Postal Service

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The Postal Service is one of the USA's largest employers. In 1994, the Postal Service employed more than 800,000 workers at 352 mail processing and distribution plants and 39,392 post offices, branches, and stations in 85 districts. In 1997, 21 cases of workplace violence at the Postal Service were documented between 1983 to 1996, which resulted in the death of 40 postal workers and other victims; at least three additional cases have occurred since 1996.

In 1992, the Committee on Post Office and Civil Service of the US House of Representatives issued a report of its investigation of the 1991 shootings at the Royal Oak, Michigan, post office, where postal worker Thomas McIlvane killed four supervisors, wounded four other employees, and committed suicide. The report cited numerous Congressional hearings and reports on postal management practices. These reports repeatedly revealed the existence of an autocratic management style, which was acknowledged by Anthony M. Frank, former Postmaster General (1988-1992), on his departure. Frank said that one of his regrets was his inability to overhaul the corporate culture. He described the agency as having a "paramilitary character," wherein the question "Why do I have to do that?" often receives the answer "Because I told you to." Although improvements have been made, he said that the attitude that "I ate dirt for 20 years, now it's your turn to eat dirt," still existed among too many supervisors.

A 1994 report by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health found that (1) neither the postal industry nor postal occupations were among the groups at greater risk for workplace homicide for the period 1983-1989; (2) the occupational fatality rate for postal workers was about 2.5 times lower than that for all workers combined; and (3) the homicide rate for postal workers was about the same as the national rate for all industries for the period 1983-1993. In 1983 to 1993, however, whereas homicide was the third leading cause of job-related death for all industries, homicide was the second leading cause of postal worker deaths on the job. Also, more co-workers have been killed at the Postal Service than in other industries. The state of the work environment therefore continued to be of concern.

The Postal Service became an independent governmental organization under the terms of the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970. A 1994 report on Postal Service labour-management relations noted its accomplishments in modernizing operations and improving employee compensation, forgoing direct taxpayer subsidies, and maintaining universal service. Also, the report complemented the Postmaster General in post at the time on his efforts to implement initiatives to help build a labour-management partnership at the national level, and to make the Postal Service a more customer-driven and employee-oriented organization. In Congressional testimony in 1993, Postmaster General in post at the time cited the following initiatives in the area of labour-management relations: including representatives of unions and management associations in weekly senior leadership meetings at headquarters and major facilities across the country; conducting employee opinion surveys to measure factors related to employee commitment; holding managers and supervisors accountable for improving employee commitment; measuring executive performance through the process called "360-degree feedback," which utilizes assessments by supervisors, peers, and subordinates; and attempting to award advancement only to executives with "people skills."

However the 1994 report concluded that programs since 1982 to improve work floor relations have not changed underlying management values or systems affecting supervisor employee relationships: "Employees continue to work in vast mail processing plants and in post offices throughout the country under a highly structured system of work rules and a highly autocratic management style." In essence, no "clear framework or strategy exists for moving agreed-upon values and principles down to first-line supervisors and employees working at processing plants and post offices."

Key findings of the report included the existence of long-term adversarial labour relations between management and three of the four postal worker unions; inadequate performance management systems; "tense and confrontational" relations in mail processing plants, which are described as factories; and reliance on disciplinary processes and grievance procedures for conflict resolution. In 1992, a backlog of 38,335 grievance cases awaited resolution through arbitration; many employees could expect to wait a year or more for an arbitration resolution if cases continue to be processed at the 1992 rate. The cost of the grievance process for fiscal year 1992 alone was estimated at $200 million.

Furthermore a follow up report produced in 1997 declared that little progress had been made since the 1994 report was issued. Adversarial relations between the Postal Service and three unions continued. Between fiscal years 1994 and 1996, the number of grievances rose from 65,062 to 89,931, an increase of about 38 percent, while the number of backlogged grievances rose from 36,669 to 69,555, an increase of about 90 percent. In general, the parties blamed each other for the higher volume of grievances and large number of backlogged grievances. Also, the Postal Service and the four postal worker unions and three management associations were unable to convene a labour-management relations summit.

