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USPS Overtime Trick or Treat

United States Postal Service Postmaster General Jack Potter recently urged employees to do whatever it takes to grow revenue, cut costs and continue to offer good service to close the financial gap.

Deputy Donahoe says with its focus on managing work hours, controlling overtime and improving productivity, the Postal Service continues to realize cost reductions…

Excerpts of a recent CNN Money.com article USPS chief financial officer Joseph Corbett said, “Given current trends, we will not be able to pay all 2011 obligations. Among the cost-cutting initiatives, the USPS has reduced total work hours by 63 million — equivalent to 36,000 full-time employees — this year to match lower mail volume.”

All that sounds like it makes a whole lot of sense from the people with the big picture. Unfortunately, if employees don’t find this kind of information on the internet some of us would never hear this kind of business talk from the lower levels of workplace bosses. A hot topic for blogging today is in the area of overtime (OT). There is a lot of talk among workers about movement in the direction of tour compression, referring to a business decision necessary to improve operational efficiency by reducing the time frame needed to process mail. Tour two personnel have been displaced to tour one and tour three. In some situations realigned employees are rewarded with out-of-schedule pay equivalent to the overtime rate. Others are paid OT as their regular hours are adjusted up and down on a month-to-month basis.

Employees used to bid on job assignments by seniority to fit their personal lifestyle and situations. The biggest impact of “tour compression” is the resulting mandatory, compulsory, forced, involuntary overtime five days a week if you are lucky or unlucky depending on your desire for overtime. No one seems to have any idea how mail volume is going to fluctuate. As the mail piles up throughout tour two hours of operation, tour three is automatically set back behind the eight ball in one operation as 200-300 pallets of mail are fork-lifted on station awaiting the arrival of the craft workers to process it. In the eyes of the people in the trenches the paradigm of a 12-14 hour window of processing is becoming increasingly complicated to understand. There are not enough personnel, limited amounts of equipment to properly do the job, and the directors have no strategy to competently manage the rising volume of mail on the workroom floor.

It is easy to eliminate the shift on paper, but much harder to eliminate the influx of mail and the regularly assigned personnel. We are compressing people and mail operations then handing out mega-bucks in overtime and shift differential incentives.

All of the layers of supervisors and managers are visibly on a different page about overtime and how to get the mail processed in an efficient manner. This result from all the tiers of management on a different page announcing OT anywhere from zero minutes to immediately after the workforce clock in. They are having trouble counting-the-numbers and they can’t avoid the human emotions associated with long days and continuation of physically demanding work. Imagine what is happening to morale and the desire to cooperate. These days it seems only 2% of facility employees actually sign up for the overtime desired list (ODL) compared to the same period years ago.

Suddenly on the workroom floor you can expect to hear comments like; last night I got four hours mandatory and I’m not even on the overtime desired list, I got two hours and I am on the ODL, they offered me five hours but I was too tired, my paycheck is going to be huge, I calculate I made $180 last night, what is the union doing about all the confusion?

Things are getting really confusing when top operating officers speak a message about the economic slowdown and declining mail volumes and at the same time we aren’t curbing the mandatory overtime enthusiasm. Little voices are saying:

Compulsory overtime advantages

Lucky you! Get it while you can
Exciting up front for higher wages
Heavy workload means greater business security
Reward for not getting done on time
Necessary to deal with busy period
A tool to create customer satisfaction
Budget is based on what we spend?
A built in expense of workforce realignment
Opportunity to increase retirement earnings
Be glad you have a labor union
Can cut overtime when ready and not do layoffs
Don’t like it, quit! Someone else will do it for less
We are not in business for profit, just get my numbers
It’s not your money why should you care?

Forced overtime disadvantages

Longer workday and too tired to commute back home
Physical and mental stress on the body leads to absenteeism
Challenge for individuals, families, and single parents
Wrecked families and relationships, new love with coworkers
Increased compensation claims from accidents and injuries
Potential for occupational burnout, mistakes, and lowered morale
Result of poor management and or insufficient workforce
Strained relationships between employees and bosses
More money more taxes
Impact on social activities that require advanced planning
Emergencies and people rarely calculated into decisions
People unhappy with exception of their paychecks
Say No! Start documentation towards job loss
Could affect retention and recruitment

Author and motivational speaker Stephen R. Covey once asked how many people on their deathbed wish they’d spent more time at the office.

Solutions

Manage the work better. The cost of hiring new employees probably costs more than using the current workforce to put in extra work hours. Supervisors must plan the work and work the plan otherwise their direct reports will be expecting to work overtime and there will be no desire to be efficient. You might as well hang up a banner that says, “Work slow, make more dough,” and OT will be seen as a bonus for not getting the job done on time.

Bosses should not hide! They could leave a better impression by making themselves visible, but not in the form of a bully or micromanager. Connect with the workforce by communicating with employees about what is going on and how working overtime, adjusting hours, and shifting employees around at-will reduces operating costs.

If overtime is going to be the new flat rate labor unions should propose higher premiums for overtime work.

Give employees as much notice possible to notify family members about the non-emergent last minute decision to call involuntary overtime. We either have volume or we don’t, and we should be able to see it early enough to show respect and courtesy for the private lives of our people.

Conclusion

Overtime is probably a great tool for managers but if used too often outside of an emergency sooner or later someone higher in the chain of command will make it mandatory, compulsory, forced, or involuntary that the lower food chain leaders figure out how to avoid paying it. Uncontrolled OT is a major profit killer if we are in the business of making a profit or funding 78% of operating costs on labor. Employees have many ideas on how to reduce operating costs but in a strictly top down working culture no one has time to visualize an upside down pyramid and listen to the people “actually doing the work.” Having to work overtime is periodically necessary in the mail business and I know many employees are willing to do whatever it takes to provide a service and help USPS succeed. An emergency is one thing, but crisis management is a destructive leadership tactic that can have a negative impact on everybody.

One manager said mail volumes are falling and they will never come back. In the next breath of smoke another manager requires mandatory overtime every single day. Do we really want to cut, control, and reduce work hours and labor costs? Are the advantages and disadvantages of OT a consideration? A quote by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer about his business probably applies to us too in today’s environment of electronic diversion resulting in billions of fewer pieces of mail per year. “We don’t have a monopoly. We have market share. There’s a difference.” You will have to draw your own conclusion whether overtime is a trick or treat.

Ronald Williams, Jr.

One Response to USPS Overtime Trick or Treat

  1. bestcarrier

    October 20, 2010 at 9:19 pm

    Looks like 36,000 equivalent FT employees translates to AT LEAST a 3% reduction in cost dollars, or about $2 billion. That’s real savings and if you add those savings to the rest of the alleged savings we should be breaking even. On the other hand, if you consider the costs of bad management, well, we all knew where the problem was! The problem may not be too many supervisors, it may be too many supervisors making costly decisions.

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