Your headphones have gone missing. Someone ate your lunch. Your desk chair has disappeared. Thievery thrives at the office and Fast Company explains why.
Photo by Lee J Haywood
Basically, even if people think of themselves as honest, humans tend to be very bad at avoiding short-term temptations and thinking about the implications of our actions:
Human behaviour is focused on doing things that feel right in the short term rather than things that feel right in the long term. If you need to eat right now, then available food will feel good to eat, even if it is wrong to take food from someone else. [...] Most of us hold abstract values like being honest and virtuous. In specific situations, though, we focus more on our actions than on the implications of those actions for our abstract self-concept. That means that petty acts of dishonesty can coexist with people's broad beliefs that they are honest.
Fast Company goes on to explain that we're more likely to steal or cheat when the environment makes it easy and we don't think anybody is watching -- no one else by the office fridge, for example, or you're the only one working late and the supplies closet is open.
The solution to this common problem could be very simple: Post reminders around problem areas ("Please don't eat someone else's food"), make it harder for people to steal things (lock away your headphones), and perhaps put up a camera or otherwise make it seem like workers are being watched.
Is it sad that we have to resort to these sort of things? Yes, but sometimes human nature is sad.