Postal Pacification

Despite the popularity of the phrase "going postal," the people who sort and deliver mail are no more likely to perpetrate or experience physical assaults than other workers, concluded a recent study by Columbia University researchers.

Postal workers are, in fact, less likely to face those dangers than are retail clerks in warehouse stores.

Still, the Postal Service indisputably had problems in the 1980s and early '90s, when violent acts by disgruntled workers tarnished its reputation. Much was said about a workplace marked by surveillance of workers, authoritarian bosses, and reams of employer grievances.

The Postal Service still has a high rate of complaints, but the agency has been doing something about that. Over the past two years, it has launched a program that uses outside mediators to deal with disputes. This has been remarkably successful.

Eighty percent of the more than 17,000 informal grievances handled by mediators have been settled. The number of formal grievances has been cut by a third.

In essence, employees and supervisors have simply been led to talk out their differences, with a mediator's help. More often than not, the issues are resolvable. Sometimes all that's needed is an apology.

Many other companies are now studying the Postal Service's approach. It could become a model for effective employee relations.

But it could be even better, in the view of the Columbia research team. And Postmaster General William Henderson promises further steps.

Who knows, "going postal" may yet get a totally different meaning.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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