growing threat to offices in the contiguous 48 states (Hey! Don’t question my stats!). What draws people to this life of crime? What inspires once upstanding citizens to don sticky fingers (probably using glue they stole from the paper room) and swipe those pencils and pads of “while you were out” paper? What is so enticing about having one’s own stapler at home that leads a person to shed dignity and morals?

If you’re still with me, nodding your head emphatically with the warm rush of vindication washing up your cheeks, you’re probably an office manager, owner, or someone in the higher echelon of office politics. You probably have keys to the oft-revered Office Supply Cabinet.

I get it. As a culture, we have decided that stealing is wrong, even if it is just a sharpie for your son’s science fair presentation. Employees will take anything from generic #2 pencils to fancy pink highlighters, staples (for that stapler they already made off with), to paper products like notebooks and steno pads. Employers have struggled to find ways to eradicate this pestilence, this plague of thievery from their buildings.

Many offices have taken to literally locking the supplies away. Close those cabinets. Bar the doors with adamantium. Sleep well at night knowing that the only way the pencils are leaving the safety of those office corridors is stuffed secretly in someone’s bag, one breakable graphite stick at a time. Whatever you do, keep those tape dispensers and sharpies safe!

Some offices have tried giving out pencils one at a time, like little reward nuggets one would give a pet rat. What happens if you’re taking notes in the middle of a very important meeting (assuming you haven’t upgraded to taking notes on your computer, I know a few of you are still out there) and your pencil breaks? Do you then raise your hand to stop the meeting and ask permission to retrieve another pencil from the cabinet?

I once heard of an office where people were required to trade in their old, used items before getting a new one. Workers would have to run that pencil down to the bitter nub, then find the keeper of the office supplies and graciously ask them to accept the offering. What was that moment of silence like just before they received their new item? Was it heavy with the possibility of a refusal? What then?

Some offices like to implement tier distribution, an arbitrary and political division of funds that relates directly to the quality of supplies. (C-suites get the best chairs, mailroom can have the metal stools). Who determines that budget? More important, how do I get on that committee?

These measures can lead to ridiculous situations like trading and bartering between employees (I’ll give you one half-used roll of tape for that box of mini paper clips). Feeling the forced scarcity of resources, other employees tend to hoard things like colored pens (why does everyone want the red pens!) and star-shaped post-it notes. Labels emblazon everything from calculators to staplers to tape dispensers to “the one good pen” as everyone marks their territory lest the item walk, never to be seen again.

Where does that leave us then? Sneaking around each other’s cubicles, trying to catch a glimpse of what someone is hiding behind their daughter’s framed cheerleading picture? Passing private notes back and forth looking for information on who’s got the line on the white-out?

Is office supply theft truly such a scar on the face of our office culture that supplies need to be held hostage and doled out like runny soup to prisoners (all hail Les Mis)? Or are the measures to protect the supplies really just a power game? Are all offices forced to contend with some variation of a misguided, ridiculously informed, over-committed Dwight Schrute? Should office workers, in retaliation of metered supplies, break those cabinet locks and liberate every stapler and tape dispenser, finding them a new home in a mold of Jell-O? I’m not sure it would be as humorous off-screen, but perhaps it’s worth a try. Oh, who am I kidding? It would be hilarious. Now wait a minute, I know I saw a coupon for Jell-O at the local Piggly Wiggly. Gotta go, I feel a nefarious project coming on!

5 thoughts on “A Dilemma Only Jell-O Can Solve

  1. Oh, my… This sent me right back to the early 90s, when we used to live in Guinea. My mother worked in an office where supply theft had reached an olympic level… And because of that, Mom was in charge of the toilet paper! She had the rolls locked in one of her drawers, and whenever one of the employees needed to visit the bathroom, they would have to come to her desk and ask for a roll, that they would have to bring back once done with it. LOL Sorry, for the long comment… I just had to share this 😛

  2. I think, the stealing of the office supplies, are, merely, a, tiny symptom of, something larger, like how the company operates, that makes the workers, want to, or driven to, steal tiny things like, office supplies from it…

  3. I worked for the same company for 35 years, but I doubt very much that I would have stayed if my employer was anything like those you describe. I was fortunate to work for a company where it was assumed that everyone was trustworthy. Anything we required to do our respective jobs, we would simply buy and charge to the company account (if the company had an account with the supplier) or alternatively buy ourselves and be reimbursed at the end of the week. Apart from requiring a receipt, no questions were ever asked that I can recall.

    I and the other approximately 120 engineers required vehicles for our work, and we were able to choose the vehicle of our choice every two years (up to 2000 cc engine capacity) which the company leased on our behalf. They placed no restriction on using the vehicle for private use (from doing the weekly shopping, to taking the kids to activities to doing a two week tour of the country during vacations), all on a company provided credit card.

    The company was of the opinion that trusting its employees, even if on occasions they did something “naughty”, cost them less than if they employed staff to check on the honesty and trustworthiness of their workers, not to mention staff satisfaction and loyalty. It really is a shame more businesses don’t have similar practices.

  4. I am the antithesis of your thieving office workers – I was given an entire office and told to take it away. At a past job, when they had sold all the big stuff off, the owners were retiring, the lease was up, and I was about the last one there, I was told to “make it all go away!” I asked if they meant that I should try to hold a garage sale or something for all of the office supplies, big and small, and they said they didn’t care. Throw it out, take it home, give it away to schools, whatever – get rid of it! I’m still working my way through boxes of staples, tape, pens, paper, and also got a copier, desk, a dozen huge file cabinets…

    Of course, now, having told that story, I’m going have to guard my house from all of your co-workers!

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