A Social Look at Canada Post

An employee’s observation of Canada Post from a social and relational point of view. Is it healthy or is it lacking?

As a previous employee of a startup advertising business for over ten years, specializing in publishing leadership and time management books,  and before that many stints within charitable organizations, the opportunity to work at the Post Office was a god-send. It would be a great place to overcome burn-out, spend time with family, and give time to publishing a book.

Little did I know how completely opposite the Post Office can be when it comes to respect in the workplace.

One must realize that Canada Post is not unlike any other Canadian large corporation which consists of good, hardworking people that want to do their best for both themselves and others around them. Of course there are a few bad apples in any corporation. Canada Post has them too, but not any more than any other company.

However the difference between Canada Post and other similar organizations is their lack of internal mechanisms to solve inter-personal conflicts.

The problems are not just manager to employee but manager to manager,  and employee to employee.

Everyone has their stories, but for me five stand out. Firstly, while in the first 3 months as a postal worker, I had an industrial accident with a small forklift. I cried out for help and saw a number of employees 30 meters away. They looked and did nothing.  Two finally after a long pause came but said they were hesitant to do so. It was because one of the other senior employees told them not to. “It is not our responsibility,” he told them.

No management official made an official report of the accident and what safety measures could have been done to avoid a similar problem. I shared with the local union leader of the accident, and how no-one wanted to assist and he questioned, “was there any injury?” “No,” I replied. “Then you shouldn’t be talking to me about this.” He refused to discuss anything after that.

On another occasion, a woman was stuck in the freight elevator. She was pressing the alarm button, screaming and pounding the walls to get someone’s attention. The freight elevator sometimes had towering heavy loads. They surrounded the operator with only a shoulder’s breadth to stand in. It was easy to scare almost anyone.

It broke down often, and so the buzzing of the alarm was largely ignored. It was the pounding, and screaming that got my attention. She was panicking and needed someone to assist and tell her everything was going to be OK. It couldn’t come from me because I am an employee who had no power to get the proper tools and people in place. She needed a corporate official to assure her. A supervisor and trainer were nearby at a desk and I notified the supervisor of the problem requiring immediate attention. The supervisor grabbed a walkie-talkie and requested technical services to attend to the elevator and continued on with her conversation with the trainer. Both refused to go to the elevator shaft and re-assure the women of the situation. Technical services did not think it a critical issue and were tardy in their response. The woman was crying. I asked the supervisor again to do something, even talk to the woman. Neither bothered to get up from their seats and attend.

Days after the situation, I placed an official complaint with health and safety about the supervisor’s lack of respect for this employee’s emotional welfare. The person in charge of the investigation concluded, “You said it happened this way, the supervisor said it that way, who am I to believe?” He shrugged his shoulders and walked away.

Managers can be very aggressive and often hostile in their everyday conversation. Sure employees are like this too, but that is to be expected, but managers should be held to a higher standard. For example, one day a group of management staff were gathered around a work area that I needed to get to. Out of respect, I waited until they would move. One of the leaders of this group saw me standing and said in front of the rest, “Charles, why didn’t you f#*!in tell us to get out of the way! Just say f#*!-off and we would move!” In other words, the manager was saying that to be rude and abrasive is an acceptable norm.

On another occasion I asked a superintendant about what appeared to be a peculiar duty that seemed contradictory to the Canada Post corporate manual. He answered in a totally paternal and angered voice, “I am giving you a direct order to to do this!” “But why?” I said and then added, “it appears what you are saying is not in accordance with the manual.” He once again responded, “Because I have told you to.” The intonation and the stern voice insinuated that even questioning is insubordination. I am not here to question, only here to do whatever I am dictated to do.

It turned from what was approached as a sincere dialogue quickly transformed into a confrontation. This was my first conversation with this person and hopefully the last.

An older female letter carrier asked me why a co-worker of mine pretended to kick her in the head. She was coming into work and was passing by this postal clerk who was leaving in the opposite direction after a full-nights work. Although she didn’t know him, she said hello as a king gesture. The man came close to her and replied with a pretend kick to the head. It shocked her and she came to me later asking me why this man would do such a thing. I couldn’t give an answer except that he was strange. We both shrugged our shoulders silently agreeing that Canada Post would do nothing about it.

It seems like an unreachable goal to develop here a culture of respect. However, it can and has been done in certain instances. One supervisor, albeit a new one at the time, whose background is from an entrepreneurial family, took it on her own initiative to establish this culture in her department. On at least one occasion the highest recorded output of machinable mail ever in that department over an 8 hour period occurred under her watchful eye.

This demonstrates that a culture of respect not only gives dignity to everyone but also pays economic dividends.

Because there are no internal mechanisms, sometimes hostile confrontations or reactions become apparent. Other times passive aggression becomes a regular occurrence. Many conflicts are originally trivial in nature, but because they are never addressed, tension grows. Often most forget the original problem and the anger and tension are the only remains that one can recall.

This, in my mind, is the number one issue in Canada Post’s future.

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