A book published on workplace violence classified the Postal Service as a "sick" workplace, a category characterized by chronic labour-management disputes; frequent employee grievances; an extraordinary number of injury claims, particularly stress claims; understaffing and/or excessive demands for overtime; a high number of stressed personnel; and an authoritarian management approach. The author found substantial evidence that perpetrators of workplace violence often came from such environments. Moreover, research concluded that the organizational climate is conducive to workplace violence, as a result of the impact on workers of mechanization, automation, and downsizing at the Postal Service since the 1980s. In summary, they suggested that a theoretical link exists between the management of change and recent homicides at the Postal Service. The author's felt that "The degradation of labour under conditions of rapid technological and organizational change causes a form of social disorganization that provides the external conditions for outbreaks of violence. Employees are objectified, pressured, and intimidated by the authoritarian nature of scientific management. Resultant frustration and alienation weaken employee integration and commitment to the organization, which undermines traditional forms of social control. Over time, this frustration and alienation catalyze alternative meanings and patterns of behaviour including violence." In sum, the authors blame the 'organization' of work at the postal service for the dysfunctional behaviour that often occurs there.

Questions

  1. Explain how the organization of work can contribute to dysfunctional behaviour in the workplace. Support your analysis with examples from the case.
  2. Consider an example of dysfunctional behaviour in an organization with which you are familiar. Analyse the causes of this behaviour. To what extent do you think that these causes are 'organizational' in nature?

Dysfunctional Behavior has many forms, all leading to a broad result, which is causing harm in a way or another to the organization and/or its stakeholders. This paper will present two different forms of dysfunctional behavior in two organizations.

Each example has resulted from a combination of cultural and environmental factors. We will endeavor to analyze the reasons for such negative behavior, how it started and to present the theories that suggest solutions to overcome it.

Question 1

Dysfunctional Behavior has many forms, all leading to a broad result, which is causing harm in a way or another to the organization and/or its stakeholders. This paper will present two different forms of dysfunctional behavior in two organizations.

Each example has resulted from a combination of cultural and environmental factors. We will endeavor to analyze the reasons for such negative behavior, how it started and to present the theories that suggest solutions to overcome it.

Question 1

The presented case study gives an example of dysfunctional behavior in one of the largest USA's employers. This behavior is mainly derived from the organization's culture, as well as minor influence of the environment where it exists. This part of the paper indents to highlight how the organization of work, exampled in the USA Postal Service, contributed to the dysfunctional behavior in the workplace.

Description of the Dysfunctional Behavior in the US Postal Service

Key words: Autocratic management, Weberian bureaucracy, Mechanical Structure

To understand the type of dysfunctional behavior that occurred in the US Postal Service, its symptoms, and how to remedy it, it is better to start with the sample definition of dysfunctional behavior (DB) by Giarcalone and Greenberg (1997, p. vii), being "any behavior that brings harm, or is intended to bring harm, to an organization, its employees, or stakeholders". Although this definition is broad, it encompasses the elements that are mostly affected by this behavior. Going forward in the analysis, highlights will be drawn on why and how the violence started in the workplace, and the justifying theories for that behavior, in addition to suggesting solutions to overcome this negative corporate culture.

Berkowitz argued that the organization can contribute to displays DB in one of two ways; by:

"creating social conditions that promote violence by generating aggressive inclinations" or by "lowering restrains against violent actions".

(Berkowitz, 1993, p. 281)

The first assumption by Berkowitz is more relevant to the situation of the case under study. The violence is mostly created from inside the organization, due to certain acts and misbehavior by the employees and/or their superiors, which hasn't been properly fought or streamlined, leading to building a negative culture inside the organization. In the US Postal Service, labors were suffering from autocratic culture that has been built over the years. Such culture was around management, poor work conditions, mechanical structure, and even inability to implement the restructuring initiatives when the problems where identified. This is in addition to the environment where the company operates, being spread all over the USA, requiring additional effort to unit the employees across the nation under one goal, and to properly communicate to them the vision of the company. Although it can be argued that the environment influence is minor, and that there are numerous multinational organizations operating even globally do not face the same problem, it's nevertheless imperative to note that autocratic management combined with the environment factor caused greater effect to developing this negative culture.

