In the following report, I will be give illustrations and possible solutions for an overburdening problem that exists in the U.S. Postal service Operations throughout the country. Overtime is an age-old problem that has gone long overdue without someone or a group paying serious attention to correcting this problem.
The United States Postal Service is a large organization with many facets of operations; I will be concentrating on what we call the Field Operation or Area Office. This is where the public comes into personal contact with the Postal Service either by way of the individual letter carrier (mailman) or the window clerk who assists with business transacted at the post office.
Every community across America has a Post Office. We are one of the most visible employers in the world. The U.S. Postal Service employs approximately 750 thousand diverse people. Many different cultures and nationalities come together to combine as an efficient workforce that gets the job done. The pay is moderate, so it would be pretty difficult to become independently wealthy working for the Postal Service. But, there are some employees that believe if they work, as much overtime as possible, maybe they can become rich. Unfortunately, this poses a daily obstacle to overcome for most managers in the U.S. Postal Service.
The U.S. Postal Service is a production driven outfit therefore; everything is based on production verses cost ratio. The average workday for a postal employee is eight hours. It does not take a genius to figure out that the longer it takes to do the job, the more money is made. So, the employee that desires more money would be motivated to take longer to complete his or her assigned task(s).
Historically, the Postal Service has been plagued with managers that were not diligent in doing their jobs with regard to overtime management. Because of this clusters of employees became accustomed to a Carte Blanche style of working. Employees were in effect managing the overtime and work production. During my career as a letter carrier, I completed my assigned tasks within my eight-hour shift working overtime only when deemed necessary by my manger.
When I became a manager, I expected everyone who worked for me to have the same work ethics that I had. If this was not case, I attempted to force them to work as hard as I did. I later found out that this was not a good management approach. In fact, this was the easiest way to harvest disgruntle employees.
Here was my dilemma; I was the new young manager who expected an honest day”s work, for an honest day’s pay, paired with a staff that had been allowed to do whatever they wanted for the past ten years. The office of my first management assignment had 90 percent of the employees working an average of 10-16 hours of overtime per week. My performance as a manager as well as well as the production performance for our office was based on the amount of manpower hours used to deliver the total volume of mail.
I will present information about the systems put in place that worked as a check and balance format. These systems enabled me to demonstrate to my employees that my requests were not unfair or unreasonable. I will discuss the areas that the employees were able to assist in helping to aleve the excessive use of overtime. I will also discuss in detail areas that contributed to the excessive use of overtime that did not involve my employees. With implementation of the new systems, my office has reduced its overtime to 14 percent.
While controlling overtime may seem as easy as just making an announcement “that no one is allowed to work overtime”; this is very far from true in the U.S. Postal Service area offices. There are many variables that come into play, the first of which is staffing. In order to do a good job; the office must be properly staffed. We have percentage breakdowns that factor in amounts of carrier routes; amounts of deliveries per zip code that derives to an employee complement. Each office has a number that satisfies their complement. If for any reason a particular office is operating under their complement that makes the task a more difficult. Any office can be fine one week and short the next, due to retirement, injuries, or details to name a few. If any of the aforementioned were to occur a manager could request replacement for these employees, whether they will be granted or not is another story.
Then we have the day-in day-out mystery of who will call in on sick leave. Having any of these instances to take place in a given day can simply cripple an operation. If we take a carrier operation anywhere in the world that has 35 city carrier routes and 4 carriers call in sick on a Monday, that manager now has to scramble to get coverage for those four vacant routes. It is not like other organizations where your work can carry over by one day; the mail must be delivered daily without exception. This makes it difficult to get the work done in an eight–hour day for the remaining employees. The first thing the manager must do is to telephone four employees who would normally have the day off and ask them to come in and work their day off. Bare in mind that the U.S. Postal Service has something called an Overtime Desired List, a voluntary list of employees who wish to work overtime on assignments.
When the manager telephones employees to come in on their day off, he must first call those on the Overtime Desired List. If the manager does not get four employees from the list, he may then exercise the option to call employees not on the Overtime Desired List. The only alternative to this situation is to have employees already present complete their assignments and pitch in to help deliver the vacant assignments. The advantage of this situation is that it allows you to minimize your overtime usage for the day. If the manager was able to get four employees from the Overtime Desired List to come he has automatically used 32 hours of overtime for that day. By having employees already present work additional hours, you are able to use far less overtime for that day.
