Royal Mail: Code of Business Standards

Code

250px-royal_mail-svg

All 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 local Delivery Offices, and their relocation to cities or industrial parks, sometimes several miles away, 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 are already in breach of the law, so the incursion of up to 200 private vehicles into the area, and around 100 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 Parcels Office when 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 our decision to oppose the closures, and to do everything in our 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 will have to put up with the increased traffic and parking problems. Meanwhile residents will be forced to travel many miles 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 to collect these. Imagine the frustration of travelling several miles – 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 Delivery Offices 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. 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 current office, a sum which would be used up in less than three years in extra costs if they go ahead with this move.

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.

Advertisements

Royal Mail’s ‘neighbourly’ delivery service has a hidden cause

Staff unload vans at Royal Mail’s sorting office in Filton, Bristol one of the biggest in the UK. Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

The Royal Mail’s decision to leave undelivered mail with neighbours fits in with its policy of closing delivery offices

From the Guardian, Comment is free

Monday 3 October 2011 10.09 BST

How well do you know your neighbour? Well enough to trust him with your valuables, for instance, with confidential information, with your cup-final tickets or your passport? Well enough to allow him to receive your latest bargains from eBay or your brand new iPhone?

You’d better get to know him pretty soon, if the latest proposals by the Royal Mail are accepted by Postcomm.

Currently the Royal Mail is the only postal company not allowed to leave undelivered mail with your neighbours. Instead a 739 (“Sorry you were out”) card is left and the items returned to the local delivery office for collection.

In future, if you are not in, the postal worker will be expected to try delivering to a neighbour instead. A neighbour is defined as someone who “lives within close proximity”. It’s up to the postal worker to decide who this might be. If the neighbour accepts the item, then a 739 card will be delivered to your door detailing the address where the mail is left. If the item requires a signature, then the neighbour’s signature will be taken. If the neighbour is not at home, or refuses to accept the item, then the postal worker will return it to the delivery office in the usual way. The Royal Mail will not accept liability for loss, damage, or delay once it is in the neighbour’s hands.

According to the latest research by GfK NOP market research carried out on behalf of Consumer Focus, customers are generally suspicious of the proposals. Four out of five of those questioned said that they should be allowed to opt-out of the scheme if they wished, while nearly half (49%) said that neighbours shouldn’t be allowed to sign for recorded post. One in five people said they were unhappy for any neighbour to be given any post.

The Royal Mail states that the reason for the change in procedure is to “bring its service into line with other providers”.

That’s “modernisation” for you. Because other mail companies provide a lesser service, the Royal Mail feels obliged to reduce the quality of its service too. I always thought the idea of competition was that it would improve the service. Not so, it seems …

Actually, I think the company is being disingenuous here. I think it has little to do with saving money or with competition. Something else is going on, something you will know about if it is happening in your area, but which you will not have heard of otherwise: the large-scale but mostly hidden closure of delivery offices up and down the country.

Just to give you some idea of the scale of these closures: in the last month I’ve had notification of the impending closure of more than 10 delivery offices in the UK. This includes the closure of a number of delivery offices in the RG7 postcode area around Tadley, Hook and Thatcham and their removal to Reading, about 11 miles away. The Reading delivery office is also due to close, and the whole lot moved into an industrial estate outside the town. Also planned for closure are offices in DundeeHull, Holbeach, Fishguard, Droitwich, Guisborough, Malmesbury, Whitstable and Herne Bay.

The most high-profile closure is that of the central London delivery office in Rathbone Place, which serves W1, WC1 and WC2, which Great Portland Estates has just bought for £120m. I have to say that sounds like a bit of a bargain for a 2.3 acre site, just off the eastern end of Oxford Street, in the heart of the London’s fashionable West End. The Royal Mail operation will be moved to the Mount Pleasant office in Phoenix Place, Islington, a significant bus or tube journey away.

These are only the ones I’ve heard about in the last month. According to the Royal Mail annual report 2010-2011, 19 delivery offices closed last year. This should give you some idea of the on-going scale of the programme.

The reason news of the closures remains hidden is that the story always appears in the local paper and as yet there has been no notification in the national press. There are small-scale protests happening throughout the country, as local people are beginning to recognise the implications of the closure of their particular delivery office, but no recognition of the sheer scale of the closure programme, nor what this will cost in terms of extra journeys to and from distant offices for the nation as a whole.

Just to give you one example of this, if the Herne Bay and Whitstable delivery offices close and their operations move to Canterbury, some eight miles away, then this could mean in the region of 1.5m extra miles of road journeys per year for staff going to and from work and for customers forced to pick up their undelivered mail.

Hence the need to change procedures. While staff will have to undertake the journey regardless, customers might well prefer to risk having their mail dropped off with a neighbour rather than having to drive to some out-of-the-way office on an out-of-town industrial estate to pick it up.

Royal Mail is supposed to be a low-carbon company. As it says on the website: “We want to make sure our services have a positive impact on society and a minimal impact on the environment – and we’re working with you and our partners to make it happen. For us, sustainability affects every part of our business, every day, and we can all make a contribution.”

Meanwhile the Royal Mail are raking in vast amounts of cash for the sale of prime real estate in the heart of our towns and cities. Where will all the money go I wonder?

Read more here.

Up ↑