Many postal workers responded to last week’s article, USPS Productivity Has Declined This Year, about USPS delivering fewer mail pieces per work hour than it did a year ago. From the comments, on Dead Tree Edition and on other sites, come eight reasons for the USPS’s declining productivity:
- Longer hours: “Perhaps if we weren't so short staffed and didn't have endless OT being forced upon us, our productivity would be better,” wrote one of several letter carriers who blamed declining productivity on fatigue caused by longer routes and work days. USPS statistics back up claims from the front line that overtime is increasing among carriers.
- More street time: Not only are carriers working longer hours, automation has resulted in them spending more of their day actually delivering mail rather than preparing it for delivery. “I know I am nowhere near as fresh at hour 10 as I am when the day starts after walking in 90 plus heat and full humidity.” Automating the sequencing of mail had been contributing to rising productivity the past few years, but how much of those gains are being lost to burnout? (Which may be why we've heard nothing more about a 2010 USPS proposal to have some carriers making deliveries all day while others prepped mail full time. Aug. 5 update: Oops! USPS recently experimented with the concept, as discussed in Postal Service Trial of '100 Percent Street Time' Fails.)
- Flats Sequencing System: And then there’s the issue of what happens when automation doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do. “The billion-dollar wonder flat trashing machines are a nightmare on the street,” wrote one carrier. The huge machines’ erratic performance sometimes result in carriers spending just as much time preparing the mail, or even more, but now have more addresses to serve than in the past because of the expected productivity gains from FSS. Last winter, that led to many carriers delivering mail after dark – definitely not a high-productivity environment.
- Shortage of postal clerks: “There are fewer clerks processing mail. It takes longer to get the mail to the carriers, so it takes longer for them to get it to the street,” said one employee. “For every one minute of delay on the workroom floor each morning, you lose (1) x the number of carriers,” noted another. “We have about 60 routes. We've had one clerk excessesd, one moved to the 'Concierge' position, etc. We lose the equivalent of 50-60 man hours nearly every day.”
- More delivery points: “Adding millions of delivery points every year will always increase delivery costs,” wrote one commenter, “while increasing volumes (or decreasing volumes) will have little effect on delivery costs because most of the delivery cost (the cost of servicing a delivery point) is fixed while the marginal cost of delivering a mailpiece is darn near negligible in comparison to the fixed cost. In other words, the cost is in having the carrier walk up to the door; whether he is carrying 8 pieces or 3 pieces doesn't affect the cost of making that delivery.”
- More parcels: “Parcels definitely take more time” than letters, noted one carrier. The Postal Service’s growing parcel business, coupled with the declining letter business, means fewer mail pieces can be delivered per work hour.
- Management: The complaints about USPS having “too many supervisors who supervise the supervision of supervisors” are nothing new. But many employees believe that USPS’s recent downsizing efforts have focused too heavily on unionized employees and not enough on supervisors and administrators who never "touch the mail.”
- Morale: Cutbacks, increased labor-management disputes, and USPS’s insolvency are discouraging postal workers and sapping their productivity, several have said. One put the situation succinctly: “Good news---> high morale---> high productivity. Bad news ---> low morale---> low productivity.”