• on Mar 24th, 2014 in Labor | 6 comments

    When long-term, experienced workers leave companies, they take their know-how with them. It’s called “brain drain” and it happens at organizations of all sizes and kinds, most notably companies with a large number of baby boomers getting ready to retire and industries that are restructuring. The newspaper industry comes to mind, as does manufacturing, as does the U.S. Postal Service.

    Since 2004, the Postal Service has reduced the number of career employees by more than 200,000, primarily through attrition, early retirement incentives, and some contractual changes. This is part of its ongoing effort to right-size its workforce to better match the number of employees with a declining workload. Many of those who left were seasoned workers who took with them a wealth of experience and knowledge essential to running a vast and complex organization.

    Given that nearly 31 percent of current employees are eligible to retire now, and Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe plans to shrink the workforce by 10,000 positions in fiscal year 2015, it’s likely this brain drain will continue for a number of years. Is the Postal Service adequately prepared for this loss of institutional knowledge? What more could it do to ensure it has a comprehensive approach to collect, maintain and disseminate this information?

    Our recent audit, Postal Service Knowledge Management Process, looked at the subject and determined the Postal Service could do more. Notably, by mimicking the best practices of eight large organizations we reviewed, including the General Services Administration and Walmart, the Postal Service would be able to ensure important knowledge and expertise stay within the organization. These practices include conducting exit interviews aimed at gleaning key information; designating a knowledge management officer; developing knowledge maps that offer visual representations of the organization’s pockets of expertise; and conducting mentor-based training.

    Are you concerned about the flight of human capital from the Postal Service? Do you think it should do more to preserve the knowledge of its most experienced workers? What are your ideas for the Postal Service to retain and share valuable knowledge and expertise? 

  • on Sep 2nd, 2013 in Labor | 4 comments

    For many Americans, Labor Day marks the end of summer and a day to grill hot dogs or enjoy the pool one last time before it closes for the season. Labor Day’s history is often overlooked. It was started to salute the social and economic achievement of American workers, and to pay tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength and prosperity of the country.

    The Labor Department says on its website: “The vital force of labor added materially to the highest standard of living and the greatest production the world has ever known and has brought us closer to the realization of our traditional ideals of economic and political democracy. It is appropriate, therefore, that the nation pay tribute on Labor Day to the creator of so much of the nation's strength, freedom, and leadership — the American worker.”

    So we take the opportunity in our annual Labor Day blog to salute all the postal workers who keep the mail moving and ensure the Postal Service fulfills its mission of binding the nation together. We also note the Postal Service is the foundation that supports a larger $1 trillion mailing industry. Keeping the mail moving means another 8.4 million workers are enjoying Labor Day as well. Among the other industries that rely on a healthy Postal Service are the paper and printing industries and their suppliers, direct mail design, fulfillment companies, private delivery services, and mail management departments across all industries.

    While the Postal Service is the engine that drives a major industry, it is also often an important part of the local community. The annual Stamp Out Hunger food drive is so effective because of the Postal Service’s presence in every community. Postal workers are often the first people back at work in areas affected by a natural disaster, providing critical deliveries of medicine and checks even when power is out and roads are blocked. Every year, postal employees around the country risk their own safety to save the lives of customers they serve. In 2012, the Postal Service recognized 313 of these employee heroes. The Carrier Alert program relies on the presence and awareness of letter carriers to monitor the well-being of elderly and disabled customers. And so many other deeds go unheralded.

    So on this Labor Day we salute not only America’s postal workers, but the American workforce.

  • on Jul 19th, 2013 in Labor | 40 comments

    Matching workforce to workload has been a long-term struggle for the U.S. Postal Service. In its banner years, when volume was increasing, the Postal Service often found it difficult to quickly reduce workhours to offset seasonal dips in mail volume. Over the past 6 years, as volumes have steadily declined, the Postal Service has done a better job of matching its work hours to its workload. It has its lowest number of career employees in 25 years and productivity has seen steady cumulative improvement.

    Yet finding that perfect match remains elusive. In recent years, the difficulties are evident in an increased use of overtime hours. In a recent audit report, our auditors found three districts with their highest overtime rates during the past five years, and one district where employees received the highest overtime dollars. In this latter district, the Postal Service paid seven mail handlers between $65,000 and $76,000 each for overtime workhours in FY 2012, resulting in their salaries more than doubling. Overall, overtime hours accounted for more than 7 percent of total workhours in both fiscal years (FY) 2011 and 2012. The rate is well above the Postal Service’s target rate of 5 percent. The Postal Service’s paid overtime costs have been steadily increasing the past 4 years. They totaled $3.5 billion in FY 2012 compared to $2.5 billion in FY 2009.

    The Postal Service uses overtime hours to provide flexibility and meet operational requirements without having to increase overall staffing levels. This has been a useful tool over the past few years, as the Postal Service has consolidated and closed facilities, and seen the departure of thousands of employees. Overtime usage has allowed the Postal Service to quickly adjust its workforce as it transitions to a leaner network and makes the necessary organizational changes.

    Still, the OIG found opportunities for tighter controls on overtime usage. The OIG review of the four districts determined that the Postal Service could reduce overtime usage by establishing a plan to address staffing vacancies, better aligning workforce to workload, and implementing plans that align mail arrival times with carrier schedules so carriers aren’t waiting on mail to arrive at delivery units, then spending overtime hours delivering the mail.

    Please share your thoughts on the Postal Service’s use of overtime. Is it the best tool for managing workhours during consolidations, closures, and realignments?  If not, are there better tools and approaches? What steps do you think the Postal Service could take to  minimize use of overtime pay?

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