An inside job

Protect your business from theft through employee accountability.
equipment theft; time theft

There are many costs that all industry professionals have to take into account as part of doing business. One of the most frustrating and preventable of those is theft. Theft comes in many forms for a landscape or irrigation company: theft of equipment and theft of company time.

Security and human resources experts offer several tips on how to mitigate theft, as well as how to get a team to use time efficiently and hold them accountable without micromanaging or crushing morale.

Karen Burke, human resources knowledge advisor for the Society for Human Resource Management, Alexandria, Virginia, notes that to prevent theft of employer-provided equipment to employees, it’s critical to conduct background and reference checks on new hires, including supervisors, to better determine if they have a criminal history indicating a habit of theft or fraud, even from other employers.

“Communicate anti-theft policies and practices where there is low- to zero-tolerance for theft,” says Burke. “Policies or practices also can indicate the application of severe disciplinary action to any employee proven to be in violation of this policy or practice.”

In policies on proven employee theft and fraud, wage deductions can be executed to recoup the cost of the equipment stolen, says Burke, adding that employers should check their state laws to ensure the practice is permissible under wage and hour laws.

Provide incentives, rewards or recognition for employees who report equipment theft, even anonymously, to managers or human resources, Burke says.

“Incentives can be monetary or nonmonetary,” she adds. “This employer practice can encourage honesty among employees as well as an obligation for reporting wrongdoing by employees.”

Supervisors can be trained to recognize behaviors and conduct of those attempting to commit theft, such as those employees trying to distract others during the commission of theft, frequent absences away from the group and displays of nervousness, Burke notes. When possible, use electronic equipment such as cameras to monitor employees when working.

Burke suggests reducing employee access to stored equipment and supplies. “Implement systems to track the use and return of equipment,” she says. “This can be as simple as a supervisor conducting a count of equipment and recording it with a signature, attesting to the amount and type of equipment being used for each job as well as to which employees equipment is assigned.”

Employees also can be required to sign that they received the equipment as well as sign when they return it.

Supervisors can be held accountable for not keeping track of employer equipment when processes are in place to assist with reducing theft in the workplace, Burke adds.

Safe structures

Risk assessment and control is a key factor in protecting a company’s equipment investment from disappearing off the back of trailers or “accidentally” ending up in employees’ trucks, notes Alan Greggo, CPP, CFE, a corporate security leader and asset protection expert who recently worked with the Microsoft Global Security team. In addition to having equipment and products inventory-controlled and accounted for, a tight fit between the trailer and a warehouse dock door ensures there are no openings of theft to the outside where product or equipment could be slipped through.

The entire warehouse can be sealed so employees access the building from one entrance and pass through a series of checks such as metal detectors and searches on the way in and out, notes Greggo.

Warehouses make use of cameras in areas where employees enter, exit and work and provide constant dock area surveillance.

Truck drivers should have their own entrance near the dock and must stay inside a contained area or assist from within the trailer during the unloading process, says Greggo.

“With proper controls in place, it makes loss of equipment and product less likely,” he adds. “Warehouses usually have a layered approach to security.

They have an external fence around the property with limited access for truck and trailer receiving. Trailers must be locked in place so they cannot be pulled away from the door. Security officers might be assigned to verify and record each trailer on the property to be unloaded or reloaded.”

Lynda Buel, CPP, CFE, CSC, CPTED practitioner, president and CEO of Security Risk Management Consultants, Columbus, Ohio, notes there are several ways to protect equipment from disappearing off the back of trailers.

“Engrave your company information on the equipment including your company name, city, state and phone number,” she says.

That can include a message of “If found, this property belongs to (company name).” Buel says she knows of one company that engraved this message: “If found, this property was stolen from (company name).”

For smaller tools, use a heavy-duty toolbox and a high-security lock and key.

“Purchase tools that you can disable remotely via an app so if it is stolen, the tool will no longer work once you disable the tool via your smartphone,” says Buel. “Advertise on your vehicle that tools are locked and disabled. Plant GPS tracking devices on all equipment.”

Larger equipment can be secured to the trailer with a steel security chain and high-quality padlock when not in use. Batteries can be removed from the equipment so it will not start, adding an extra deterrent for a would-be thief.

Buel points out that asset tracking is the best way avoid theft by ensuring company equipment doesn’t end up going home with employees or someone else stealing from the company’s worksite.

