What to Do When Someone Steals Your Lunch — A Lesson in Workplace Vengeance

by Nindo Mom on March 21, 2011

Has this ever happened to you? You’re sick of eating fast food every day at work — or maybe you just want to save money, or eat healthier — so you bring your lunch from home. But you never get to eat it — because some sweet cuddle-muffin at work STEALS YOUR LUNCH.

It’s more than annoying: it strikes home with the message that not only does this coworker of yours have no respect for personal property — they also feel that they are much more important than you, and that they have the right to take anything they want from you and make it their own.

As infuriating as this kind of situation can be, I still would not advocate wreaking vengeance in the workplace. But here are a few

Things You Might WISH You Could Do When Someone Steals Your Lunch

  • get the offending party FIRED
  • wait until the person leaves their car keys unattended, then lock them in their own car — can you say locksmith?
  • sprinkle plenty of itching powder on the person’s chair when they get up to go to the bathroom
  • write a love letter to the person and mail it to their house, in hopes that their spouse or significant other will find it — and dump them
  • add a liberal amount of hot sauce to the offending person’s soup when they leave their desk to use the bathroom
  • stick a snake (harmless, of course) in the person’s file drawer for them to discover it
  • steal Brat’s lunch — every day, for as long as they still work there — and EAT IT yourself

Does merely thinking about some of the crazy options above make you feel better? Maybe just a little? Does it help put things in perspective at all?

Many stress management classes teach this trick:

How to Deal With a Stressful Situation

Imagine the event that’s worrying you. Ask yourself what’s the worse thing that can happen. Then take THAT event and ask yourself what’s the worse thing that can happen. Continue on like this until you can go no farther — usually this happens when, in your scenario, you or someone else dies. Now look back at this sequence of events and ask yourself if you might be overreacting a bit, and how likely it is that any of this will actually happen.

Here’s an example of using this stress management technique in the stolen lunch scenario:

A coworker – let’s call him or her “Brat” – steals your lunch. You have nothing else at the office to eat, so you go hungry until you get off work. You’re so hungry, you

  • pass out behind the wheel from faintness, crash your car, and die; or
  • you turn to skin and bones on the way home from work and die of malnutrition; or
  • your stomach eats a literal hole through itself because it has no food to digest, and you bleed to death and die

Are any of these things really likely to happen?

Or, it could play out this way:

Brat steals your lunch. You have nothing else at the office to eat, so you go hungry until you get off work. But worse than that, Brat has disrespected you. This means that:

  • when people find out that Brat stole your lunch, they will laugh at you. You’ll be so embarrassed, you’ll have to spend the day hiding from everyone under your desk. Since you don’t get your work done, you’ll lose your job. Then, you’ll lose your house and have no food for you or your family. Your whole family will then die.
  • when people find out that Brat stole your lunch, they’ll realize that you’re a pushover to let this happen, so they’ll start helping themselves to your lunch, too. At this point, you’ll pretty much die of starvation. This will lead to your loss of job, as before, and loss of home and money to pay for your family’s food, and everyone ends up dead — again.
  • when people find out that Brat stole your lunch, they’ll realize that you’re a pushover to let this happen. From this point forward, they will lose all respect for you and your working relationship will be destroyed. You’ll fail to perform well at your job because no one wants to work with a pushover on their team, so you’ll end up being the first one laid off. You’ll have no way to pay for your family’s home, food, or other bills, so everyone will starve and die.

Take a good look at these possibilities. Are things really all that likely to go this far, just because your coworker stole your lunch?

OK, so maybe you and your family are not in danger of dying over this situation. (Hopefully this is obvious, at this point.) But it still ticks you off a good amount, which is completely understandable.  Here are a few things you can try to handle the situation in a mature, positive way — one where you are acting from a position of power (in your mind) rather than one of a victim:

What to Actually Do When Someone Steals Your Lunch

  • Ask Brat if he/she realized that they took your lunch. It is theoretically possible that they thought it was theirs — and if this is the case, they may offer penance when they realize their mistake. If Brat does not offer to make things right, tell them what you want them to do to make up for taking your lunch — speaking without anger, but just very matter-of-factly. (Or, you may also discover that Brat was not the one who ate your lunch, after all.)
  • Report the matter to your HR department. Tell them that something needs to be done to keep employees from stealing from their coworkers.
  • In the future, keep your lunch in a place where Brat won’t have access to it. This may mean keeping it in a cooler with ice packs luunde your desk, or it could mean keeping it in a refrigerator in a different part of the building than before.
  • Consider looking for a new job. This is not the first thing to try, clearly, and this issue of your lunch being stolen may not be worth you throwing in the towel on your job. But if thievery among employees is tolerated by management and your coworkers are taking advantage of this, do you really want to continue working here, anyway?
  • Or … Brat is a jerk. But this whole lunch-stealing business just isn’t THAT big a deal — at least, not at this point. So you let it go, and move on.

Just food for thought.

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