I suppose it is partly because I operated my own business for several years as a photographer, with no employees, that I have a full appreciation for the costs of running a business. If I broke a camera, or ruined a print, it was “my bad”, and I had only myself to blame. But, when I worked for other people, in the photography realm, or in other occupations, including trial consulting, I always took care of the equipment or possessions of the company as carefully, or more carefully, than if they belonged to me. Alas, I have found not all employees share this work ethic. The costs to a business may seem obvious when an employee breaks something, that is, the item has to be repaired or replaced. But, there is more to it than that. On a business level, employees sometimes hide that they have damaged something and this broken item becomes a major problem when the fact that it is broken comes to light exactly when it is most needed. For example, one of our employees damaged a video camera we use to record focus groups and/or mock trials, but never reported it so that it could be repaired or replaced before it was needed on our next project. Sometimes the cost differential is insignificant, for example, paying for rush rather than standard shipping. But, regardless of the actual cost, the fact that there is a cost is frustrating to a business owner who, due to such employee actions, does not perceive that the employees are “on his/her side.” On a personal level, I can attest that when this happens it has a personal cost on the owner/employer. Sure, things happen, but when employees fail to take responsibility, apologize, and help fix things, it hurts more than just financially. As an aside, indicative of the lack of knowledge employees sometimes have about the financial cost, an employee recently said, “well, can’t you write it off as a business expense?” Of course, but what that employee did not understand is that the money spent fixing whatever it was, still comes out of the company’s (my) pocket and cannot be spent on other, more productive, things.
As the co-owners of a small business, my spouse and I take everything personally, literally. I tell new employees, “Look around. Everything you see here was bought by my partner and me, and paid for, 100%, by money I earned personally. If you break something, you have broken something that belongs to me, not the company, for the company and I are one and the same.” Of course, some of the employees understand what I am saying and others, well, they don’t get it. Here are a few examples of not getting it: (1) the employee whose father is a big shot attorney at a huge law firm who believed it was perfectly okay to use my company’s postage meter to mail all his bills, just as his dad had always done, such that we ran out of postage to mail our company’s mail; (2) the employee who spilled an entire cup of coffee in my vehicle, then expected me to clean it; (3) the employee who dropped a heavy case on the trailer hitch on my vehicle, breaking it, and never apologized or paid to have it fixed; and, one of my all time favorites, (4) the overweight employee who broke the toilet seat, leaving me, the next person to use the restroom, to discover it! Icky! It may be easy to hide breakage in a large corporation, but in a corporation the size of mine, there is no hiding anything (and it shouldn’t happen in a large corporation). It astounds me that few of our employees who have broken things have said “I’m sorry” or even better, offer to pay for the damage they caused. It is my spouse and I who have always come up short in these situations. In that there is only a finite amount of money available to operate the business, if we are buying the same thing twice, due to an employee’s breakage, suffice it to say there will be no money for other things we had hoped to buy, not to mention less money for things like bonuses, raises, etc.