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Our office opened back up about 3 weeks ago. With this COVID craziness, the stores around the office have been experiencing another shortage of toilet paper.

Although toilet paper is available online from places like Amazon, people around here are panicking and have started stealing toilet paper from the office. We're not talking about a small quantity either; facilities told me that a month's supply was used up in 2 days.

Several members from management (including myself) sent out a firmly worded e-mail to everybody telling everybody to be respectful and considerate, and a reminder that theft of company property, including toilet paper, will result in disciplinary measures. Unfortunately, the culprits haven't listened, and theft is just as rampant, if not worse. We still don't know how many people we're actually dealing with.

This situation is maddening. Other members of management have proposed the following potential solutions:

  • Closely monitoring everybody as they go in/out of the bathroom
  • Frisking people as they leave the office to check for stolen items
  • Providing every employee with 1 roll of TP for the week and they will be responsible for bringing to the bathroom
  • Telling employees to bring in their own TP from home
  • Change the budget around to spend an obscene amount of money on TP

All of these solutions are just awful, but I'm at a loss of what to do next. This is an incredibly frustrating situation. Any advice?

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The real solution? Unless your company is experiencing some really tough financial times, order TP and give some to your employees as a bonus. It's a difficult situation for individuals and families. It will buy your company a lot of good will with employees, and it won't be punitive. It might even cost less than trying to install all these fixtures, and wasting your time monitoring the toilets.

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    That kind of goes along with the last option. It has been considered, but this isn't something I have the authority to do by myself. The biggest concern by the other members of management is that this gives a terrible message and we're rewarding people for stealing. – Jamie F Aug 21 at 5:05
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    Maybe you want to add to the answer: you could at the same time repeat that taking the toilet paper from the bath room is still unacceptable and will be punished. Only the tp that's handed over may be taken home. – Chris Aug 21 at 10:23
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    (Most) people are going to steal like that when there is a perceived need, or panic. Be empathetic rather than punitive. Hold an all hands and say "Look, we see that you guys are afraid of this, we're gonna help you out. Let's leave the TP in the office, in the office so we can shit here too. If you need special consideration, come talk to your supervisor. We're not going to be pursuing anyone up to this point". Getting rough on your employees during this crisis is unlikely to get you good press. – Malisbad Aug 21 at 10:57
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    @JamieF why you seeking a solution to a problem if you don't have the authority to solve it ? and I have to say this is a great answer, my company provided us all with wipes and hand gel the other week, even the ones on furlough and working form home, to my suprise people LOVED it – PeterH Aug 21 at 12:02
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    You could have a half-hour meeting at which you tell people not to steal toilet paper, or buy each employee 24 rolls of toilet paper. The second option will be cheaper.. – DJClayworth Aug 21 at 20:57
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Allow people to buy toilet paper through the company.

Your employees are having trouble getting it locally and, for whatever reason, aren't ordering it online. Your company still has a reliable way of getting it. Just let people order toilet paper like you would buy more paper, pens, etc. if they needed it and have them pay for it.

I think Malisbad's answer is probably easier if you're contemplating just buying lots to counter the theft anyway, but if it is really going to rub management the wrong way I think this solves that issue. As long as you don't try to make a profit with it, I don't think people will balk at this.

I also want to strongly recommend against limiting access to the facilities, including deliberately withholding a sufficient amount of toilet paper. If you're in the United States, there are OSHA regulations setting minimum standards for sanitation. (See also 1915.80 - Scope, application, definitions, and effective dates.) It would likely also cause ADA issues. If you're not in the United States, I wouldn't assume your country doesn't have similar laws

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    @nick012000 Profiting off the fact that their employees can't find toilet paper would likely make the company look bad. – BSMP Aug 21 at 7:05
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    @nick012000 I've edited my answer to say "don't profit" instead of specifying what they should charge. Hopefully that matches my intent better, which is just that this shouldn't be a money making opportunity for the company. – BSMP Aug 21 at 7:58
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    @nick012000: One should be careful with asking for a higher price. The situation "company lets employers buy toilet paper" seems so special, it could land in the newspaper. The newspaper will probably just say "the company sold it for a higher price and profits from the employees nonability to buy toilet paper". This might be not true, but the company will likely be the bad guy here. – guest Aug 21 at 11:11
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    @nick012000 How much, exactly, do you think it costs to store TP? They already apparently were able to store a month's supply for the whole company. If they can order more quickly, that should cover at least an emergency ration for each employee. In times like these when companies (even big, reliable companies) have been having to ask employees to take reduced wages or unpaid leave, the kind of good will you can build by selling TP at cost (or even reduced cost/free) is very valuable. Cheaper than free lunches and more practical than the ping pong table in the break room, too. – user3067860 Aug 21 at 11:58
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    And for goodness sake, yes, advertise it. "Come work at Company XYZ where we take care of our employees. We offer (list of benefits) to support our employees. We were even able to help with reduce priced toilet paper during the COVID 19 pandemic!" "Buy from Company XYZ, the caring company, where we give back to our community and workers... (insert clip of small child saying that you planted a tree outside their house to support the environment or whatever it is you do) (insert clip of employee saying that you helped their family with toilet paper when they couldn't buy it in stores)"... – user3067860 Aug 21 at 12:05
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To me this looks like a sign of a much bigger cultural problem that needs to be addressed. I can see only two reasons for this kind of behavior en masse.

  1. People are really desperate. They are also afraid to ask for help. So this is kind of an "emergency relief" if you will. Usually if I need something on a special occasion and my employer can easily provide it, I just ask for it. (Like a stamp or some printing paper, I have been given those for free upon asking)

  2. A lot of people have started to resent their employer and hate their job. They have what you could call "inner resignation". The stealing of small things is a opportunity to vent some of that. Take that away and they will seeks some other vent, that could be more harmful to the company.

You should already have a guess which it is, and react accordingly. From the options you listed in your question, I strongly guess no 2!

So I'd recommend doing what @Malisbad suggested, as a first step to rebuild trust. Give them a supply of toilet paper to take home. Pair it with a nice message, stating that you recognize the difficult situation and that you'd rather help your employees solve such problems this way than to have them just take things. Then work on the deeper cultural issues - it will pay off by enhanced trust and productivity in the long run!


Anecdote: After lockdown began we got a parcel from my wife's employer. It contained some face masks and a nice note that they had imported a lot and if we or family member needed more, to just say so. She was on maternity leave at that time.

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A rule, is only as good as strictly it's enforced.

You warned them of the consequences of stealing. Now, you need to make sure that does not happen.

I recommend a security check for belongings. (To avoid confusion: This is not body-search, rather a check of the carry-out bag / satchel for belongings).

There are sentiments that it's a low-cost item, so stealing it is OK, but in practice, stealing (or in a broader sense, violating the company rules), should never be ignored and have to be dealt with. If we go by "difficult times", "personal reasons", maybe every action (how unethical or outright wrong it may be), could be justified somehow. There's no end to that.

So, two things:

  • There is a rule, enforce that. Find out the culprit(s) and take necessary disciplinary actions, make sure those "firmly worded" emails were not for nothing.
  • Once that is done, ensure there is enough paper available to all others (as a gesture / reward for not stealing and adhering to company policies, and general ethics) - that should be an easy job once the stealing has stopped.
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