“One of the simplest ways to track equipment is to create a daily log of the equipment in your inventory and who the equipment is assigned to that day,” she says. “This can be done manually or in a software program.”

If doing so manually, log the tool, its serial number or other unique identifier, the employee it is assigned to that day, the time the tool is checked out and the time the tool is checked back in.

Given this is a time-intensive task, it may be advisable to invest in a software program that tracks the information, Buel says.

Tools can have a bar code on them with an employee assigned ID that is scanned with the tool when the employee checks it out for the day.

“You can also assign specific tools to one employee and hold them accountable for the tracking of that tool even if someone else on their crew uses that tool,” Buel says.

Watch the clock

Theft of time is another challenge. Greggo notes some type of time-keeping clock or software should be in use.

Time management of employees starts with the hiring process to ensure candidates are of the highest caliber and have an interest in the work for which they are being considered, says Greggo. Requiring all prospective employees to undergo background checks and drug testing is common and goes a long way to help ensure that high caliber, he adds.

There are effective ways of encouraging employees to use time efficiently without micromanaging.

“Efficient use of time is a product of good leadership,” notes Greggo. “Micromanaging unfortunately does not have a place in today’s highly productive and efficient workplace. Micromanaging is generally perceived as a productivity killer.”

To get teams to use time efficiently without micromanaging, employers can create and attach goals to employees’ daily duties and performance, says Burke.

“This can be communicated to employees, indicating the amount of time expected to be applied to each work duty,” she says. “If an employee does not meet these expectations, then coaching and retraining can be applied to their performance.”

Set clear job responsibility expectations utilizing clear and consistent communication, notes Buel.

“Every employee needs to understand their role and each other’s roles,” she adds. “Once they do, employees tend to manage one another.”

Managers can show the value of responsibility by giving those who perform well additional responsibilities on the job and providing consistent feedback on their performance.

“Most employees want to do well and be recognized for strong performance,” Buel says. “Provide a career path for those interested in advancing within the organization.”

Additionally, consider incentives such as a monetary reward or recognition for high productivity, Greggo says.

“That usually works more effectively than managing by fear. If employees know their productivity was being measured from the start of their employment, they are more likely to be well motivated and productive,” he adds.

“Accountable and responsible leaders who have done the work they were asking their employees to do would result in employees working for them because they want to, not because they have to. When employees quit their job, they are usually not leaving the company — they are leaving their boss.”

Leadership is at the core of getting a crew on board with accountability practices without crushing morale.

“Accountability is driven by leadership members who are trusted and have good integrity,” Greggo says. “If a company is driven by a vision and goals and all employees are working toward achievement of the goal, it’s likely they would be successful achieving their goals.”

Everyone must be on board to do that, he adds. “Employees need to know what the policies and procedures are where they work and they need to know the expectations,” says Greggo. “They must have a sense of accomplishment in a vision much larger than one person. If policies are fairly enforced and employees are fairly paid, provided benefits and the ability to develop themselves to advance if they want to, the whole crew would assuredly be on board.”

Transparency is important, notes Burke. Employers can communicate to employees a new policy or practice while clarifying the reasons for the new rules.

Communication can include the cost of equipment, replacement of equipment, adverse effect on employees’ wages when funds have to be reallocated to purchasing new equipment as a result of theft, and the business and other employee benefits that are potentially affected based on continuously replacing equipment that is stolen or missing, Burke says.

“Morale also can be preserved with the offering of an incentive for those employees who assist with maintaining the integrity of employee honesty by reporting any incidents of theft,” she adds. “Employers can ensure employees of confidentiality and any possible rewards to encourage participation.”

Buel says she has found that individuals interested in a career want to be accountable and recognized for their hard work.

“Communication is the key to not crushing morale,” she says.

“When you hire a team, develop a good rapport with them. Solicit feedback. Listen to what your employees are telling you about the job and what goes on in the field.”

Give clear and actionable feedback on performance and clear direction to the team on expectations, she adds.

Provide the team with reliable equipment and the right materials with which to do the work.

“Allow the appropriate amount of time for the team to perform the work assigned,” says Buel. “Account for your team’s needs on the job. When you hold your team accountable, you must hold yourself accountable as well.”

Additionally, “do not promise something without delivering on that promise,” says Buel. “And do not ask your team to do something that you would not do yourself.”

This article originally appeared in Irrigation & Green Industry magazine.
Carol Brzozowski is a freelance writer with a specialty in environmental journalism based in Coral Springs, Florida. She can be reached at

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