• 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 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 | 47 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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