• on Jan 12th, 2015 in Labor | 7 comments

    A business is only as good as its employees, which is why more and more organizations are offering flexible workforce policies to attract and retain the best workers. Among other things, flexible workforce policies help employees adjust their work schedules to the needs and circumstances of their personal lives, so they can have a healthier work-life balance. The idea is that happier employees are more committed and productive employees, and that leads to better customer service.

    We endorse the win-win idea behind workforce flexibility in our new white paper, Flexibility at Work: Human Resource Strategies to Help the Postal Service. We believe the U.S. Postal Service could do better at recruiting and retaining high-quality employees if it started offering flexible workforce policies. As it is, there’s relatively little flexibility in postal work schedules, making it very hard to accommodate an emergency or even a pressing situation facing a worker – for instance, kids that need to be picked up at a certain time every day or elderly parents that need to be driven to a regular medical appointment each week.

    Properly implemented policies offering things like job-sharing, compressed work weeks, shift-trades, and self-scheduling are proving effective in other industries, as numerous businesses are finding they have a stronger labor force as a result of the flexibility. We don’t say which specific policies the Postal Service should implement. Rather, we present four high-level principles to consider when developing flexible workforce policies: create a partnership for flexibility between labor and management; evaluate a portfolio of initiatives; develop more detailed information on the expected or anticipated daily workload; and seek continuous feedback from employees.

    What do you think? Are flexible workforce policies a good thing for any business? Are the suggested flexibilities realistic in a service-based business like the Postal Service? What flexibility policies would you like to see in your workplace? 

  • on Nov 10th, 2014 in Labor | 1 comment

    On Veterans Day, we reflect on the service that more than 21 million men and women have given to our country. About 1.3 million of them served during multiple wars, dating as far back as World War II.

    Many veterans now work in a wide range of fields, from manufacturing and retail to transportation and the entertainment industry, as laborers, managers, and executives, according to U.S. Census data. The largest contingent of veterans, about 14 percent, works in public service or administration, which isn’t really surprising given its close relationship to military service.

    Not many people may realize, however, that one particular public service – the U.S. Postal Service – has historically been one of the nation’s largest employers of veterans. In 2012, the Postal Service employed about 130,000 former service members – almost a full quarter of its workforce. After all, men and women who were, for example, logisticians, operations managers, human resource workers, or mechanics in the military have skill sets that the Postal Service values and needs.

    In the past few years, as mail volume has declined, the Postal Service has trimmed the number of employees to 489,727 in 2013 from a high of 707,485 in 2004. Because veterans and minorities constitute large segments of the Postal Service work force, these cuts have had the greatest impact on them, according to a CNN report. Still, veterans continue to be not only a sizeable but also important part of the Postal Service.

    Please join us in saying to our nation’s veterans, “Thanks for your service.”  

  • on May 26th, 2014 in Labor | 8 comments

    Offering workplace benefits such as health and retirement programs and paid vacations is a well established way to attract and retain talented workers. But the structure of these offerings has been changing in the public and private sectors over the past 20 to 30 years for several reasons, including rising pension debts; a more mobile workforce; and a move towards simplified administration of benefits.

    Employers have been looking to shed excessive pension expenses and give workers more control over their own retirement programs. Increasingly, private, local, and state employers are moving away from defined benefits plans that generally pay a guaranteed sum based on wages and years of service. They are increasingly favoring defined contribution plans, such as the 401(k) plan, a pretax fund built on employee and employer contributions. Meanwhile, retirement benefits plans for federal workers, including postal employees, have generally remained unchanged since the Federal Employees Retirement System was enacted in 1987.

    Similarly, the U.S. Postal Service’s leave benefits have stayed primarily the same for decades. Days off are organized into categories – annual, personal, sick, military (if applicable), and federal holiday – and the rate of leave accrual depends on the category. When taking leave, a postal employee has to indicate which category the leave falls into. But many companies are moving toward fewer categories, such as just vacation days and sick days. This simplified approach cuts down on administrative costs.

    As the Postal Service looks for ways to tighten its belt, it is considering changes in benefits, such as a new retirement program for future workers. But it is in a bit of a Catch-22. It is required to offer compensation and benefits that are comparable to those in the private sector, but it cannot change its benefits programs unilaterally, due to legal requirements and union agreements.

    At the request of the Postal Service, we issued two white papers that benchmarked its benefit programs against those of several comparable organizations. Specifically, we looked at retirement benefits and leave policies. We found many similarities in benefit offerings, but key differences, too. For example, retirement expenses make up a larger portion of total benefits for the Postal Service than for the other organizations we studied. Also, postal employees can carry over 55 or more days of annual leave each leave year and an unlimited number of sick days. But the other organizations had far more restrictive leave carryover.

    Share your thoughts or experiences on leave programs that consolidate all days off into one comprehensive plan. Might such a program for postal employees offer flexible benefits while reducing costs? Or does the current system work well? What changes, if any, are needed to the Postal Service’s retirement plans? 

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