The office lunch thief strikes again — what should you do?Kathryn Engelhardt-Cronk, MissionBox co-founder and CEO, offers her response to the MissionBox DoubleTake — a column that offers opinions about the peskier aspects of working in the nonprofit sector. The opinions offered here are based on the author's personal nonprofit experience and may not reflect the opinions of MissionBox, Inc. These opinions should not be considered legal advice or used as a substitute for professional legal consultation. MissionBox readers are invited to submit alternative responses, which may be published here as well.
I work in a larger nonprofit and each level of our building has an office refrigerator, shared by all employees on the floor.
Every workday I carefully pack a nutritious, calorie-controlled lunch with the dual goals of building my health and saving money.
At least once a month (and sometimes more) someone nabs my lunch bag. After talking to my co-workers about my experiences, we realized that this periodic stealing is happening throughout the building.
This is maddening! Who would steal lunches and why? Despite our size, we all work together and know each other as either work acquaintances or friends.
This small series of thefts is significant to me: it's costing me money, both to buy my lunch ingredients and to go out and grab take-out when I find my lunch is missing. The thief’s (or thieves’) behavior is not funny or kind. It makes me feel less secure and connected with my co-workers.
A few of us are thinking of taking a little revenge on the lunch snatcher. I would like to add a hearty dose of cayenne or ghost pepper to my sandwich and teach this person a fiery lesson that he or she won't forget. How else can I make this stop?
Kathryn says …
Before I launch into the meat of your question: do not, under any circumstances, add anything to your office lunches that could possibly make your sneaky co-worker ill. While you may justify it in your mind "if the person wasn't stealing then they wouldn't get sick in the first place!", you should never set out to intentionally harm another person.
I do think taking one-of-a-kind, hand-made lunches is completely unacceptable. There is something that is so disrespectful and invasive about this behavior — I see why it erodes your sense of trust. Clearly, this is a reprehensible pattern of one or more of your co-workers and it must stop.
I can think of three steps you can take that might stop sticky fingers from spiriting your healthy lunches away:
- Go to your executive director and tell him/her that you and other co-workers have had lunches go missing. Ask that an email goes out, directly from the executive director, saying this will no longer be tolerated and any lunch thieves who are caught will be written up and publicly exposed.
- Buy a little cooler for your office or cubicle and keep your lunch out of the public fridge. It’s not fair that you should have to do this, but it will protect your food from the burglar.
- Label your lunches with your name or use a fridge locker. Perhaps if your nefarious co-worker sees whose lunch it is or encounters a barrier to the goods, they may get the message and bring their own lunches from now on.
- Put a sign on the fridge door that says: “take a lunch that is not your own and you may find an unpleasant surprise in the food.” That is likely to give any office thieves pause for thought. It’s up to their imagination to conjure all the nasty “surprises” that might have planted in an innocent looking sandwich. It's purely a psychology play.
Thanks for asking this question. In sharing your letter, I found everyone with whom I spoke had experienced this type of infuriating food filch. Good luck to you and your co-workers!