Reappropriation is when an individual or group reclaims something which rightfully belongs to them without consent. Workplace reappopriation amounts to a worker or group of workers taking back the products of their labour within the workplace. In short, stealing from work. In this guide ‘The Secret Employee’ offers 8 tips on thinking it through, planning the heist and, most importantly, not getting caught.
1. So you want to go ‘on the take’?
Stealing from work is often looked down upon and seen as unethical even though it is happening every day. Most of the time the theft is conducted by employers who produce profit from the time and labour of their employees. Talking to co-workers about this relationship can be frustrating. Often people accept this logic ‘as the way it is’, or worse, that we should be grateful that we have a job in this economic climate. Stealing from work allows people who do not buy into this logic to even the playing field a little.
2. ‘What about my boss? He’s not all that bad!’
Without doubt, workplace reappropriation challenges the relationship between employer and employee. It is the employer who decides what the time and labour of their employees are worth. By stealing from work people can get back a little of the profit that their time and labour produce and effectively give themselves a bonus, or pay rise if it’s done over a sustained period of time. Beyond material gain it provides a sense of autonomy and empowerment that is rarely felt at work.
3. Set out with your eyes open.
Stealing from work is not something to take lightly. The repercussions of getting caught can range from losing your job to prison time. You need to stop and take some time to think about what you want/need to steal from work, if you’re going to act alone or with colleagues and how you’re going to do it. If you think you’re casually walking out of the office with a printer like Ron Livingston in Office Space, think again.
4. Don’t be flash.
It would be fair to conclude that individuals acting alone conduct most theft at work. It’s often hard to gauge who is the ‘type’ to steal at work or be okay with knowing that it’s happening. The chances are if you’ve worked out a way of stealing from work someone else has and is doing it! From experience, if in doubt don’t say anything and wait until you get to know your colleagues better.
5. Know your environment.
Most workplaces have CCTV fitted. Are the cameras recording? If so, are they monitored and are there areas or rooms that are spared from prying eyes? Are employee’s bags checked? If yes, what are the other options for getting goods out? These are the types of questions that need to be asked and answered before anything can be taken from work.
6. The heist, and not getting caught.
Be reasonable with the things that you’re taking and don’t go mad, at least not at first. Every workplace is different and you will have to figure out what is fair game and what is off limits. If you’re not comfortable taking something it probably means you’re either not prepared enough, or you’re being over ambitious with your take. This is where working with others really helps. If you have colleagues in on your escapades you can have a degree of damage control and sustain the activity over a longer period of time.
7. Reaping the rewards.
The rewards of stealing from work can range from petty to life changing. Stealing from work can provide a fantastic sense of satisfaction that you’re sticking one to your boss and taking back what is rightfully yours. It can be empowering and make you feel like work is worth going in for. Furthermore, done over a sustained period of time you can save for new life possibilities. Through workplace reappropriation I was able to pay a year’s worth of university tuition fees that I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford.
8. Pause for thought: symptomatic or revolutionary?
Like most acts of rebellion, workplace reappropriation has its nuances. It can improve the material conditions of an individual and give them a sense of satisfaction. But on the other hand it can pacify them. Most of the time stealing from work relives the symptoms of alienation but doesn’t radically change the structure which creates it. This isn’t to say there’s no potential for radical change through reappropriation. If the whole workplace is in on the act then the potential exists for significant change within the workplace. Alternatively, stealing from your workplace to help your community or local struggles can highlight the political significance and potential of workplace reappropriation. If it turns out you’re a pro at the take, by all means indulge yourself sometimes but try to use your new-found powers for good.