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Gig economy behind retail staff theft?

Britain’s ‘gig economy’ could be a reason for a new wave of internal dishonesty in the retail sector, it’s suggested. Financial pressures on workers and the perceived low risk of getting caught have been highlighted as tell-tale trigger points for theft by staff, according to research among loss prevention and HR people who interviewed a growing number of employees in relation to internal theft and fraud during 2017.

Research by Wicklander-Zulawski EU (WZ), the trainers of loss prevention (LP) and HR people in non-confrontational interview techniques, points to 85 per cent of cases financial pressures as the catalyst to staff dishonesty. Meanwhile according to the latest figures from the trade body the British Retail Consortium (BRC), internal theft has risen by more than a third in the last 12 months.

In the WZ study, around 40 per cent of those dismissed said that the lower risk of getting caught was a motivation, another symptom of the so-called gig economy where high staff turnover is the norm. A quarter of those interviewed said peer pressure led them astray, but in one instance, external gang pressure was cited, which echoes growing concerns over violence and aggression against retail staff, as reported by the BRC, the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) and shop workers union USDAW alike.

Although external theft – shoplifting – is perceived to be the main reason for store losses, internal dishonesty by those in positions of trust often involves greater values of loss over a longer time. In 16 per cent of cases it was assistant managers who were dismissed for theft/fraud, while the research found that 13 per cent of store managers left under a cloud. Those surveyed also said that there were other motivations to steal including 25 per cent of retail staff that felt a sense of entitlement and a further 20 per cent said they stole ‘in lieu of a pay rise or promotion.’ Others believed there were ‘no real consequences’ for stealing before they were caught by the increasing use of retail technologies.

The research showed that between 85 and 90 per cent of dishonest employees were flagged by data mining and/or CCTV and data analytics. The impunity felt by many staff was also underlined by the fact that almost half of cases of dishonesty occurred among sales assistants in their first two years of employment.

Not all of those interviewed use the WZ technique, but a majority of respondents that did, said that the way in which the interviewing technique is conducted makes the subject feel more comfortable and in most cases results in an admission of guilt.

Alan Grocott, pictured, a former police detective and head of LP, and now WZ EU trainer, said: “The research is interesting on many levels because internal theft is seen as a taboo subject and largely under-reported compared to shoplifting. This research is therefore significant because it points to the human story behind internal dishonesty. It also highlights broader macro-economic factors including financial pressures. This scenario would be supported by the sense of entitlement and the prevalent feeling that there was a low risk or no consequences for being caught.”

More findings:

The survey showed that half of respondents had seen an increase in internal theft in last 12 months.
In 35 per cent of cases gambling or other addiction was a behavioural motivating factor.
Internal theft was also an issue at distribution centres (DCs).
A lack of appreciation was a trigger for theft in 10 per cent of cases.
Audits were also a means of identifying internal fraud, as were whistle-blowing hotlines.

For more about US-based Wicklander-Zulawski, visit See also their blog.


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