A few months ago, I had a pair of earbuds I used to listen to music at work. I would also occasionally take them home with me to use, and after a few months they got lost at work. I'm sure I left them over the weekend on my desk at work, and they disappeared Monday morning, but since I used to take them home every now and then (and my bag had a hole in it), I wrote it off as a mistake on my behalf (they were a free pair of earbuds so no big loss).

I recently got another pair of earbuds, and had been using them for work. This time I never took them home, left them on my desk constantly, and again - they've gone missing (as well as the spare replacement 'buds' then came with it) off my desk, a few weeks ago. This time I know it's foul play, and I can't imagine it's anyone in my team (I've worked and known them for a year - although there's a possibility they might have picked them up, no-one in my team seems the sort to do something like that). And I'm sure it's the overnight cleaners as they move a lot of stuff on desks when they come in.

I've complained to the security staff but nothing has come of it. They seem to be dragging it out (almost three weeks and they haven't spoken to the manager of the cleaners yet, despite my pushing), and there's also no CCTV in my section of work to catch anyone for sure. I also can't imagine anyone (cleaner or otherwise) is going to come clean about it.

What can I do? It seems as though security doesn't care all that much, and they were a fairly nice set of earbuds that I paid for. Should I escalate this to HR? I'm not the only person who's had stuff go missing - personal glasses, and some other trinkets have gone missing - but is it enough to warrant escalating it and pushing for CCTV? Should I ask for compensation?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation about CCTV, proposed solutions, and leaving personal stuff at work has been moved to chat. Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 15:14
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    Know that you know nothing. Who are you to know that the cleaners did it? Are you a certified detective? How can you vouch for your colleagues if you have barely known them for more then a year? Thoughts like that give tunnel vision. Yes, push for CCTV and get real evidence.
    – Pieter B
    Commented Jul 27, 2016 at 9:57
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    So many times I thought someone has moved something I can't find and most often it turned out I overlooked it or forgot about moving it. If other people have really too found their stuff disappear, that's a different situation. Commented Jul 27, 2016 at 11:33
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    Assume that the cleaners will steal anything that isn't bolted down, and leave your desk in that state. I know of a few workplaces where it's well known and established that if you leave anything out in the open (especially anything USB) it'll probably get stolen by the cleaners. Think about it, most cleaning operations are revolving doors employment-wise. There's no way to guarantee that someone won't steal something. How could a cleaning company ever prevent this? So either prevent the theft or record it. Commented Jul 27, 2016 at 14:18
  • Consider AirPods. Modern versions can be tracked and found. Commented Jan 22 at 15:13

7 Answers 7


You're asking a couple of different questions, so I'll dive right into it:

Should you keep complaining?


It's a horrible feeling leaving something on your desk and not knowing whether you'll find it again the next day. It erodes confidence in the team, and generally makes for an unpleasant environment. Imagine the stress of realizing you forgot your tablet at work, and might not find it the next day.

To be clear, I do not agree with Christopher's grocery store analogy. I leave personal effects on my desk all the time, and fully expect to find them the next day. So does everyone else in the office, and telling me that I should simply get used to being robbed every once in a while is preposterous.

Go to HR/management and make sure that your voice is heard. You deserve some security when it comes to your personal effects.

Demanding Action

Most reasonable employers will take immediate steps to remedy the situation. I know that my company has switched cleaning companies when some stuff started going missing around the office (they could have chosen to install surveillance equipment instead, but it would have been too costly), and thankfully that turned out to solve the problem.

You and your coworkers should also document everything that goes missing, and when it happens so that you can build a better case for yourselves. A missing pair of earbuds may not sound like a big deal (maybe you simply lost them), but evidence from many different people may force management into action.

That being said, it's possible that nothing will be done in your case either because management don't want the hassle, or because a solution would be too expensive. If this is the case then simply start locking up your valuables, and consider getting a new job, because your wellbeing is clearly not their priority. Either way, I'm sorry to say that you shouldn't expect compensation for your lost goods.

