From the March 2003 issue of Entrepreneur

It's a Steal!
Few things send a shiver through your company like theft. The moment an employee's purse is stolen, the staff starts talking and productivity slows. But you should worry less about the short-term loss of work than the long-term impact if you fail to address the problem.

"You create an environment where employees feel violated," says Carl Pergola, national director of fraud investigation services at BDO Seidman in New York City. "They often resent the organization for not having dealt with the problem."

That applies as much for loss of personal items as for theft from the company. A lockable filing cabinet is a simple solution for letting people secure personal items. More important, inculcate a culture that won't tolerate theft or fraud.

Weed out career criminals by doing background checks on employees who will have financial responsibilities. Also, divide responsibilities to introduce checks and balances: Make sure the person who issues purchase orders is different from the one handling receiving.

Give your employees an outlet for reporting suspicious activity. Ultimately, they're the ones who pay for theft with lower paychecks and broken trust.

Sick of Sick Days?
A recent study by human resources information provider CCH Inc. indicates employees aren't as ill as they let on. Only one-third of the time they call in sick are they ailing. Family issues and personal needs take up a lot of sick days.

Taking an elderly parent to the doctor or closing on a house are still valid reasons to take time off. The problem is, traditional sick leave programs force employees to call in at the last minute, costing you direct expenses for other employees' overtime or temporary replacements, says Lori Rosen, a CCH workplace analyst.

You can mitigate these costs, however, by scheduling the unscheduled. Some firms have paid-leave banks-an accounting method that includes vacation, sick and personal days in one pool. Rather than feign illness for a whole day to take care of a two-hour task, employees can take time off in increments.

"If there's a flexible enough plan to allow the time employees need, that time can be made up or worked around," says Rosen.

By encouraging scheduled absences, you're able to assign tasks to other individuals. Employees can also pass along information their colleagues need to maintain productivity--something they wouldn't do when calling in the next day.


Business writer Chris Sandlund works out of Cold Spring, New York.