The above assumption can be criticized by the Burns and Stalker's (1961) theory about bureaucracy. 'They related organizational structure with environmental change to suggest that a typical bureaucracy might be an appropriate organizational form in some circumstances. For example, firms in a predictable and relatively certain environment could be managed by a predictable bureaucratic structure ... Hence the organization tends to develop bureaucratic and hierarchical structures.' (Anon, p. 12.10)

The management of the US Postal Service have implemented the Weberian bureaucracy theory, believing that rules and procedures enable the organization to function in a predictable and routine manner. (Anon, p. 12.9)

Reason/Justification for the Dysfunctional Behavior

Key word: Mechanical structure, lack of cohesiveness, Work environment

From the above description, it can be derived that these negative symptoms constituted the corporate culture inside the US Postal Service. Edger Schein's (1984) definition of Corporate Culture explains how it might have started:

"Pattern of basic assumptions that a given group has invented, discovered, or developed in learning to cope with its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, and have worked well enough to be considered valid, and therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think and feel in relation to those problems"

The definition does not talk about whether the 'invented assumptions' are correct or wrong, or whether they helped in building positive or negative culture inside the organization; it only mentioned that it helped 'cooping' with a certain problem, which can be either ways. These problems were created from the vast size of the company, attributed with centralization of the decision making in the hands of the top management and their inability to move the "agreed-upon values and principles down to first-line supervisors and employees working at processing plants and post offices". Hence, there were no cohesiveness amongst the members of the company and no clear vision on their mission. This lack of cohesiveness is evidenced by the statement made by Anthony M. Frank, former Postmaster General (1988-1992) that one of his regrets was his inability to overhaul the corporate culture.

Having pointed out the lack of cohesiveness as a form of dysfunctional behavior, moves us to talk about the second cause of this behavior being the poor working environment, which helped in promoting violence in the workplace. Many factors constitute this environment, some of which are the "nature of the task, physical setting, communication and technology" (Anon, p. 9.16). Some of these factors are inevitable and difficult to change, such the nature of the task as it is related to the operation of the company. However, the remaining factors can be improved, such as the physical setting, communication and technology. In fact, these problems were identified, as spotted in Postal Service labour-management relations report (1994) that has 'recognized modernizing operations and improving employee compensation, forgoing direct taxpayer subsidies, and maintaining universal service.' Unfortunately, as mentioned above, these initiatives failed to achieve its goal of enhancing the work environment and therefore reduce violence, due to the autocratic management.

In fact, all the precedent factors are ancillary to the main problem leading to the dysfunctional behavior; which is the autocratic style of management. The US Postal service is characterized by having mechanical structure, where all the decisions are centralized in the hand of few management at the top of the company, cascading the 'orders' to their subordinates, who in return impose them on the employees and labors.

"Robert Merton (1949) believed that bureaucracy's emphasis on control and repeatability often results in human behaviour becoming rigid and defensive ... As a result of the employees' negative attitude, clients and customers can become hostile and even aggressive. In response, employees become even more defensive and increasingly reliant on rules and procedures." (Anon, 2005 p. 304)

Suggested solutions to overcome the dysfunctional behavior and predicting outcome.

Key Words: QWL, Clear Objectives, Persuasive style, Delegation

Having described the symptoms and causes of the dysfunctional behavior in the US Postal Service, it is easier now to apply the theories that would present solutions to rectify the negative behavior.

Merton (1949) concluded that to maintain organizational control, authority must be delegated through the managerial hierarchy. Delegation may be defined as: 'The act by which a person or group of persons possessing authority transfers part of that authority to a subordinate person or group. In all organizations there must be some delegation of authority, although organizations differ in the extent to which delegation takes place.' (Anon, p. 168). In order to achieve this level of delegation, the company has to be geographically divided without increasing the hierarchical structure of the company, which will ensure that the top management have to pass the information to their subordinates and work on implementing the resolved decisions.

