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Royal Mail: Code of Business Standards

Code

250px-royal_mail-svgAll Royal Mail employees were sent a pamphlet recently, called Our Code: Code of Business Standards.

Why it needed to repeat the word “Code” twice in the title isn’t clear.

The pamphlet is subtitled “The Royal Mail Group code of business standards and values that we all must live by.”

Thus the word “code” is repeated three times on the cover.

Is this code for something, I wonder? Does the pamphlet contain hidden meaning behind the words on its glossy pages? Are there secrets to be found?

We will have to wait and see.

On the surface it’s a fairly bland and predictable document, covering areas of conduct within the company that you would expect to see in literature of this kind.

The pamphlet is divided into two parts. Part 1: Business behaviour covers such issues as “Health and safety”, “Service to our customers”, “Commercial behaviour and compliance”, and “Security, privacy and trust” amongst others; while Part 2: Personal behaviour covers issues like “Equality and fairness”, “Managers duty of care” and “Working with colleagues”. There’s nothing in the pamphlet you wouldn’t expect to see.

The pamphlet opens with a statement of values: “Royal Mail Group’s values reflect the principles, beliefs and aspirations that guide our behaviour and shape our culture.”

It then lists what these values are:

1) We work safely

2) We have a passion to deliver for our customers

3) We have pride and care about what we do

4) We work together and treat each other fairly

5) We are trusted to succeed

6) We act commercially

The emphasis belongs to the Royal Mail.

Most of this is obvious. Some of it is a little strange. For instance, since when did delivery to customers arouse my passion? I mean, pride and care are fair enough. But passion?

“An intense, driving or uncontrollable feeling” according to my dictionary. “An outbreak of anger.” “Ardent affection; love.” “Strong sexual desire.”

I’m not really sure we should allow too much passion into our work on this basis. It could distract from the more mundane task of posting letters. Also, the fact that this is supposed to apply to our customers could easily be misunderstood. What is it we are meant to be delivering exactly? At the very least it leaves you with the strange impression of a postal worker down on his knees on your front door step as he passionately delivers your mail.

If only we had more time….

After that we are given a list of expectations. “What you can expect from us…” and “What we can expect from you…”

There’s nothing unexpected here, and fortunately, in this case, we are not expected to do anything passionate either.

Only one thing stands out. The Royal Mail promises that it will support individuals to “raise any genuine concerns”.

Well I do have genuine concerns about the way the Royal Mail is conducting its business and, from what I hear at the office, almost every other employee does too. I wonder how much the company really intends to help us in the task of raising them?

Commitments

The next part sets out our personal commitments.

We will be asked to agree to:

A) Follow the Our Code: Code of Business standards and policies &

B) Raise any serious concerns.

First of all, what strange language is this? “Follow the Our Code”? Since when did the possessive follow the definite article? It’s not even proper English, which again, makes me puzzle if there’s not some secret message behind all of this. “The Our Code” implies that the words “Our Code” have some defined meaning, separate from the one we usually associate with them, like the terms and conditions in a contract which people don’t bother to read, but which turn out to be disadvantageous to the signer.

There’s a whiff of legalese in this language.

And again it repeats that I should raise any serious concerns.

To quote:

“If you discover that the company’s standards and reputation are being put at risk by unethical or criminal behaviour, you should report the facts to a manager.” And it continues: “Of course, we realise it is not always easy reporting unethical or criminal behaviour.”

Fortunately the next section is laid out to help us with this.

It is called “Making the right decision” and it tells us that we should use this pamphlet to guide us when difficult decisions arise. “Of course, not every situation you encounter is covered: some decisions are clear cut, whereas others are more open to interpretation.”

After this it lists some questions to consider to help us in our decision.

I will quote this in full as it is important:

At some time in our working lives, it says, we all confront dilemmas about whether an action is right. If we are faced with a dilemma we are to ask our selves:

  • Is it in line with Royal Mail Group code of business standards, values and policies?
  • Does it feel right?
  • Is it lawful?
  • Will it reflect negatively on you or Royal Mail Group?
  • Would you be happy to defend your decision in public?
  • Who else could be affected by this (e.g. colleagues, clients)?
  • Would you be concerned if others knew you took this course of action?
  • Is there a better alternative action?

Closure

So now we come to the nitty-gritty: the closure of the Whitstable Delivery Office, its relocation to Canterbury and how that relates to the code.

To take the points one by one.

  • Is the closure in line with Royal Mail Group code of business standards, values and policies?

