on Mar 24th, 2014 in Labor | 7 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? 

7 Comments


I'm sorry but this to me is a joke. The USPS didn't care about my knowledge or expertise after we got a new manager in 2000. He made it plain and clear that he didn't care what we thought, how things had been done in the past and should continue to be done to be more efficient and easier for the clerks or carriers at the stations. It was his way or his way, period. Morale went down the drain as we saw mail being intentionally delayed by this man and we could do nothing to stop him workout fear of losing our jobs. I was so grateful to hear and take part of the early out in January of 2013. But I still care about the future of the USPS And its' employee

With many tears shed and after 32 years I took the early retirement. I was a Postmaster with what I considered a wealth of knowledge. I had come up through the ranks from a clerk to a carrier to a supervisor to a lower level Postmaster to a higher level Postmaster. I handled labor issues for many offices and complex financial issues. I waited for my manager to acknowledge my leaving or even my year and a half of accrued sick leave, thinking it might be an incentive for employees abusing sick leave but as I worked late on the last day, he never even good luck. Obviously I do not know the big picture now but I see carriers in my town and in the office I worked out well past dark now, a safety hazard for the carriers and the customers and mail trucks arriving with the morning mail at 11:00 am. I hear of managers being told to violate contracts intentionally and pay out for grievances later, something I would never have done. I know of managers that have been told to "forget" contractual" deadlines to bypass the grievance process. Maybe this is why no one acknowledged my leaving. I wouldn't do it. They were happy to be rid of me.

Knowledge management officer? It seems that a new high paying position is being readied for the nepotism packed groups that exist above the workflow floor,congratulations to our feckless leadership caste,they never tire of creating new useless positions,how about the Mailpiece Design Specialist we have in Boston?

A bad manager can take a good staff and destroy it, causing the best employees to flee and the remainder to lose all motivation. Retired after 27 years. I could not take it anymore. I was a good and honest hard worker. I wanted to stay a little while longer but, management got so incompetent that it made my job and others so difficult.

I think Coley, above, has a good point. What works in other organizations may not work well in the managerial atmosphere here in the Postal Service, and the idea of a Knowldege Tsar doesn't sound useful. Our management is already so out of touch with the realities of actually collecting, processing and delivering mail, I can't imagine that a Kowledge Tsar would even understand the information I have to pass on as I leave.

Similarly, the exit-interview idea, while perhaps effective in an organization with good communications between and among managers and employees, might not work well in our situation. My experience with the Postal Service prompts me to imagine that if I were to give a nice, long exit-interview, the information I carefully imparted would sink quickly and silently to a peaceful, airless death. Who would be brave enough to risk the ire and scorn of their superiors by suggesting that things could be done differently? Not many managers that I'm aware of.

Mentoring sounds like a much more useful and applicable tool. As a Postmaster Trainer, I have a group of new Postmasters and PMRs who know to call me when they don't know how to do something, and our bosses are too busy to answer the phone or email. In the old days PM trainers used to come to our offices to train new PMRs, and that was a great opportunity for me to pick their brains for new or clarifying information. Now we do training in a centralized location, in a conference room. I think a mentoring system that allows Postmasters to visit other Postmasters in their offices would be an effective way to transmit knowldedge.

I would also like to see more opportunities for departing Postmasters to work part-time; though not as a PMR at a fraction of their pay, and with no benefits. Retiring Postmasters could be paid as contractors to spend time mentoring in smaller post offices, helping the new-hires to organize their offices, and to learn how to get the supplies and support needed to get their jobs done.

A Brain Drain? Give me a break! We have supervisors who can't spell and never use spell check, they need workers to read to them and interpete their letters and e-mail. Workers who abuse the system are never removed from service because managment doesn't know how to do the paper work. When a manager milks the system it sets a bad example for the workers. The post office needs to start by hiring managers that are smart, then train them well. The union isn't much help either. The same repeat offenders take advantage of poor management over and over again. Management and the union have to sit down and work out a code of conduct and expectations, with under performing workers being retrainned once, maybe twice. If the worker still can not or will not do their job, that worker needs to be let go.

Im totally Brain Drained as in Brain Drained! How many Management do we need in a small office? Every small offices around us have a Postmaster, thats it. Thumbs up to them...we have 2, why? By all means, with the mail volume down and one regular clerk on the floor, isnt there any numbers used for an office to qualify for 2 Management positions? As is for Clerks? I feel like all they do is team up to downgrade employees with every little mistake made everyday causing anger, etc. Its Follow The Leader after 2 hours, all day.......what a waste! We, clerks and carriers, can put the 6 hrs to use for the operation to move that mail....could have another part-time back up for 30 hrs/wk to spare instead of running our butts off to meet commitment. *My thoughts*

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