"As part of organizational change and restructuring initiatives, teams have been implemented for the following reasons:

  • Teams are the structural means for lean production systems, where the team has the responsibility for production, quality, and machine maintenance (Womack et al, 1990), and assists with the implementation of just-in-time (JIT), total quality management (TQM) and business process re-engineering (BPR)
  • Teams facilitate flexibility.
  • Teamwork changes the organizational design and facilitates effective decentralized organizational structures.
  • There has been a shift from leadership being seen as the manager's job to the leadership function being pushed down the hierarchy to the team at lower organizational levels. This reduces the centralised control of supervisor as controller. Increased interpersonal and team skills are required from personnel to manage teams." (Anon, 9.21)

Moreover, clear objectives have to be set on the company's overall goals, as well as the managements' endeavor to enhance the quality of working life for the employees. It is noticeable that the employees lack confidence in the organization, resulting in less cohesiveness amongst the groups at work. This is evidenced by the 'existence of long-term adversarial labour relations between management and three of the four postal worker unions'.

Peter Drucker (1955) argues that 'Objectives are needed in every area where performance and results directly and vitally affect the survival and prosperity of the business. These are the areas which are influenced by every management decision.' Drucker suggests that having objectives in key areas would allow the management of an organization to do five things, one of which being to Predict behavior.

Conclusion:

It can be concluded that the key word for the dysfunctional behavior in the US Postal Service was the autocratic style of management and poor working conditions, which has to be corrected by implementing better Quality of Working Life. Workers have to enjoy some level of self-control over their day-to-day work, which they definitely know better then the management sitting at the top of the organization.

Moreover, the labors' voice has to be heard, expressing themselves, and feeling some degree of recognition and participation in directing their own ship.

Question 2

Environment and culture of XYZ Egypt

The second example of dysfunctional behavior that will be presented is for a personal experience that I faced in one of the largest financial institutions in the world, which for the sake of confidentiality and professionalism, will be named XYZ Bank. It is sufficient to hint that this Bank is ranked amongst the largest 3 financial institutions in the world. I joined XYZ Bank, Egypt Branch, in 1998, as a relationship manager in the corporate banking, unfortunately when the whole country was heading towards recession that lasted till 2003.

At that time, the economy was suffering from the monetary policy set by the government to cap the Egyptian Pound (E.P.) at 3.4 against the US Dollar, whilst its fair value was around 5.9, which created a parallel market for the hard currency, that was locally known as the black market.

The overall downturn of the economy made the financial system skeptical about expansions, as many borrowers defaulted on their liabilities a declared bankruptcy, or rescheduled their dues. What made things even worse, that the government has suddenly floated the E.P., which resulted in its sever devaluation beyond the fair value, reaching 7.25 against the US Dollar.

Adding to this the consequences of 9/11, the environment was turbulent, and uncertainty was rounding even the existence of the Bank, especially that the main competitor Citibank has shrunk its presence to simple representation. This situation has left little room of growth for financial institutions and therefore their employees.

On the internal front, employees were feeling unsecured, with the probability of being laid-off, in addition to almost no chance of growth, and escalating the managerial ladder. This feeling has pushed the Bank's Chairman in 2001 to invite all employees to a reception where he declared that there will be no downsizing, nor lay-offs. The announcement gave relief and commitment towards the Bank.

In the coming few paragraphs, it will be justified why, despite this management support, there has been a dysfunctional behavior that led to 30% of the middle management voluntarily leaving their job despite the efforts made to retain them. It will also be described how this dysfunctional behavior is mostly organizational in nature, with little influence from the environment.

Description of the Dysfunctional Behavior in XYZ Egypt

Key word: Recession, Mechanical structures

By 2003, the recession was coming to an end in Egypt as well as the rest of the Middle East (particularly the Gulf countries), with unseen rates of growth and economic recovery. The employees, having sustained the dry period, were hungry for promotions and more income after almost 6 years of stagnation. However, the Bank's top management, being experienced and having seen multiple economic cycles, were conservative about the sudden boom, and preferred to prudently step into new areas of finance. As a result of the above confrontation between the two views, as well as the inability to promote 'everyone' at the same time, around 30% of the corporate middle management left the bank in 3 months for the local competition as well as some Gulf Banks. I personally left for XYZ branch in the United Arab Emirates.

In brief, the organization was characterized by being mechanical, with fixed structure, and of course very responsive to its environment.

Reason for the dysfunctional behavior

Key Word: Demotivation

Before stepping into identifying the reasons for the above described behavior, it is better to start with the definition of motivation being: 'a state arising in processes that are internal and external to the individual, in which the person perceives that it is appropriate to pursue a certain course of action (or actions) directed at achieving a specified outcome (or outcomes) and in which the person chooses to pursue those outcomes with a degree of vigor and persistence' (Rollinson, 1998: 148).