Note: I warn you against setting up hidden cameras, or anything of the sort. It's not your job to catch the thief, and it's illegal to record people without their knowledge in many places. Last but not least, even if legal you could be breaking company policies, and it might end up costing you your job either way (some companies will deal with hidden recording more harshly than the thief).

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Jane S
    Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 21:34
  • Pedantic point: "robbery" involves (the threat of) physical violence. You weren't robbed—that language is very emotive.
    – eggyal
    Commented Jul 27, 2016 at 12:08

You can buy a small alarm and install it inside your drawer for a few weeks. Something like this:

enter image description here

The alarm is on hold in presence of magnetic field, so you'll still be able to open the drawer without setting it off if you hold a magnet nearby. Someone opening your drawer without a magnet will certainly attract some attention, unless the theft happens after hours.

Even after hours, the alarm will make the thief quite uncomfortable, since cleaners often work in pairs or small groups, and everyone in the shift will be aware of the fact. They know very well that repeated acts of stealing will eventually cost them a client, so there will be at least peer pressure if not disciplinary actions.

This may not be as effective as a hidden camera but it's much safer for you, since you can easily be fired (and even prosecuted) for unauthorized video recording. It's also much cheaper: a CCTV camera will cost around $100, while a drawer alarm can be bought for $5 or less.

PS. You may want to practice at home with this thing to make sure you can open the drawer without setting it off. Otherwise you'll risk to become the office meme for some time, and ruin the surprise if the thief happens to be nearby.

PPS. Depending on corporate culture, there may be a concern that your colleagues may have a legit reason to open your drawer (e.g. looking for a key, a shared piece of equipment or a paper manual they know you have borrowed). It might be a good idea to inform colleagues you fully trust about the setup, if you happen to fully trust someone.

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    I like this idea a lot. It's harmless so the most he would have to explain is the annoyance. But the person who triggered it would also have some explaining to do.
    – Chris E
    Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 16:17
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    @PengWins Clean the drawers... of any personal belongings? Heyoooo!
    – ANeves
    Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 16:56
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    You could also simply print out a small sign that says "This area under video surveillance" and leave it on the desk. If it's a casual thief, it may make them think twice. Especially if you can put up a dummy video camera (or even simply something that looks like it might be a video camera).
    – TMN
    Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 19:57
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    @PengWins I have never seen a company where cleaning staff was supposed to go through the drawers. A more valid concern is that your colleagues may have a legit reason to open it (e.g. looking for a shared piece of equipment or a paper manual they know you have borrowed). It might be a good idea to inform colleagues you fully trust about the setup, if you happen to fully trust someone. Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 10:20
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    @DmitryGrigoryev When you install it inside the drawer, using a magnet to prevent it from going off is much harder. It may also be necessary to install one of the two parts sideways (depending on the drawer) which they aren't made for. I'm not saying none of this is possible, but there are some definite challenges.
    – Jasper
    Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 10:45

There's really nothing you can do if the company (which security represents) refuses to do anything. You're on company property.

I learned a long, long time ago to never leave anything at my desk that I couldn't lock up. Your desk at work is about as secure as your front yard: anyone walking by can take whatever they see with little possibility of getting caught.

I'm sorry, but you've pretty much just learned a hard lesson. Just because someone commits a crime doesn't mean you can always find out the criminal or demand that anyone else help you find the criminal.

As for asking for CCTV, sure you can ask. But the chances of it happening are pretty slim. There are potential legal risks when you record people at work, depending on where it is. And it's also an expense that won't directly benefit the company either.

I would also add that I wouldn't be too sure that it's not a coworker. Working with them for a year doesn't mean know them, not really. Heck, how many of us know someone who's been happily married for a decade and more only to find their spouse has been cheating? There are thieves, cheaters, child molesters and addicts living among us with nobody the wiser. Winona Ryder was a kleptomaniac and yet she had more than enough money.

In the future, take things with you or lock them in your desk if you can. And even in your desk there's a risk though it's significantly smaller. Remember, your work is not your home and it isn't secure.

