Meet the worker who stole two tonnes of office stationery – here’s how to stop it happening to you

Businesses have been urged to keep an eye on the stationery cupboard after a German man was found to have hoarded 30 years’ worth of pens, pencils and post-it notes in his backyard in a trove weighing more than 20 tonnes.

The find is a step above the usual pencil or pen that goes missing now and then, but cost-cutting experts cite research showing billions of dollars are lost each year due to missing stationery – and employers should crack down if they want to save money.

“This usually happens when offices have a stationery cupboard that is open and just refilled to a certain level constantly,” Cost Reduction Analysts chief executive Debra Mills told SmartCompany this morning.

The German publication Stuttgarter Zeitung reported the incident overnight, saying a City Council employee had taken toilet brushes, printer paper, cleaning products, and other office materials over a period of 30 years.

The council is currently making an inventory of all the items stored in the employees’ backyard shed, and a spokesperson for the city has already suggested the entire bundle could be worth as much as a six-figure sum.

“We have no explanation of how it happened,” the spokesperson said.

Stationery theft is a serious problem for many businesses. Studies indicate the total sum of all missing items could amount to tens of billions of dollars every year, and plenty of small businesses struggling to survive have no idea where it all goes.

Debra Mills says while most businesses don’t have 30 years’ worth of supplies stolen, she does suggest it’s not out of the question for employees to continue taking items over a long time.

“It doesn’t surprise me that this happens over a long period of time, because accounts payable staff have been cut to the point where if the bill is about the same as the previous month, they just pay it.”

“So if you have a cupboard that refills to a certain level, or an honour system, it can happen.”

Mills says more theft occurs during certain periods of the year, such as the ‘back to school’ period when schoolchildren need more notebooks and binders, typically more expensive than paper and pens.

But Mills says you need to be smart about how you stop this from happening in order to minimise your costs – and there are a couple of ways to do so.

“The first way is to simply lock everything up, and have an assistant responsible for the stationery cupboard. They have the key, so if you have an order, you need to go through that one person.

“The alternative is to get rid of the cupboard altogether, and have the orders just go through one person. The advantage of the cupboard is there, but you’re just ordering it quickly.”

Mills says with most stationery businesses delivering within a day, it’s easy to keep up with demand, and she adds most businesses are heading this way now anyway.

“Most people are doing away with the cupboard. You get deliveries now within hours, whereas it used to be three or four days.”

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