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For Some Employees, There Is A Free Lunch

Poor punctuation and grammar aside, this sign pretty much sums up what employees across the United States seem to be thinking about their co-workers' break room etiquette.

A new Office Team survey asked 432 office workers to name the break room habits that piss them off the most and here's what they said:

44% Making a mess for others to clean up

19% Stealing a co-worker's food

18% Leaving foods past the expiration date in the refrigerator

5% Co-workers who eat smelly foods

7% Nothing is annoying or we have no break room

7% Other/don't know

Anyone who has worked long enough has dealt with co-workers who lack any sense of break room EQ. It's a fact of office life that there will always be one employee who takes the last cup of coffee without brewing a new pot and explodes a bowl of soup in the microwave without cleaning up the mess. The other employees bitch behind the employee's back and hang signs on the office refrigerator until someone can't take it anymore and yells at the offending employee in a fit of red-faced rage. Maybe the employee will shape up for awhile until he or she slacks off and leaves co-workers back at square one, bitching and moaning behind his or her back until a manager finally steps up and deals with the problem. Rinse, wash, repeat. That's usually how it goes.

But nearly 20% of employees are having their lunches stolen? Wow. One wonders how many lunches are being taken by mistake -- that is, someone grabs the wrong lunch and doesn't fess up -- and how many are being stolen intentionally by employees who figure they can save themselves some time and money.

I wouldn't be surprised if the Great Recession has created a subclass of office lunch box lifters. Money is tight, and everyday bills keep going up. So why not sneak into the office refrigerator and walk off with a co-worker's premium turkey sandwich -- you know, the one that comes with the expensive yogurt and the huge chocolate chip cookie on the side? Turns out there is a free lunch, at least for these employees.

It's estimated 70% of U.S. workers are eating lunch at their desks in this recession, which creates greater opportunities for lunch box lifting. In just one case, the Philadelphia School District has been investigating whether or not teachers stole student lunches at a high school summer program. Another school recently discovered that a teacher was stealing kids' lunch money. Kids' lunch money!

This article concludes lunch box lifting is a sign of low employee morale, a way to get back at the employer. Indeed, lunch stealing might be a way for an employee to get back at a co-worker who is perceived as getting a better deal at work. But in other cases the reasoning behind the theft could be much more simple: The employee is hungry and low on money and thinks the co-worker isn't going to miss that turkey sandwich. It's not right, but humans are very good at rationalizing all kinds of bad behavior especially when times are tough.

Short of installing cameras in the break room, employees have to find ways to outsmart the thieves on their own. One inventor has gone as far as to create anti-theft lunch bags, and there are articles online with great tips for dealing with lunch stealers. In a pinch, you can take the advice of this video.

Okay, OfficeTeam: I'm waiting for a survey about employee lunch lifting in the Great Recession. Consider yourself served.


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