What happened in XYZ Egypt was the contrary. The management failed to understand the needs of 'self estimation' for the employees. The latter have admitted the effort of the bank to ensure their security, however, their feelings were distorted by many other factors such as the need for salary increases, promotions, involvement in decision making ... etc. Hence, Rollinson's definition of motivation was not completely achieved in the eyes of the employees. They didn't find a driver to continue working and perform.

Management's response to the slowdown of work pace was spontaneous. They've admitted that the Bank was sustaining the recession and maintaining acceptable level of growth against the poor economic conditions. Hence, they repeatedly increased the salaries with small percentages, to keep the staff satisfied, and to make them feel appreciated. Over a period of 18 months, salaries were almost doubled, yet the middle management was not motivated as they were looking for participation in developing the Bank's strategies.

Maslow's theory of human motivation, describes the status of these middle management in XYZ Egypt. His theory states that, on average, individuals are motivated by a desire to satisfy certain specific needs, which can be classified into five major groups: Physiological, Safety, Belonging, Esteem and Self-actualization. (Anon, p. 8.8).

According to Maslow's theory, the 1st, 2nd and 3rd levels were achieved. The Middle management had acceptable income that secured decent standard of living, enjoying some levels of power and control over junior staff, in addition to being part of a well renowned organization which gave them the prestige in their society. However, they were still aiming towards feeling the importance of their existence and participating in driving the business' strategy. "The study of motivation in organizational behavior is the study of the processes of organizational influence and a study in the exercise of power and control" (Anon, p. 8.15).

The trap where the top management fell into was their perception of commitment. They looked at the majority of the staff who were with low experience, and consequently underpaid. Increasing their pay committed them to the Bank. However, the top management had to increase the salaries, as a policy, cross the board, which shifted the consumption curve of the middle management beyond their necessities, leading to direct their attention towards more management powers and fast promotions. When not achieved, they left the Bank with the first sign of opportunity that showed to them.

Solution for the dysfunctional behavior:

Key word: Team restructuring

After having lost 30% of the second line of management, the CEO and the Head of HR came up with a solution to help motivating this niche of Staff, and it has worked well. By the beginning of 2004, the market was recovered from the recession, and was heading for the boom. In the mean time, the global trend in banking was moving towards retail rather then corporate, with a strategy to divide the risk amongst a wider base.

The CEO adapted the idea of 'supermarket banking', where he intended to open a series of small branches to cover the whole nation. In each branch, a 'branch manager' would be appointed, under whom reports few junior staff and supervisors. The CEO wisely used the managers from the corporate banking side to fill in these new managerial positions, under the supervision of Regional Heads for each geographical zone. He motivated them to perform under their existing roles in corporate banking to be 'promoted' to 'branch managers'. He aligned the individual goals of the middle management with the goal of organization, which has been a key success in rectifying the behavior of the Bank.

Conclusion

The environment gave the first ignition for the dysfunctional behavior in XYZ Egypt, which was then flamed by the organization's mechanical and fixed structure. The solution as well came from the organization itself, as evidenced by having the environment constant, and offering the same challenges.

Final Conclusion:

From the above two examples, it can be concluded that dysfunctional behavior has many forms; ranging from lack of cohesiveness, to lack to motivation, and others. However, all leading to the same result which is as broadly defined above; causing harm to the organization or its stakeholders.

References

  • Anonymous, Master's Degree in Business Administration Module 1, Unit 1, Edition 12
  • Drucker, P. (1955), The Practice of Management, Harper and Row, New York.
  • Edgar H. Schein's 'Coming to a new awareness of organizational culture", Sloan Management Review, Winter Edition, 1984.
  • Giacalone, R.A. and Greenberg, J.(1997), Antisocial Behavior in Organizations, Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks CA.
  • Merton, R.K. (1949), Social Theory and Social Structure, Free Press, Glencoe.
  • Rollinson, D., Broadfield, A. and Edwards, D.J. (1998), Organisational Behaviour and Analysis, Addison-Wesley, Harlow.
  • Womack, J.P., Jones, D.T. and Roos, D. (1990), The Machine that Changed the World, Macmillan, New York.

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