This is an area I feel managers need to stress to their bosses so that all efforts are exhausted in hiring more employees for offices to operate under their complement. The earlier mentioned example could have been avoided had that office been properly staffed. A fully complemented office would have unassigned employees who would have been given those assignments for the day avoiding the need for overtime. In order to be a successful office you must be fully complemented. When I was finally able to get my office fully complemented my overtime was reduced by 10% – 30% as shown in the graph below.
The U.S. Postal Service has another formula that we use to gauge an employee”s production. There is a standard based on demonstrated ability. We can not hold Carrier A to Carrier B”s standards. This formula is for sorting letters and flats (magazines, newspapers, etc.). The formula allows 1 hour to sort 2 feet of letter mail. This is 2 linear feet, 2 linear feet equals 454 pieces of letter mail or 230 pieces of flat mail. So in order to standardize an employee the manager must count out 2 feet of mail, letters or flats, and calculate the amount of time it takes the employee to sort this mail.
The average carrier has no problem at all meeting this quota, but there are those who attempt to outsmart their managers. If the manager is not focused on them during the sorting period there are those carriers who have the tendency to leave their areas to socialize among their coworkers, or “slow sort” their mail. The longer it takes a carrier to sort his mail, the longer it takes that carrier to get out of the office on the street to deliver this mail, making this same carrier late in returning from his assignment guaranteeing this carrier overtime for the day. You multiply this by several carriers in one office daily and you come up with an unaccountable amount of overtime usage as a manager. This affects your production numbers for the office as a whole.
This where a manager has to jump in and approach the individual carriers immediately. As a manager I that this has happen to, I have approached the individual and asked some very basic questions to make certain that there are no health or personal issues going on with the carrier affecting their productivity. If nothing out of the ordinary exists, I point out that they are not meeting their productivity quota and make certain suggestions to assist them in meeting their quota. There are those times when you are challenged as a manager to verify your findings. When those situations arise, I go out and measure, with the carrier present, the actual number of feet of mail for them to sort and time them sorting this mail. Once you demonstrate to your employees that you are only expecting from them what is minimally required, and that you will hold them accountable for just that you run into this type of problem less and less.
Another major contributor to overtime usage is the actual mail flow itself. Most days this is not a problem, but when it is a problem it is usually a big problem. In Northern Virginia we have two mail distribution centers, one in Merrifield and one in Dulles. For the Falls Church Post Offices, we receive our mail from Merrifield. Each morning we receive 3 dispatches of mail from 6:00 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. When these dispatches are on time everything runs smoothly, but when these dispatches are late an office goes from running smoothly to being hectic.
One of the main reasons for a delayed dispatch is the mechanical failure of a mail-processing machine in Merrifield. In preparing itself for the new millenium, the U.S. Postal Service Distribution Centers are equipped with high-tech automated mail processing machines that do the job of ten employees sorting mail. In the event of a mechanical failure, one of our dispatches can be delayed by 1 – 2 hours. This 1 – 2 hour delay is passed along to my operation in 1 – 2 hours of down time for my carriers while they are waiting for their mail to deliver. That equals approximately 1 –2 hours of unforeseen overtime per employee that day. As demonstrated in the graph below this is a large usage of overtime for an entire office when calculated. The combination of mail volume and properly scheduled mail dispatches is critical in minimizing overtime.
In closing, I would suggest that as we approach a new millenium the U.S. Postal Service would be better served by doing away with some of the older ways of thinking. The Overtime Desired List should be dismantled. This forces managers to go outside of the employees already present for work as a first solution to a vacant assignment list. To me this encourages overtime usage. I would also suggest for offices receiving mail dispatches late at least 3 times a week to move their scheduled time for mail receipt back and bring their carriers in a little later to accommodate for the dispatch schedules. For example if an office has consistently been receiving their dispatches an hour late, instead of having the carriers report to work at 6:30 a.m. they would move the carriers reporting times up to 7:30 a.m. instead eliminating that hour of downtime per person that they are losing.