When the sack is a swag bag

Kiwi firms thinking of shedding staff may discover something nasty about their would-be former employers.

Kiwi firms thinking of shedding staff may discover something nasty about their would-be former employers.

US reports say the sack has become the swag bag.

As people are laid off, the dearly departed often walk out of the door with a laptop, a digital camera -- anything they can lay their hands on.

The Industry Standard Europe recently uncovered the latest dot-com greed, calling it the “five-finger discount”.

Having watched their stock options become worthless, many dot-com sweepstakes losers see computers and other equipment as consolation prizes, rewards for having taken a chance (and lost). And for their part, companies are showing little restraint in going after sticky-fingered employees they just tossed out on the pavement.

Seattle-based ISP Freei Networks recently warned 350 of its former employees that if they did not return “valuable” equipment, Freei would take legal action.

One former staffer, Tina Share, did not take anything more valuable than a few business cards, a nameplate and some Silly Putty, but she felt offended enough at the letter to even return this to the company’s court-appointed liquidator.

However, when Freei shut its doors last October, it says it found itself short of 96 laptops, 60 mobile phones and a handful of palms.

For some, nicking office equipment serves as an insurance policy.

In its last few weeks of operation, staff at former online magazine iFuse took their laptops home everyday. One staffer kept hold of a digital camera, saying the company owed her $US3000.

When NBCi finished off Andrea Preziotti last August, she took home a stereo system, claiming her six weeks of severance pay was inadequate.

However, looting is not the only way staff secure alternative compensation. Many staffers simply ask for it.

Shortly before Boo.com went bust in April 2000, some employees negotiated to receive a Pentium III workstation, seeing taht as a fair substitute for the cash bonus they were expecting. And the PC was probably worth more to them than to Boo’s liquidators.

The US Chamber of Commerce estimates employee theft at costing $US20 billion to $US40 billion a year.

No one seems to have equivalent figures for New Zealand, but it seems a lesser problem here.

ITANZ executive director Jim O’Neill says no one has raised the issue with him and he cannot recall cases.

Services company EDS also reports no cases of employee theft, citing security guards at their places of work.

Gateway Asia-Pacific media spokesman Mike Buchanan can’t recall anything like it on either side of the Tasman, adding the PC maker's newly-redundant staff have been offered “attractive packages” for purchasing computers.

Arjen de Landgraaf of Co-Logic security in Auckland reports no dishonesty from his staff.

Phill Dagger of Infolink can’t recall any cases at his current or former places of work.

And neither can Mark Hepplestone, newly-appointed Australia-New Zealand sales manager at 3Com.

“When 3Com cut back staff, the Palm Pilot and phone is given to the staff to help them find a job, but they have to give back laptops because they are on lease,” he says.

Candle recruitment’s Auckland manager Christine Fitchew says she, too, is unaware in the recruitment or IT industry of any serious pilfering. “New Zealanders are very loyal people,” she says.

However, Fitchew says some years ago Candle’s Auckland office had a Christmas basket of chocolates whose contents slowly disappeared in the run up towards the season of goodwill, which she blames on one staff-member, who was never caught.

“People always blame the cleaners, but it’s never the cleaners,” she says.

Greenwood is Computerworld's human resources reporter. Send email to Darren Greenwood. Send letters for publication to Computerworld Letters.

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Tags careersredundancies

More about 3Com Australia3Com AustraliaCandle IT & T RecruitmentEDS AustraliaFreei NetworksGatewayGatewayITANZNBCiPalm

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