ARLINGTON, TX—Southcentral Medical Supply office manager Wendell Sulley formally announced Monday that office copying is "getting out of hand."
"After months of seeing the copy-machine, fax and print-station areas littered with copies of documents that are obviously for personal use, it was time to put my foot down," the 42-year-old Sulley said. "I've changed that second-floor toner cartridge twice in the past three weeks alone."
Added Sulley: "Those cartridges cost $55 each."
Sulley's official decree came in the form of a notice in 40-point type posted above the office's two Xerox 5830 copiers and three Hewlett-Packard LaserJet 5000N printers. It read, "Access to the copier is a privilege, not a right. From now on, restrict your usage to necessary, work-related items ONLY!"
"Unauthorized photocopying and laser-printing hurts all of us. This sort of white-collar crime—and it is a crime, folks, a form of theft—costs this company hundreds, maybe thousands, of dollars a year," Sulley recently told a group of co-workers in the Southcentral break room. "And who do you think ultimately pays for that? You, the employees, in the form of budget cutbacks and layoffs, that's who."
"I've been very lenient about personal use of office equipment up until this point," Sulley continued. "Too lenient."
Sulley said that, for months, he had "turned a blind eye" to employees' use of company equipment and paper to copy birthday-party invitations, Lands End order forms, and office football-pool sheets. Instead, he chose to focus on cracking down on non-work-related phone calls and Internet-surfing.
But in recent weeks, Sulley said, workers had begun to copy personal items right in front of him, not even making an effort to disguise their illicit activities.
"Employees used to place an office memo over their personal copies or simply wait until I went to lunch," Sulley said. "But lately, right out in the open I've seen multiple copies of a recipe for 'Just Like Snickers' cookies, eBay bid-confirmation forms, a page of forwarded Hillary Clinton jokes, the Bad Golfer's Pledge Of Allegiance, the Schumacher Family quarterly newsletter, some Elton John song lyrics, and several maps of downtown Columbus, OH."
The last straw, however, came Friday, when Sulley discovered 40 copies of a sign reading, "You Don't Have To Be Carzy [sic] To Work Here, But It Helps!" in the waste-paper basket by the first-floor Xerox machine.
"Those contraband copies were left right out in the open, as if to proudly advertise the breach of office policy they represented and encourage other employees to do the same," said Bill Augustiniak, author of Your Job, Your Office: A Manager's Guide To Workplace Leadership. "Sulley had no choice but to view this as a clear act of defiance and a hostile challenge to his status as office manager."
Still, many Southcentral employees deny any wrongdoing.
"I've use the copier for my own stuff once in a while, like, maybe to copy an order form from a Fingerhut catalog or some quilt patterns, but that's it," said senior sales associate Donna Wilke. "Besides, I don't think it's our department that's causing the problem. I always see people from payroll using our copier on their way to lunch."
Refusing to blame any specific department, Sulley insisted that the problem is company-wide.
"It's not just one person or group of people—it's everyone," Sulley said. "And it's not just personal use that's hurting us: People are being wasteful in their work-related copying, too. I've seen people bring handouts to a meeting and end up throwing away 20 or 30 extra copies without a second thought."
With the company budgeting for a new $3,800 Hewlett-Packard Color LaserJet 4500 DN printer in early 2000, Sulley decided that now was the time to put his foot down.
"I hope everyone has the good sense to monitor their own use from now on," Sulley said. "I'd hate for it to come down to it, but if necessary, I won't hesitate to assign everyone a personal copier code."
Employees are well aware that Sulley does not make empty threats. Last year, he placed a lock on the office supply closet after three consecutive warnings about company-letterhead theft went unheeded, forcing everyone to go directly through him for all stationery, pens, staplers, note pads and Scotch tape.