Saturday, April 30, 2016

Survey Says: The USPS Is a Terrible Place to Work

An organizational tumor that has festered within the U.S. Postal Service for years burst into public view this week at exactly the wrong time.

Part of report obtained by InsideSources
An employee survey that postal officials tried to keep under wraps proves what countless postal workers have been saying for years: The USPS is generally a horrible, dysfunctional place to work.

What makes the Postal Pulse survey results so meaningful is that the Gallup Organization compared the USPS data to those of other client organizations.

InsideSources, which obtained the survey results through a Freedom of Information Act request, estimates the comparison involved a pool of 400 companies. Even for those of us who’ve heard horror stories from hundreds of postal employees, the USPS’s numbers were stunningly awful.

How low can you go?
On nine of the 13 questions – from how supportive immediate supervisors are, to development opportunities, to fellow workers’ commitment to quality – the USPS scored in the bottom 1 percentile. In other words, for each of those nine questions, about 396 companies scored better than the USPS and only three, at most, scored the same or worse.

On job satisfaction, postal workers were in the 2nd percentile, while on “I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right” the USPS was in the 3rd percentile. By far, the Postal Service’s best question, in just the 16th percentile, was “I know what is expected of me at work.”

Having a toxic workplace wasn’t so bad for the USPS a few years ago when retention and recruiting weren’t issues. With shrinking mail volumes and virtually no ability to implement layoffs, the agency rarely hired new workers and encouraged long-timers to retire.

Hiring boom
But a shift to using more non-career employees has been a major USPS cost-saving tactic the past few years. That, coupled with stabilizing mail volumes and high turnover among the non-career workers, has caused the USPS’s hiring needs to explode – to the tune of 117,000 new employees last year and a projection for 125,000 newbies this year. (See Postal Service Revs Up Its Hiring.)

And with other big employers like Walmart and McDonald’s recently boosting their minimum pay, the Postal Service faces stiffer competition for new employees willing to work for relatively low pay and limited benefits. It can’t afford to have a bad reputation, backed up by data, for being a lousy employer.

A USPS spokesperson told InsideSources that the agency has “assembled a dedicated, high-performing Employee Engagement team of employees who have begun the process of training all our postal leaders (tens of thousands) to translate” the survey’s results “into a Daily Mission. We will hold postal leaders accountable for actively identifying and correcting their work environment issues in order to achieve a more satisfied and productive workforce, ultimately resulting in more satisfied customers.”

The USPS didn’t become such a toxic workplace solely because supervisors don’t know how to lead, so training alone won’t fix what ails it. A mess this big requires massive culture change, which usually means a thorough overhaul of how an organization hires, promotes, evaluates employees, and communicates with them, among other things.

Related articles:

Thursday, April 21, 2016

This Environmental Advice Really Blows!

Magzter's green claims contain enough BS to fertilize an entire forest.

So here we are, ready to celebrate the last Earth Day before President Trump outlaws climate change. Or builds a wall around it. Or sends it back to Kenya where it came from.

Whatever. In any case, it’s time for the Dead Tree Edition Research Institute’s annual look at dubious environmental achievements.We have two awards to hand out this year:

The Toshiba Award for Shameless Greenwashing goes to Magzter, one of the world's leading sellers of digital magazines, for its bold, unfounded claim that it has "saved" more than 92,000 trees.

Nowhere does its web site provide any substantiation for its claims or how they were calculated. Nor does Magzter reveal anything about its own environmental footprint or policies.

How paper is really made
What makes the claims especially hypocritical is that Magzter makes its money from selling the content of magazine publishers. So it's basically accusing its business partners of killing trees.

I'll bet some of those business partners, including environmental leaders like Hearst and Time Inc., are far more scrupulous than Magzter about their environmental practices. They're certainly more transparent.

Magzter's claims are reminiscent of Toshiba's infamous shoot-ourselves-in-the-foot National No-Print Day campaign from four years ago that was supposed to raise awareness “of the impact printing has on our planet” but was full of unsubstantiated claims and outright falsehoods. That was especially embarrassing because Toshiba makes presses and other products for the printing industry -- and has an environmental record that's almost as sloppy as its accounting.

Advice to Toshiba, Magzter, and their greenwashing ilk: Read this Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article about how declines in Wisconsin's paper industry are threatening the health of its forests. Or study TwoSides' new infographic "Busting Myths About How Paper Is Made."

The not-so-coveted This Really Blows Award goes to the folks who've been touting the Dyson Airblade hand dryer as a green alternative to paper towels.

The Airblade is apparently the most energy-efficient hand dryer on the market. And it's powerful enough that users rarely have that "Damn, my hands are still wet" experience that causes them to wipe their hands on their pants.

But some of the research touting it as a green alternative to paper towels has been flawed. Like the Rochester Institute of Technology study that assumed the paper towels contained only virgin fiber and were transported from the mill by truck (not rail) -- and that didn't account for whether the mill used hydro power or other carbon-neutral sources of energy. In other words, the study didn't consider the possibility of switching to more environmentally friendly paper.

The real trouble, however, arose with a recent Journal of Applied Microbiology article revealing that, as Popular Science put it, Airblades were "spraying 1,300 times more viral plaques (clumps of viruses) than paper towels, and sending some of them nearly 10 feet from the dryer itself." That's on top of an earlier study indicating that jet-air dryers like the Airblade "spread 27 times more bacteria than paper towels."