No, because later in the document it states clearly that the company is “committed to taking account of the environmental and ethical effects of our policies in our planning and operations”, and this decision will clearly have a negative impact on the environment, forcing large numbers of postal workers to drive to and from work, and adding upwards of 5,000 extra miles a week to our travelling. That’s around a quarter of a million extra miles a year, in round figures, making this decision disastrous for the environment.

  • Does it feel right?

No. The odd thing here is that, despite the fact that the company clearly states environmental concerns as part of its ethical policy, whenever you mention the environmental impact of the move they dismiss it. Commercial interests always come before environmental concerns, it seems. This smacks of hypocrisy, or of “green-washing”: making positive-sounding statements which are just covers for a policy which will have a negative impact on the environment.

  • Is it lawful?

No it is not. According to the Climate Change Act 2008, there are legally binding targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions of 80% by 2050. Air quality levels in Broad Street, Military Road and Sturry Road, are already in breach of the law, so the incursion of up to 100 private vehicles into the area, and around 50 postal vans all exiting at the same time, is bound to push those levels up even more. Of course, this is not the Royal Mail’s area of responsibility. It is up to the council to police air quality, and they have no power to stop this move, thus allowing the Royal Mail to claim “concern for the environment” while simultaneously breaching all legal obligations.

  • Will it reflect negatively on you or Royal Mail Group?

Yes it will. Customers hate this. They are very, very angry. They express their anger to us on a regular basis. Anyone who wants to measure the degree of anger and frustration felt by customers need only spend some time in the Canterbury Parcels Office when Herne Bay residents are there to pick up their undelivered mail. Unfortunately it is the ordinary staff there who hear the complaints and who sometimes have to put up with abuse, and not the senior managers who are actually responsible, who are safely cushioned from the consequences of their decision in comfortable offices far from the scene.

  • Would you be happy to defend your decision in public?

This isn’t quite clear. What decision are we talking about here? If it’s the Royal Mail’s decision to close the Delivery Office, then, no, I would not be happy to defend it in public. The opposite, in fact. I am opposed to it, and have made my views known, through a number of outlets. But if it is my decision to oppose the closure, and to do everything in my power to stop it, then, yes, I am more than happy to defend my decision in public. Let everyone hear. It is the most ridiculous, short-sighted, damaging and indefensible decision that the Royal Mail could possibly have made.

  • Who else could be affected by this (e.g. colleagues, clients)?

Everyone will be affected by this. Royal Mail staff will be forced to drive to and from work, while now large numbers of us walk or cycle, while people living around the office in Military Road will have to put up with the increased traffic and parking problems. Meanwhile Whitstable residents will be forced to travel to Canterbury to pick up their mail, or to wait until the item is redelivered, perhaps several days later. Even if customers are happy with these arrangements, there are still some categories of mail that cannot be redelivered: such as mail with an excess charge, or PO Box mail. Customers will definitely have to travel to Canterbury to collect these. Imagine the frustration of travelling to Canterbury – taking two buses, or up to half an hour’s drive each way – only to find that your excess charge mail was an item you didn’t want in the first place!

  • Would you be concerned if others knew you took this course of action?

Yes, I am deeply concerned. I am ashamed of the company I work for, making decisions which negatively impact upon its own customers, and even upon its own business interests. The cost of this move is ridiculous: at least £180,000 a year in lost wages alone, as postal workers are forced to drive to and from their rounds instead of just going out of the door and delivering, as many of them do now. This is not to speak of petrol costs and maintenance of vehicles, and the negative impact on the company as more and more customers find alternative ways of getting their mail. The Royal Mail has many rivals, but it currently has one distinct advantage over all of them: it’s network of local delivery offices in every town. Why throw away a long-term advantage for the sake of short-term profit? It doesn’t make any sense.

  • Is there a better alternative action?

Yes there is. We could keep the Whitstable Delivery Office open, thus saving hundreds of thousands of pounds in lost wages and a huge negative impact upon our customers and on the environment. Or we could open a new office, somewhere between Whitstable and Herne Bay, which would serve both towns. The company claims that this would be too expensive, that, although there are many suitable buildings available, it would cost too much to upgrade them to legal safety standards. But what’s the alternative? They will have £650,000 from the sale of the Whitstable office, a sum which would be used up in less than three years in extra costs if they go ahead with this move to Canterbury.

Invest that money in a new building and save money year on year. Keep our customers happy and our rivals from our door. Look after the environment and retain the link between postal workers and the town where they work. Stop unnecessary travelling. That is the genuine alternative.

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