Workers who help themselves to software, hardware and other office equipment are costing Britain's small businesses £1.2bn a year, according to new research.
Light-fingered employees are no longer content with pilfering paper and pens and are filling their swag bags with goodies such as computer hardware and software and effectively treating office equipment as their own.
The study, conducted by UK office supplier Staples, found that the problem is worse in small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs), where a 'help yourself' philosophy to office supplies prevails.
In bigger companies the process is more rigorously policed with stronger policies in place.
Joe Irons, marketing director at Staples, claimed that an employee takes home on average £400 worth of office supplies over the course of a year.
"Multiply that by 10 employees and the annual cost to that business is close to £4,000," he said.
"With approximately three million small and medium enterprises in the UK, that could amount to a staggering £1.2bn being stolen from under bosses' noses."
The company cited personal email use at work, and more people being online at home, as contributing towards the financial drain on company resources as workers copy information and steal software for personal use.
Neale Bussey, a partner at Ernst & Young, said that fraud is a serious issue for companies of all sizes, with over a quarter of major corporations surveyed for its eighth global survey on fraud revealing losses last year.
And, while relatively small thefts may be borne by larger corporates, Bussey warned that for small businesses such theft "can have a real impact on the company's overall profit margins".
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