By Ronald Williams, Jr., Mail Handler, United States Postal Service
As a young retired military leader currently employed with the United States Postal Service working in a Processing & Distribution Center (P&DC), I get a daily panoramic view from inside the mail giant working behind the scenes in an industrial environment. I love the work I do processing, distributing and handling U.S. Mail and using some of the state-of- the-art technology available to get the job done. I can tell all the readers that from my own perspective that we could put our “two cents” in for the next few years like I’m doing right now and our U.S. postage would still be the most affordable rate around the globe. At the same time I am frustrated with the unprofessional and inappropriate behaviors on the part of the front line leaders I am exposed to in this super-sized government agency.
Based on my daily experiences I can see the signs and symptoms that have led to the pain of many current and past employees who have unfortunately resorted to or considered a fit of rage within a system that ignores complaints, minimizes employee training, and discounts the talents their employees bring to the table. Instead, we focus on how much mail we can cram on a processing belt and into automated machinery as fast as we can while accepting shortcuts and overlooking details due to the fast pace of the day in a deadline oriented business.
Our front line leaders push and divide employees by way of exclusion, favoritism, through use of bully tactics, gawking techniques, and use of threatening postures while hovering over employees creating the feeling of being in a concentration camp. Supervisors and managers chase and hide behind quantities of mail instead of processing the mail “by the numbers”. Floor supervisors diminish their credibility by disrespecting their bosses behind their backs by addressing them with names associated with their hair color such as “Little Red Riding Hood, and Blondie” and physical attributes like being bucktooth blatantly in front of the troops. Floor Managers have made comments to groups of employees stating “you wouldn’t have liked to work for me 26 years ago” I’m thinking hmmm, you know something you’re right! Opportunities to discuss business issues are rare to nonexistent until it is time to fill out a survey that is perceived by the employees to benefit the managers who have learned to master the yes and no questions so they won’t have to be bothered with details.
A favorite boasting tactic for management in my facility is to tongue lash employees with threatening comments to the effect of if you don’t like it here, you can go work at the fast food restaurant down the street. Why should anyone run from poor leadership? Most of the masses have worked hard to earn their position in the organization through interviews, testing, background checks, medical screenings, sweat in the trenches, and from a few extra points for holding Old Glory as a military veteran. If you can make it through all that and do your job well then you’ve earned the right to work for the Postal Service. Being treated with dignity and respect doesn’t stop when we swipe our badges at the gate. We focus on individuals more than teams inside the P&DC making the facility a personality distribution center rather than a facility that concentrates on teams and processes.
It takes a village to raise this postal child with the first initials U.S., last name Mail. On any given day I often see 2-3 supervisors and or managers standing around shooting-the-lip about their retirement, the latest sporting event, or complaining about whatever and at the same time ignoring the benefits of the diversity surrounding them to improve operations. Let’s say these folks each make a $50,000 salary, that’s $150,000 standing around getting paid to do nothing. If there is a need for a supervisor let’s teach them coaching skills and get rid of the babysitter mentality. If we really want to save some money the company could keep $50,000 of the $150,000 to put back in petty cash and let a self-directed team of 15 employees divide the $100,000 for consistently exceeding goals better than an untrained individual without coaching skills and who isn’t a resident expert, and I bet pretty soon you won’t be able to recognize the place because you just motivated a team rather than an individual with a cash incentive. The team can call a manager for assistance if intervention is needed to complete the task at hand. These adults who make important decisions outside the facility like buying houses, cars, insurance, and raising children would continue to make important decisions at work by building bridges across operations so we are communicating and tapping into the abilities of all members to safely and effectively get the mail processed in the least amount of time.
Changing times requires changing minds. The park your car, park your brain mentality does not work in the 21st century especially when our customers can vote for our service with their voices and their feet. We need all hands on deck to be empowered so we can collectively check the “altitude” of this sonic Eagle and soar above danger so we can get to where we are going quickly. At some point in our history we are going to have to put people in front of mail. I believe we do mail well, but I think we do our own people poorly! My point is these behaviors are intimidating and conducive to a hostile environment that potentially exposes each and every employee to direct or collateral damage in the form of deaths, injuries, and declining service that will impact our bottom line. I strongly believe that if we take care of the people our service to every address in America will be off the planet and unmatched by any competitor.
Until managers come out from behind the numbers and share business knowledge about postal operations, facility operations, postal reform, transformation plans, rate hikes and whatever else is on the horizon I guess I’ll have to keep reading the newspaper, listening to podcasts, surfing the web, and watching the media to get what I can’t get from my home away from home inside the Postal Service. And when my neighbors ask me the postal worker questions about business that affects their business I guess I’ll refer them to the Public Information Officer. I ask again, “why are we raising postage rates?”