Detoxifying the USPS Staff Infection

Written by Ronald Williams, Jr.
For Postal Employee Network

The threat of an Ebola outbreak got nothing on the fear exemplified in the postal work environment. Once this reading is over the real discussion must begin. This is the kind of substance that should be written, studied, and shared by Employee Assistance Program bosses, Inspector General directors, and senior managers rather than an individual like me with little control of working observations. Someone please speak truth to power in the boardroom with members of the C-Suite (CEO, COO, CIO, CFO). Somebody in a governing role should tally and present the toxic examples to the constituency. Add potential root causes, and share specifics down to the stress on the workroom floor. Confirm to blue employees that the radio station WII-FM (What’s in it for me) is playing loud and clear. A warm and dry command climate must be forecasted before hyping high numbers, strategy, budget, and culture.

The average employee is proud of this organization and its mission to accept, process, sort, and deliver mail. But, many are not too proud when they secretly hotwash the destructive chameleons in their divisions of the Postal Service in the parking lot before and at the end of tour. Rhetorical questions for administrators, does pay-for-performance distract the bigwigs from paying proper attention to office dignity and respect? Are undisclosed or hidden financial rewards associated with the push for high numbers? In the case of rank and file, is there a need for a detox of over sufficient frustrating work situations?

Climate is determined by measuring average patterns of working conditions created by behaviors of organizational leaders. It is directly linked to the people in charge driving high numbers off the backs of the employees holding up the ladder to their success. Are bosses with formal/informal hostile conduct complaints up the wazoo blessed to continue if associated with high scores? Culture is the sum of attitudes, customs, and beliefs transmitted up and down the lines of authority. A work culture based on fear and intimidation leads to minimum time and devoted effort to get through the workday. Respectful employee engagement creates the right working environment if the appointed senior leaders will appropriately own it.

Employees in the rank and file can present a different challenge. Often the noxious level increases when the leader pits worker against worker to achieve goals. An ineffective practice encouraging employees to compete for perceived benefits, or special favors from the incompetent toxic head. A healthier form of rivalry would be measuring our business appetite among our competitors outside the facility, or in the same industry to create win-win results. Employees verbally/physically battling each other over positional authority, past relationships of buddy to boss, the dominant nationality, acting as the peer group boss-of-me, and those who observe hostility until it personally hits home only fuel the poisonousness.

Managers should not get sucked into the task of performing craftwork. Employees accept that most postal managers rise from craft silos and are promoted to supervise people, and manage things. Shift your paradigm, review and honor labor agreements, roll down your sleeves, and get off the field, or find the workforce a new manager. Being the toxic buffer between hostile superiors and retranslating venom to the team is not conducive to good work order and discipline. Jumping in to perform trade work means you no longer have time to pay attention to the importance of strategy required to process and distribute the product. With gloves on your hands no longer are you able to focus on the individual team member impacts, the errors on the field preventing creditable output, and providing positive reinforcement.

Baseless rants spewing verbiage like: Get that machine running now! I expect 25,000 pieces per hour! That machine is capable of 40,000 pieces per hour throughput! I have to be number #1 in the nation! Where are all your people? Mocking facial expressions, and engaging in lip service hurt more than help. Hiding behind numbers results in the Emperor not wearing any clothes when personnel don’t have equipment, managers don’t have a plan, no technical understanding of the roadblocks, but insistent on unrealistic expectations. The only numbers likely to increase are the statistics associated with threats of the nuclear option resulting in discipline, and hassles associated with unscheduled absences, workplace injuries, and use of protected leave.

Here are a few solutions for those listening to target detoxification.

  • Suck it up, leave it, or change it. Many suck it up, not many people appear to be leaving, maybe its time to change it by chipping away at the iceberg.
  • The agency Office of Inspector General should evaluate the climate and culture.
  • Everyone has a responsibility to report it! Even if you have to skip levels of direct reports to have your voice heard.
  • Take care of yourself to avoid illness, on-the-job accidents, and associated stressors from an unsafe and toxic environment.
  • Unions and management associations ORGANIZE against toxic environments.
  • Regular town hall assemblies to address employee concerns and not just what management cares about. Lawful policies concealed in corporate manuals are useless if not enforced and discussed with the workforce.
  • Mandatory new employee and annual update forums with all employees through senior leadership presentations and discussions not limited to: C-Suite, Facility managers, Postmasters, EEO managers, Management association/Union officials, Inspector General/Postal Inspectors, to discuss fresh business information and expectations of postal employee citizenship.

There is no player hater venom here, just a convincing belief that no one in postal management will ever listen, or accept constructive feedback. It’s okay; activists got forums like the Postal Employee Network to vent. Until workers sniff out the toxic operatives at all levels from the work environment the workplace will remain toxic. No one wants to feel like a dog in the wild, or have to run from a wild dog on the workroom floor. For blue and white collar perpetrators out there, don’t try to act like you didn’t see this feedback coming. Time to surrender your toxic flag, because you will never get respect until you give respect. Sometimes change has to happen from the bottom up. To the team players, remain true to yourself and the commitment to positively changing our postal blue culture before toxicity drives this company off the cliff.

Keep the faith,

Ronald Williams, Jr.

Review other outspoken/courageous accounts through the following links:

Podcasts like