The continuing economic recession that began in 2008 in the United States greatly exacerbated that revenue problem as people reduced their unnecessary use of postal services and increased their use of private-sector competitors such as United Parcel Service (UPS) and Federal Express (FedEx). To date, the USPS has been slow to respond to competition, particularly in relation to the adoption of the bar coding system that has long been in use by UPS and FedEx and that is considered to have been instrumental in their increase of the market share (Brewster & Dalzell, 2007).
The USPS already has formal plans to adopt such mechanisms by the year 2013, but those plans preceded the economic crisis of 2008 and the precipitous nature of funding issues affecting its operations in the current political climate. In that regard, the USPS is also saddled with significant pension obligations that have inspired considerable attention in Washington from legislators intent on reducing resources available to the USPS for its necessary evolution into the modern era rather than funding that evolution. As a result, it is quite likely that postal operations will soon have to be reduced such as by eliminating regular delivery services on certain days of the week.
Human Resource Strategies
Despite various efforts to implement reforms intended to improve employee morale at the USPS, the organization is still characterized by McGregor's Theory X dynamic rather than by Theory Y (Robbins & Judge, 2009). Specifically, the USPS is generally not a vocational environment in which self-motivation, self-control, and the minimization of distinction between employees and management prevail (Anonymous, 2011). To the contrary, the USPS workplace is largely characterized by self-interest, relative dislike of work, and by motivation more by the negative consequences of poor performance ratings than by anything in relation to genuine initiative or a culture of inclusion in decision making and workplace contribution. It is a highly transactional vocational environment in which a higher than average proportion of employees would prefer to work elsewhere if a comparable opportunity arose that provided similar pay and benefits (Robbins & Judge, 2009).
Generally, there is a culture of antagonism between many employees and many supervisors as well as on the part of local postal managers toward headquarters. Decisions of supervisors within individual post offices are widely considered by employees to reflect favoritism as much as can be exercised subject to applicable laws and federal rules. In the opinion of the interview subject, there is sufficient room "in between the lines" of applicable regulations for managers and supervisors to freely penalize employees without actual justification to the extent they are expert in the application of formal policies.
As a result, the culture reflects a CYA ("cover your ass") approach among postal employees and a climate of mistrust between postal employees and management. According to the interview subject, many employees believe that their managers do not respect them or care about their well-being necessarily. Many supervisors are inflexible and arbitrary in their decisions and seem to make no attempt to be more fair than they are absolutely required to be by law. According to the interview subject, letter carriers generally do have a concern for their customers but USPS employees who work in the post offices are typically frustrated by customers on one end and by supervisors on the other end. They often develop a negative attitude toward both and approach each shift as though the primary objective is to avoid hassles and get through the day as easily as possible. Virtually nothing at the post office is self-directed or self-motivated and the interview subject expressed the belief that, at least under current conditions, it would be impractical to imagine a workplace that reflected the principles (phrased as part of several questions by the interviewer) of McGregor's Theory Y in the workplace.
Model I or Model II Characterization
As part of the same interview, the interviewer briefly outlined the concepts of Model I and Model II workplace environments (Robbins & Judge, 2009) in connection with continued questions. That explanation actually elicited laughter from the interview subject in relation to the use the terms advocacy and inquiry, in response to which the subject asked "What's the exact opposite of that?" According to the interview subject, working at the USPS is dangerous psychologically because it is very difficult to know whom to trust and also because there are inherent physical dangers associated with back-office operations and also with the responsibilities of Letter Carriers in the field.
More specifically, the subject expressed awareness of many situations where casual conversations among coworkers were subsequently used against someone, such as by informing supervisors to curry favor or to exact revenge for perceived slights. In some post offices, there is also a culture of unofficial "rank" based on seniority that exists apart from any recognized hierarchy among employees of similar pay grade. In some situations, for example, there are negative social consequences associated with exercising employment rights that are clearly spelled out in the applicable federal rules, such as those pertaining to scheduling vacations. For example, employees who take advantage of certain opportunities to which they are fully entitled by law and agency policy risk social ostracism and other forms of subtle retaliation in ways that cannot readily be addressed by any formal procedures since they do not involve supervisors and they are not readily provable. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that these dynamics have the potential for making life at work miserable for certain employees.
The back-office environment is also dangerous physically because many employees do not exercise common sense and routinely violate rules and procedures that are established for their safety. According to the interview subject, supervisors make a show of complying with safety protocols and of ensuring that communications are distributed and they make sure that safety training is implemented as required. However, in a practical sense, many of them deliberately overlook specific violations of safety procedures and the use of prohibited techniques and habits in the mail room if they know that those prohibited activities promote productivity, even at potential risk to employees. For example, one supervisor routinely makes comments such as, "I have never seen you operate that sorting machine without that guardrail," referring to the practice of removing a safety feature that slows down mail sorting and directing that comment to an employee who was operating the device after removing the guardrail and placing on the floor.
Finally, with respect to personal safety on the job, the interview subject recounted personal stories of having been attacked by guard dogs, non-guard dogs, and of suffering injuries caused by un-shoveled driveways and frozen staircases. The subject gave examples of various instances where official USPS "policy" is designed to protect Letter Carriers from encountering certain physical risks but where following those policies would almost certainly generate customer complaints that would be held against the employee by supervisors. After explaining the dilemma encountered in that regard, the subject said "See, that's what I was talking about before."
Anonymous. (2011). Personal Interview Conducted by the Researcher on November 2,
2001 with a current USPS employee working as a Letter Carrier since 2000. The
Interview was conducted on the strict condition of absolute anonymity.
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