Quick hit: The Office Fridge

NPR’s The Salt has a deliciously damning post about thievery in office fridges. Apparently NPR offices, too, suffer the scourge that has inspired dozens of passive-aggressive notes worldwide–and their write-up is full of gross-out details, such as the catfood decoy sandwiches some employees have placed to punish food thieves, and the CEO who took a sip of his employee’s drink and transferred his cold sore to her. (That last story. . . . I can’t.)

Some time ago, my own office was all abuzz with food thievery gossip: first a burrito went missing, then some cheese and crackers and sundry other goods. There was an accusation and a public confession, and the survivors of this teapot tempest gathered around the water fountain (which happens to be outside of my office) and whispered the same question asked by The Salt: “Who does this?”

Pretty much everyone, though. My personal rule is to only “borrow” food–a splash of someone’s milk when mine’s gone sour; a smidge of salad dressing when I forgot to bring my own–and eventually I’ll buy a quart of milk that I know I won’t finish or a bottle of agave syrup that would take a year to empty, and write “Help yourself” on the lid along with my initials. From the reports of the websites linked above, other food thieves go in for leftovers–half a lemon here, the end of a pizza there–and some others seem to favor discrete self-contained objects like yogurt cups or fruit, and while I find those activities incomprehensible, I am in no position to cast stones. So when my coworkers clustered at the fountain encouraged me to write about our breakroom burglaries for The Smart Set last year, I couldn’t quite bring myself to do it. I, too, have poured a cup of terrible coffee and despaired for creamer. Besides, I had no personal stakes in the kitchen drama: I bring my own mysterious lunch every day in an opaque zippered bag, leaving nothing overnight except the communal milk, and I’ve never had anything go missing.

Instead I wrote about petty thefts of cutlery and sugar packets in various hospitality venues. I found that pretty much every look-how-far-we’ve-fallen article about restaurant and hotel thefts comes to the same conclusion as NPR: entitlement! But I think that’s a bit too snappy: I can’t imagine that even a coworker who absconds an entire burrito feels that the office somehow owes it to her. I found a handy concept called the fraud triangle that works better for me: a confluence of opportunity, rationalization, and motivation that allows a person to make sense of their actions. I’m hungry; it’s there; it’s been there, no one will miss it. Or in my case: I can’t eat/drink without this; I’ll only take a little; I’ll return the favor in due time.

Thus can the fraud triangle make fridge thieves of us all.

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