So don't try to go paperless by switching from paper towels to hand dryers. You'll just end up using more tissue paper to blow your nose or more toilet paper to -- oh, never mind.

Other articles featuring Dead Tree Edition's offbeat perspective on Earth Day and print media include:

Monday, April 18, 2016

Good Money After Bad? Mailers Try to Block FSS Expansion

An FSS machine: savior or white elephant?
Where the U.S. Postal Service sees an opportunity to expand the Flats Sequencing System to more ZIP codes, mailers see a backdoor rate increase.

Postal officials recently told mailing-industry representatives that declining volumes and some equipment upgrades are creating excess capacity for the FSS. At a meeting of the Mailers Technical Advisory Committee (MTAC), they proposed having the football-field-sized machines process the mail for additional ZIP codes.

See ya in court!
Irate mailers and printers responded by threatening to shift more business to alternate delivery -- private services that bypass the USPS. And they pointed out that the change would in essence be a rate increase for catalogs, publications, and other flat mail. In other words, a legal challenge is possible. (See FSS -- A Four Letter Word for some great insights and additional developments regarding FSS expansion.)

Publication printers are perturbed that they already have to absorb extra costs from handling and shipping FSS mail, without their customers getting any benefit. What’s especially galling is that, no thanks to postal officials, the printers’ expansion of co-mailing is the one recent investment that has brought about significant savings for both flats mailers and the USPS.

Mail that's been sorted by an FSS machine
The catalog and magazine industries are still smarting from a string of broken promises about FSS. They’re in no mood to support an alleged “efficiency” change that appears to be more about saving face than saving money.

Postal officials, including two previous postmaster generals, repeatedly promised mailers that FSS mail would cost no more than traditional carrier-route mail. That made sense: FSS was supposed to save the Postal Service lots of money by automating the labor-intensive process of sorting flat mail into walk sequence.

But it hasn’t worked out that way. On a recent (post-April 10) Standard Class postage statement I examined, FSS-sorted catalogs cost at least 7% more than the equivalent carrier-route pieces.

Today's vocab word: "obfuscatory"
The USPS has given coyly obfuscatory answers to recent questions about its FSS costs, telling the Postal Regulatory Commission a few weeks ago that it had not calculated the return on its $1.4 billion FSS investment. But clearly the system hasn’t worked as planned, and the high FSS postage rates bolster widespread suspicions that the system is still a money loser.

Why then, mailers ask, should the Postal Service throw good money after bad by shifting mail that is mostly in carrier-route bundles to FSS processing? It looks like a lose-lose for both mailers and the Postal Service, except for providing the face-saving illusion that the FSS is working.

Postal officials explain that the FSS would run more efficiently if it didn't have so much excess volume. They told MTAC that the labor-saving high-speed flats feeders they are installing will boost the machines’ throughput by 15% to 20%.

Related articles:


Friday, April 1, 2016

Postage Rates Decreasing? April Fools!

As noted in my previous article about Trumpazines, I like to celebrate April Fools Day with Onion-esque fake news stories that touch the funny bone and hit close to home. I half-expect the following article to be true because the reality of reduced postal rates is stranger than fiction: 

USPS wants to hang on to the cash
That imminent decrease in the price of Forever Stamps and other postage? Fuhgeddaboutit. It was just a joke.

“You really thought we were going to reduce the cost of mailing? April Fools,” laughed Ben Dover, the U.S. Postal Service’s Vice President of Pricing and Pencil Pushing, at a meeting of clearly not amused mailing industry representatives today.

Previous USPS announcements said the cuts would take effect on April 10, when the Postal Service’s “exigent” surcharge expires. ("See Hell Will Freeze Over on April 10.")

“Get it? April 10. That’s April One Zero: April One is of course April Fools Day, and Zero is the chance we’ll ever reduce postage rates unless someone holds a gun to our heads,” Dover told the Mailers' Tactical Air Command (MTAC).

They're such jokers!
“We should have known not to believe them,” grumbled Gino Del Potato, president of the Amalgamated Association of Stamp Lickers and Junk Mailers. “After all, the people who announced the price changes are the same ones who told us the FSS machines would save the Postal Service big bucks. Even when they’re trying to be serious, half of what they say is a joke."

Dover’s announcement came just in time for Phil LaTelly of Bugtussle, Oklahoma, who was about to file for personal bankruptcy when he heard the news. LaTelly, who invested his substantial life savings in the Forever Stamp futures market three years ago, would have been wiped out by the rate decrease.

“Whew, that news came just in the lick of time,” a relieved LaTelly told reporters on the courthouse steps.

Postal officials have been arguing for years that the surcharge should be made permanent because, gee, who knew that Del Potato's predictions about email and all that Internet stuff reducing mail volumes would actually come true? Their cause seemed hopeless after they lost a court battle, then the appeal, then an attempt to get the Postal Regulatory Commission to reinterpret the appeals court decision, then an appeal of the PRC decision not to reinterpret the court, and finally an appeal to the PRC of the appeals court’s decision.

But despite the courts’ rulings, the three-person Not-So-Temporary Emergency Junta that has governed the Postal Service for more than a year recently concluded that only the full USPS Board of Governors has the authority to decrease rates. There won’t be a full Board until Congress gets around to filling eight vacancies on the 11-person body. Which basically means the exigent surcharge is permanent.

Besides, the two USPS employees on the junta can’t vote for a price decrease without violating the sacred vow taken by all postal executives, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night shall stay us from raising postage rates as much as we can.”