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    +1 I would just add that he should report it regardless. While you are correct on all points, I think at least his management should be informed that there are thieves about, so they can all take proper precautions. Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 14:15
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    There are degrees of theft, however. One place I worked, a fellow went to lunch and his laptop was gone. Same place: I couldn't even decorate my cube as they'd even steal the decorations. Plus, the cleaning staff gets blamed a bit more than they deserve. Not much, but a bit. It's a convenient excuse for kleptomaniacal coworkers. Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 14:40
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    Terrible analogy. Yes I do expect the grocery store to do something about it if the thief had to be grocery store employee or contractor. Leaving a pair of headphones at your personal work desk is not an invitation to steal. I would make a request for a lock and give the two thefts as the reason.
    – player87
    Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 16:31
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    Counter-context to the front-yard analogy and the (now removed) grocery store analogy: I have a shared garden, a back yard. I share it with maybe 20 other flats. I expect my neighbours not to steal my BBQ, my drying clothes, my clothes-pins, etc. It's one of many social contracts of civility that we share. Also, I'm not going to walk with weapons drawn everywhere, just because menaces exist in the world.
    – ANeves
    Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 16:51
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    It's not paranoia when people actually steal things. This question is proof. So is my own experience. My answer is how to actually keep your stuff becauses it addresses the sad reality that you can't trust everyone. Even if you can trust the vast majority, it only takes one person to to take your stuff.
    – Chris E
    Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 14:20

And I'm sure it's the overnight cleaners as they move a lot of stuff on desks when they come in.

From a business perspective, this should be addressed up front. This is a bigger issue than headphones going missing - if employees left competitive or sensitive information lying out, a janitor could easily steal and sell or exploit that information. That's why competitive, sensitive, or expensive items should be locked away before you leave for the day - you are liable for what you leave open for theft, and your business could also be liable if someone can access information like this.

In every environment I've worked in, cleaning crews were not welcome to touch any item left on desks, but employees were also cautioned not to leave anything of this nature lying about.


AndreiROM's answer is excellent but I wanted to add one thing. You need to log incidents. Specific dates and items.

You also need to talk to your co-workers and get the same information from them.

If you go to management and say "a couple of pairs of headphones went missing" there is not much they can do.

If you go in and say "there's a pattern of stuff going missing.

  • dd/mm/yyyy A from X's desk
  • dd/mm/yyyy B from Y's desk
  • dd/mm/yyyy C from X's desk
  • dd/mm/yyyy D from Z's desk
  • dd/mm/yyyy E from Y's desk
  • dd/mm/yyyy F from W's desk

Now there is specific information they can act on, a pattern of wrongdoing, and they can start looking to see what people those dates have in common and the fact that there is a pattern of items going missing over a period of time means they can be sure it's not just one forgetful employee misplacing something.

  • Hopefully security is taking a log of such things. You are highed to do this log they are. Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 20:24
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    If the reports are not taken seriously then you need to gather more evidence yourself to get them to do so...
    – Tim B
    Commented Jul 27, 2016 at 7:29
  • That's a bigger sign the security team needs fired. Commented Jul 27, 2016 at 14:47

I do think you should report this, you may not be the only one who has had things stolen. It is not about the cost of the item stolen, it is about the principle of things. One should not have to worry about theft from their desk at work.

If you want to be less confrontational about it, request a lock for your drawer and mention the thefts as the reason. You can even do both - report the thefts and request a lock.

Ultimately, two pairs of headphones is not THAT big a loss but who is to say this won't get worse? This is the perfect time to solve the problem before it gets worse.


Don't assume that it isn't your organization's security company staff who are stealing your stuff. I work for the City of Calgary in Canada and when we had Paladin Security providing security services to City Hall at least two members of their staff were caught stealing items from desks. The City's Corporate security officer who investigated this described the thefts as "Legion" there were so many, including my Zune 120Gb MP3 device that was inside the drawer of my desk cabinet. Before that happened people in our office would regularly find coins missing from our desk drawers.

We were shocked when we found out that it was Paladin security staff, but perhaps as confirmation of the ethics of the company, I was offered compensation by Paladin for the theft of my MP3 player, but after I signed the release agreement, Paladin's president (and founder?) refused to pay.

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