There’s Madness in the Methods

“A postal duty is, in effect, a four hour intensive workout, and it gets increasingly difficult the older you get. Any further pressure on delivery staff is likely to leave us suicidal.”

Deliveries are now made with trolleys Credit: ITV

According to the Daily Telegraph, “American activist investors” – who are becoming the main buyers into Royal Mail – believe that the company “could execute deeper cost cuts and yield far bigger profits”.

Staff costs are one of the areas being looked at.

“The productivity improvement rate is really pretty low, given the amount of new technology at the company,” said a source. “Now 80% of mail is sorted by technology, yet the productivity costs have only come down marginally in comparison. The company could be far more aggressive on driving the costs savings through.”

We all knew this would happen. The pressure will soon be on to cut staff numbers and to increase workloads in order to improve productivity.

But I can tell you now that this is just not possible, at least where delivery duties are concerned. When Panorama did a programme about the Royal Mail in 2009, it arranged for former Royal Marine and military fitness expert Tony Goddard to test a duty. He was unable to finish it in the allotted time, saying that it was “unreasonable” to expect postal workers to do it five days a week.

A postal duty is, in effect, a four hour intensive workout, and it gets increasingly difficult the older you get. Any further pressure on delivery staff is likely to leave us suicidal.

However, there is some truth in the assessment. The productivity improvement rate is, indeed, pretty low given the amount of technology that has been introduced. There’s a reason for this. It’s called “Methods”.

This is the internal name for the modernisation programme which the company has been undertaking since 2009. It involves the scrapping of bikes and their replacement by trolleys: two postal workers working out of the back of a van using customised golf trolleys, carrying two bags apiece.

The ostensible reason for the new method is so that we can carry more packets: packets being the new growth area within the postal business. However, it is also considerably slower than using a bike. Just to give you a measure of this: my round used to take around three hours and fifteen minutes. Under Methods we are supposed to manage our rounds in four hours. That’s already forty five minutes longer than before. However, there is never a day when we can complete the round even in this time, often going as much as an hour over. In other words, the new method is at least a third slower than the old method.

It is also much more tiring. Using a bike we were constantly changing position: sometimes walking, sometimes scooting, sometimes cycling, sometimes freewheeling down a slope. All we do now is four hours or more of relentless walking, mile after mile: around twelve to fifteen miles a day. My hips and my back ache from the strain and all I can do when I get home these days is to eat my dinner and fall asleep in front of the telly.

Slowing down the work while making it harder: I wonder whose bright idea that was? The reason it’s called “modernisation” and not “a big pile of shit” is that it is being modelled through a computer. We’ve replaced an old technology – bikes – which were very efficient at delivering the mail, with a new technology – computers – which are very efficient at measuring the process. We’ve privileged the needs of the office over the needs of the job. Now you tell me which is more useful in an industry whose sole purpose is the delivery of mail?

It’s a pity they never thought to ask us posties. We would have told them that it wasn’t going to work. TNT – one of the rival mail companies currently experimenting with end-to-end delivery in some parts of London – do so using bikes, while Deutsche Post has recently been testing electric bikes on the streets of Berlin.

The reason the CWU went along with the new method is that it was supposed to take the weight off our shoulders. In fact it has done the opposite: it has put weight onto our shoulders, as in an effort to get the work done on time, many posties are now dispensing with the trolleys.

But the real measure of the insanity of this is that despite the fact that it was extensively trialled, and that it has consistently shown itself to be slower and more costly than the old method, it has nevertheless been rolled out throughout the country.

This is the reason why the productivity improvement rate is so low, despite the amount of new technology being deployed. If “activist investors” really wanted to improve productivity, then they could start by bringing back the bikes. After that, they might consider reducing staff numbers by getting rid of everyone who thought that “Methods” was a good idea in the first place. That includes Moya Greene.

27 thoughts on “There’s Madness in the Methods

Add yours

  1. true in some ways, altho depending how far out the office your delivery is, bikes can’t always be used. vans and trolleys are a lot easier than hiking back and forth to drop off points and bag boxes, waiting for drivers to drop bags off, and carrying massive bagfuls because of inconvenient drop off points etc. pros and cons

  2. This exactly what all posties (and the public) have been saying for the last year. Now all Moira says is we are getting bettter! But as we are now carrying all packets, the postie who used to take them in his van now has no job theres a saving there . Also look at those “poor Amazon workers” who have to walk 10 miles over 10 hours.NeedI say more?

  3. I don’t know where you’re working Sarah but our Rounds (inclusive of cycling out and bag-drops) ‘evolved’ with the input of the Postie whose round it was.. Then they brought in the ‘planners’ with their ‘programmes’.. Oh, and then they sold our Delivery Office (ahead of Privatisation, see what they did there?) and moved us 20 mins driving time away (and this despite a 10,000 petition opposing the move). Make It Up? Make It Up You Couldn’t.

    1. they’ve just made all the jobs too big. if you didn’t have to knock on any doors, you’d probably be fine, but they didn’t take into account the increase in parcels, and they won’t back down and allow the time for that. planning walks with computers was never going to work, there are too many factors other than just distance covered to be taken into consideration. too often people who are supposedly well-educated are markedly lacking in basic common sense

      1. Sarah, but the whole point of Methods is that it was supposed to take account of the increase in parcels. That’s it’s very raison d’etre. I think, as I say in my piece, computers were fine for the measurement of the process, but it should have involved consultation with us in designing the walks. That would have been the common sense approach.

