I’m very happy we’ve workshopped this today

Royal Mail management is hiring 30,000 temporary workers, not to replace Royal Mail’s own workers who are going on strike – which would be illegal – but ‘to clear any backlog that might develop’.

Peter Mandelson is beyond sour: he’s curdled. He says “gale-force change” is needed for Royal Mail and drops all sorts of nasty hints about various Royal Mail customers shopping elsewhere in future. Well, we’ve come to expect that from him. Nick Clegg, Liberal Democrat leader, backs Royal Mail’s managers: he says “taking the whole country hostage like this is the wrong thing to do”. Hoped for more from you there, Nick, I really did. I can’t find anything that says what the official Tory line is, but I’d be amazed if they’re backing the strikers. Finally, various private companies are lining up to take swipes.

Anyhow, I took a tour of a new-ish Royal Mail sorting facility a few years back. Think of me as one of those venture capitalists – I like to get a feel for the way a place runs, see how many cars are in the parking lot after hours, that sort of thing. Yes, it’s anecdotal evidence. Yes, my prejudices will be showing.

The facility was explicitly divided into two halves; the sorting side (basically one huge shed) and the management offices and staff welfare side. The security team had its own special room with a separate route in and out of the building (apparently to protect them from intimidation). Thieving from the mail does seem to be a concern. On touring the cloakroom I saw an employee hiding behind a row of coats; she stood very still while we were there, perhaps hoping that the group I was in would just go away. Which is exactly what we did. Maybe she was just bunking off, or maybe she was going through pockets; hard to say.

At the time of our visit, the sorting side was more or less deserted; it seems that sorting and delivery workers start early, then a whole bunch of them go out to deliver the mail they’ve just sorted. There was some machinery visible, but it was not, shall we say, a fully mechanised facility. The management side (furnished with colourful blobby chairs and break-out spaces) was busy in the sense that office workers were present. Some of them were in meeting rooms. I saw a sign on one of the meeting room doors. It said: ‘role play training in progress, do not disturb’.

From my recollection of seeing things first hand, and from what I’ve read recently, I’d say the situation at Royal Mail is like this. Relations between workers and management are terrible; the workers mistrust the management to the extent that any change to process (typically through mechanisation) is strongly resisted. On the other hand, Royal Mail ‘management’ have assembled plenty of padding between themselves and the hard, on-your-feet-all-day stuff; I suspect many of them are just going through the motions, or are doing make-work, all the while shirking the task of building a sense of common purpose. If my little vignette here is at all true to life, you have an industrial disaster in the making. And I would not lay blame on the strikers before looking hard at how other people in that organisation have been conducting themselves.

And it would be a shame to see Royal Mail stumble or fall, because I suspect there’s some good culture there worth saving. For instance, I’d much rather have Royal Mail deliver my internet purchases (yes, the internet will put Royal Mail out of business for sure) than the clown outfit called Home Delivery Network. The postie has some local knowledge; he or she likely knows you a bit, may even know that you’re out, and probably has figured a safe place to leave your package so that you don’t have to go through the redelivery mill.

I have to say the subsidised canteen was excellent, but would worsen your health if you ate there every day.

4 thoughts on “I’m very happy we’ve workshopped this today

  1. Fully agree with your assesment. Although you sound flattering. I worked there a few years ago at head office dealing with sorting offices and it is worse than you can imagine.

  2. Personally, I placed a great deal of weight on ancedotal evidence. IME, it tends, from decent observers, to cut to the truth. Your description seems – in so far as I can tell – to be sound.

    The thing is, RM is just another company. There are the good, the bad, those getting better, those getting worse. RM historically were very harmful, because they had the monopoly – and I would say, in fact, that monopoly may well be, in the end, the root of their current failure, the situation you describe.

  3. Hmm. Ask about the Royal Mail in a local internet forum here in Edinburgh and you’ll be deluged with complaints about it: about postmen who steal your mail, who pretend you’re not in because they didn’t bother to bring your post, who’re thick as mince, who go on wildcat strikes every other week, and so on and so on. I’ve had plenty of bad experiences with them myself and the staff handling the complaints are aggressively unhelpful (“Well what do you expect me to do, go and look for your package?!”)
    I’ve had equally bad experience from Home Delivery Network of course, that goes without saying, but no worse than from the Royal Mail.

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