If the U.S. Postal Service puts flexible workforce strategies in place, it could attract and retain a higher quality workforce and increase productivity, which could lead to an increase in revenue, according to a white paper from the agency’s inspector general.
“We found that increased work flexibility, when properly implemented, can be the proverbial win-win-win,” the report said. “The Postal Service, its employees, and its customers would all be better off with more flexible human resource policies.”
In the white paper report released Jan. 5, the OIG identified how technology has changed the way the agency operates due to the decline in its traditional business and the rise of new business opportunities as it continues to attempt to innovate itself.
The report recommended that USPS create a team featuring representatives from the agency’s management as well as general employees to pilot and evaluate new flexibility initiatives. After small groups within USPS pilot an initiative, the OIG recommended the agency conduct regular and transparent reviews of how the pilots went in order to determine whether the agency should continue the practice and roll it out to a wider employee base.
Central to all flexibility initiatives, though, was a need to improve the amount of information on the daily workload for Postal Service employees — a difficult task in the changing dynamics of the mailing world.
As first-class and standard mail revenues decline and package business from the growth of e-commerce increases, employees and managers have struggled to get an accurate idea of what a typical day looks like in today’s Postal Service. Even as the market continues to change, the mailing industry is unpredictable, the OIG said.
“The Postal Service moves 158 billion letters, magazines, direct mail advertisements and packages among 151 million delivery points and over 35,000 offices, operating to one degree or another 365 days per year,” the report said. “Management of this enterprise would be simple, if the Postal Service knew what type and quantity of mail was going between which points at which time of day, each and every day of the year.”
Yet in the era of big data, the OIG said the agency can come close.
“Armed with this information, the Postal Service could map its workforce to match these known flows of mail,” the report said. “The Postal Service should pursue technological solutions such as better analytics to better anticipate its workforce needs.”
With more data about how certain portions of the USPS workforce operate, the agency can provide more flexible work options for its employees. The OIG recommended the agency pilot the following efforts:
- Establish annualized work hours, as opposed to a standard 40-hour workweek.
- Create work or job sharing processes, allowing more collaboration between employees and the ability for some employees to cover absences of others.
- Allow employees to self-schedule or trade shifts.
- Establish a roster of supplemental employees, or recalled retirees, to be used during peak times of year and absences.
- Allow employees to maintain reduced work hours in order to deal with issues in their personal life.
The new efforts, if undertaken, would be a shift toward a “different way of doing business,” the report said. “Each of these suggestions has the potential to be piloted by the Postal Service in their retail, mail handling, delivery, transportation and mail processing operations along with its supervisory and management ranks.”
Yet that doesn’t mean flexible working will be all good news for the Postal Service. The OIG did note that potential negative outcomes do exist, but those outcomes mainly occur when employees or employers abuse the policies.
Regardless of the negative consequences, though, the agency, which employs 600,000 workers, can use the current challenges facing the workforce to innovate and change the way it operates.
“The Postal Service is at a business crossroads as traditional business declines and e-commerce transforms the very competitive marketplace to which the employees and management of the Postal Service must willingly adapt,” the report said. “Given these challenges, the Postal Service has the strategic opportunity to innovate and pilot new human resource strategies that build a partnership with its biggest asset: its employees.”