    2. They sold our delivery office too Graham. I think that’s the real reason for Methods. Once we’re all in vans they can move us wherever they like and cash in on the real estate bonanza that follows now it’s privatised.

  4. I too thought using vams and trolleys would be easier on my back. But, no. Where I work, I can’t use the ‘golf carts’ because there are steps along the pavement, never mind the stairs up to maisonettes. We still have a duty that takes out the biggest parcels in a separate van, so I don’t think our office is in danger of losing jobs. especially as Roy says, the days’ delivery span is now at least an hour longer than it used to be.

  5. Cycles are the only method which truly take weight off the shoulders. Pushing/Pulling either a Lightweight Trolley or the Pram type trolleys will always create more pressure on the mechanical workings of the human frame. To do this one day a week let alone five is going to create a medium/long term nightmare for Royal Mail in terms of man hours lost to sickness/stress related illness. These investors should be worried scared about future profits in a company that is failing in the care of duty to it,s employees, which will come back to bite them.

    1. I agree with you MJR. It’s horses for courses, isn’t it? Bikes where they are appropriate and other methods where they are not. Those German power-assisted electric bikes look like the solution to a lot of problems to me. Personally I’ve slowed down since Methods was brought in. I always used to try to finish: but no more.

  6. Never used bikes at my office it would never work. The principle of covering the ground once carry packets is sound. In practice its more time consuming. Time has never been built in for the knocking on doors. The speed parameters are flawed everything takes much longer than we are told. Age was never taken into account, obviously the older you are the less fit your gonna be for the majority of people. If walks are too big outside the prep is likely to take longer than planned.
    The Special deliveries also take there toll when you break off to deliver by 1pm. This adds extra time to complete a delivery. Now we have tracked items, adding adding the extra activity of scanning the item etc, all extra time.
    It is a constant up hill struggle with little or no support from management. This adds pressure and increases work related stress absenteeism which has increased in my office. The solution has been oh lets just carry on making us workers more stressed and increasingly frustrated with the job we used to love.
    Good will used to be endless where I work, now its down to a trickle.

    I only pray that all this changes for the better, but I shall not be holding my breath for that to happen.

    1. Tony, see my answer to Dave, below. Bikes are not appropriate in all circumstances, but they are in some. The problem with Methods is that it has been introduced without reference to the people who have to implement it. And you’re right about good will. I always used to try to finish my round, even at Xmas, but no more. I cut off exactly at my time these days. All the good will is gone.

  7. Transformation has been a success in our delivery office, at least after several reviews and alterations. Initially, the workload was 15% too high on Wednesday and Thursday each and every week. Now mail has decreased we can comfortably complete 4 hour and 30 minute duties and have the delivery methods to handle the parcels. Vans have given us greater flexibility too; we wouldn’t want to go back to bikes.
    Now the duties need to be re-planned by people; to improve on the loops designed by planners with computers. The bigger cost savings, for activist investors will come when we go to 5-day deliveries, Monday to Friday.

    1. I think this is what annoys me Dave, that they’ve gone ahead and designed these walks with no reference to the people who actually know what they’re doing, ie us. I could happily work from the back of a van if I was given some sort of input into designing the walk. I think two people doing short loops from the van would make sense, but some of our loops are over an hour and 20 minutes long. It’s absurd as there still isn’t enough room for the packets. I sort of half agree with you about the bikes. The ones being introduced by Deutsche Post are power assisted bikes, meaning that they would take the weight off our legs, plus be more environmentally friendly. What we need are systems apt for the terrain, not the one-size-fits-all system that Methods has introduced.

    2. i believe it can be a success as long as they allow us enough time to do the job, including time for van checks and the like, instead of expecting people to rush around like blue-arsed flies and treating everyone as if they were perpetually trying to skive off. i think the idea was to model the job on production line standards, which isn’t workable

      1. It’s the standardisation that annoys me. Every postie knows that all the walks are different. It’s down to the terrain. We need the appropriate method for the particular terrain. Sometimes vans and trolleys, sometimes bikes, sometimes other methods. We need to be adaptable to the individual round. That’s why production line methods can’t work. Every day is different, every round is different, every town is different, and this attempt to impose a standard model on the whole workforce is just plain stupid.

  8. well, that’s exactly what i mean, roy, when i say that supposedly educated people are markedly lacking in basic common sense

  9. A powerful and incisive piece. ‘Activist investors’ is an interesting euphemism for self-serving exploiters determined to maximise their dividend. A lot of ghastly euphemisms come into play in relation to the theme of business efficiency in public services: ‘service implementation’, ‘lean thinking’, ‘commercialism/commercialisation’ … All these labels really mean is softening services up for privatisation and preparing the workforce for creeping corporate fascism. Tony Goddard’s honesty in relation to the experiment in which he participated is refreshingly honest.

    1. Preparing the workforce to do more work for less of a share of the dividends, that is the only meaning and purpose of privatisation. The rest is just a cover story. Thanks for your comment Andy. I just wish we could do something to stop the process.

  10. As a Postie of 15 years service myself I agree with the above we go in 45 mins early have no break and we are then expected to do part of another round aswell as are own delivery they call this lapsing . I call this slave labour , managers bonuses are based on office savings that leads to bullying and a lack of respect to all those who make the company work , the company is a joke anyone asking me if there are jobs I tell them not to bother it’s a piss taking job now

  11. I am nearly 60 and have had to leave Royal Mail as it was killing me. I have lost my full pension etc. This is now an ongoing problem for RM as those who did the job can no longer do so and those they recruit stay long enough to get a decent reference and are off by thirty.

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