How do I keep my co-workers from taking the snacks, frozen lunches, soft drinks, etc. that I leave – labeled – in the break room? I tried posting an anonymous note on the refrigerator asking people to please respect other people’s food, and once or twice I’ve made comments about how “mice” must be walking off with my food, but it keeps happening. I don’t want to make a big deal about it or seem petty, but I’m getting really tired of having to pay for lunch twice! What can I do?
A.These same people would never dream of stealing cash from your wallet, yet what they’re doing amounts to the same thing. But you knew that. There are a few approaches you can try. But first, you need to stop trying to be cute or coy, and be direct. If you know who’s taking your food, confront them individually as soon as you discover the theft. Don’t make light of it. Keep your tone serious and tell them how it affects you (the time and effort you spent, special dietary needs you may be accommodating, the extra cost and inconvenience of replacing the food, and your anger at being treated so disrespectfully by co-workers). Don’t let them stop you with a light apology or a joke. Make the offender listen to your entire lecture. Normally I suggest confronting people in private, but in this case, public “shaming” might have a greater impact. Your goal is to make the consequence of stealing your food more unpleasant than it’s worth. If you don’t know who is taking the food, your options are to bring it up at a staff meeting or in a group memo, or to ask the boss to issue a stern warning stating that taking another employee’s property – including food items – will no longer be tolerated. Or you could purchase a small ice chest and keep it in your locker or work area. It’s not the most satisfying solution but it might solve the problem.