Friday, November 5, 2010

The Real Thieves in the Workplace

My mystery, A POINTED DEATH, centers on a nefarious creep named Roger Chen, who embezzles from the heroine, Nola Billingsley's startup company. Of course, the theft of money, goods and raw materials from corporations of all sizes is a huge problem. Just ask any insurance agent. But stealing can involve many things that have value to a company. In fact, the theft of intangibles probably has greater impact on businesses than the people with their hands in the cash drawer. While the damage from this type of thievery is harder to gauge, it is nonetheless significant. 

Writers who wish to portray authentic work environments in their books and short stories would do well to weave into their plots some of the following 'theft' behaviors:

1. Time. That guy in the next cubicle who plays Internet poker all day, is stealing time.

2. Information. Companies often pay thousands for subscriptions and industry reports. Copying them for a friend is a no-no.

3. Secrets/Know-how. Competitors would just love to know the formula for Coke, or those special tricks that go into making a perfect surfboard.

4. Strategy/Plans. Product launch strategies involve elements of timing and placement. Letting the cat out of the bag, can reduce effectiveness.

5. Ideas/Creativity. Companies pay for top talent who can dream up fresh approaches from Super Bowl ads to compute software. misappropriating their work product is intellectual property theft and is the same as a writer plagiarizing another writer's work.

6. Expertise. Having a good mentor is one thing. Pestering her for advice every other minute makes you a leach.

7. Resources. All those pads of paper, pens, rulers and coffee cups aren't free. They may be small, but if enough people walk out the door with them, it adds up. And using the copier to print the manuscript of your novel is abusing a privilege.

8. Reputation. Workers often engage in behaviors that jeopardize their employers good reputation. Being disrespectful to customers is an example. Bad-mouthing the company's products in front of customers is another.

9. Safety. Engaging in unsafe behavior at the workplace put other workers at risk, and can saddle an employer with medical and damages expenses and higher insurance costs.

10. Health/Environment. People who smoke in the building against company policy are exposing other employees to secondhand smoke. Workers who fail to observe recycling practices are costing the company money.

11. Civility/Decorum. Troublemakers create a negative atmosphere that lowers productivity.

12. People. Engaging in behaviors that make other employees want to dust off their resumes and get a job elsewhere, is robbing a business of its most important asset, its people. Workers or supervisors who engage in sexual harassment or discrimination poison the work environment, chase good people away and put their employers in legal jeopardy. Bullies, rumor mongers and back stabbers do so as well.

When you develop a character who is a manager or a supervisor, you might throw employees in her way who are engaging in some of these behaviors. The bad folks become obstacles to her achieving her goals. Good stories are always about conflict, and today's workplace is full of it, both petty and profound.

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