By Ralph Nader
Dear Mr. Donahoe,
When we met, I noted the U.S. Postal Service’s Voice of the Employee (VOE) form. In that conversation, you indicated that you were unfamiliar with various postal workers or unions having concerns about the implementation of the Voice of the Employee survey. Nor did you indicate any information about postal employees feeling as though the feedback they provide in these surveys falls upon deaf ears.
In 2010, the U.S. Postal Service received a response from 340,000 employees to the Voice of the Employee survey. This totals to 59 percent of those surveyed. During our conversation, you seemed perplexed about postal employees’ negative feelings about the Voice of the Employee form. Perhaps the following will help to refresh your memory on some of the events of the recent past that may be creating this negative sentiment and causing a mediocre response rate on these important feedback forms.
In 2005, the American Postal Workers Union published an article in which they questioned not only the method in which the employee feedback was collected, but also how the U.S. Postal Service manipulated the data and used the flawed information. In this article, the APWU provided examples of postal supervisors requiring employees who did not complete forms to return the uncompleted survey forms to management. The APWU pointed out that this created a situation in which managers could fill out the blank forms to achieve the desired results and mail them back to Postal Service headquarters.
Furthermore, the APWU revealed that in some cases, managers even summoned employees who had not completed their VOE forms to the supervisor’s office to answer the questions verbally. It should go without saying that neither of these practices will result in genuine employee feedback. And in neither situation can the surveys be considered voluntary or confidential. If these are the sort of results you achieve by rewarding managers for higher response rates, perhaps you should rethink this system. Despite what any guidelines say about how to implement the VOE survey, this reward system clearly creates incentives for managers to intimidate employees into responding to the VOE forms and even for manipulating the results.
Despite these distorted results, the APWU reported that the U.S. Postal Service used the results from the VOE surveys during contract negotiations, interest arbitrations, and to justify assertions that employees supported the USPS’s wage proposals. For all of these reasons, the APWU called for its members to boycott the VOE survey. In 2009, the National League of Postmasters urged its members not to fill out the form, citing the continued deterioration of postmasters’ work situations despite the VOE survey.
You should be dismayed as to how the USPS has used employees’ distorted survey results in the past to justify its own organizational goals rather than to respond to the feedback from its employees, improve their working conditions, or adapt to their responses.
Despite the low response rate, the previous years’ coercion of postal employees, and the potentially distorted results, your 2011 Voice of the Employee survey results show that nearly half of respondents did not feel “confident in the ability of senior management to make the decisions necessary to ensure the future success of the Postal Service.” And only 39 percent of respondents believed that the results of the survey would be used to improve the Postal Service.
In light of this feedback, what does the U.S. Postal Service plan to do in the future to be responsive to its employees’ concerns and elicit employees’ suggestions? What measures has the USPS taken to respond to the incidents of employee coercion and intimidation into answering the VOE survey? How has the USPS attempted to curb supervisors’ manipulation of VOE survey responses?
Does the U.S. Postal Service have a system, once the VOE’s are collected, for processing the results of the survey and determining the appropriate changes that need to be made in response to employees’ feedback? How does that system work? Does the USPS summarize the responses to the Voice of the Employee surveys in any internal annual report that it makes available to employees? What has the U.S. Postal Service done in the past several years in an attempt to be responsive to employees’ feedback and highlight the most compelling criticisms and suggestions from the VOE survey?
Attached, please find a copy of the 2011 fiscal year Voice of the Employee results. I look forward to your response.