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What Is a Sense of Urgency? Musings From the Postal Tsunami

Mel Carriere is the creator of The Postal Tsunami, a blog about Postal Life, Politics, and other issues that affect Postal employees.

Are you a letter carrier with a sense of urgency?  What does that mean, and is it really your problem?

Are you a letter carrier with a sense of urgency? What does that mean, and is it really your problem?

Tuesday Morning Beat Down

I work at Bi-polar Post Office, USA. One day our manager calls us to gather around for a group hug because we are the best in the city, a week later we are running the butt-kicking gauntlet because our numbers have incurred the royal displeasure of the powers that be. Tuesday morning was one of those days.

Whether it is good or bad news, my friend JR always yells out a demand for "Donuts!" He is our station's donut coordinator. He could have picked either safety captain or donut coordinator, but he thought he could make more of a positive impact in the latter role. Any occasion, good or bad, is worthy of being feted with donuts, in JR's view.

When the request for donuts was issued forth, our manager gave us a we are not amused scowl. This was a serious situation, because we had fallen flat on our faces on a Monday. There were still Red Plum coupon books scattered around in untidy piles across the workroom floor. This mail was supposed to have been delivered on Monday, but had been deferred for Tuesday instead, and still, we had failed to make the magic numbers. No matter how hard the supervisors had worked to prod, squeeze, and manipulate reality to fit their figures, reality just wouldn't budge, so there was nothing left to do but blame us. Letter Carriers are always at the very bottom of that proverbial summit from which fecal material rotates in a downward direction, so sooner or later something lands on us with a messy splat.

I was off on Monday, so I couldn't be blamed, but that didn't exempt me from punishment. In the Postal Service, punishment is not a matter of guilt or innocence, but rather a consequence of standing in the wrong place at the wrong time, particularly downhill from that fabled sewage treatment plant with the leaky pipe, the one from which odiferous effluvium rolls according to the dictates of the laws of gravity. Anyhow, the manager started off the beat-down with a math quiz, one of her favorite techniques to get us to go faster. She always picks on Sandy for these math quizzes, probably because girls are notoriously good at math, and the boys in our office certainly aren't wearing Postal blue because we're good at it! Looking over at the Tuesday flats, she asked Sandy how long it should take us to case a foot and a half of them. Now, doing some quick math in my head, I realized the correct answer was 22 and a half minutes, but Sandy answered about half an hour. God bless Sandy for rounding up. We love her for that.

Nonplussed by the postal math not producing the intended results, the manager now turned the floor over to the supervisor, who is a grandmother, and usually treats us like we are an extended set of her grandchildren. I don't know about you, but if I am going to be grannied to death, if I have to endure an occasional spit bath and a spoonful of castor oil, I want to be spoiled too. I want her to get me good and sugared up sometimes. But that never happens.

Our surrogate grandmother commenced to give us a severe beating, as grandmas will do when they are frustrated because you are behaving badly, Mom and Dad were supposed to pick you up at ten and it's now eleven, and she wants to get her dentures soaking in a jar and go to bed. For endless minutes she ranted and raved about our abysmal failure of the day before, her conclusion being that we had neglected to measure up to her expectations because we don't have a sense of urgency.

The Postal Tsunami by Mel Carriere

The Postal Tsunami by Mel Carriere

Urgency Insurgency

Granny supervisor beat us over the head with sense of urgency again and again, like Indiana Jones flailing his bullwhip around at turbaned warriors trying to slice his head off with scimitars. The difference is that Indy's whip has some pop and some sting, because you know what it is and you know what it's made of. Sense of urgency, however, is a vague, ambiguous term, and the supervisor never took the trouble to define or quantify it.

In spite of the fact that sense of urgency sounds daunting, giving the impression that y'all better hurry your asses up or else!—just what is it? Does the expression have any basis in the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) contract? Is it listed in our M-41 handbook as a requirement of our day to day job functions? Really, is it? Somebody help.

I know letter carriers that are constantly rushing back and forth. They buzz hither and yon at light-speed, looking like they do the work of 10 people. They practically stumble over their own feet to get their mail out of the office and onto the street. But even though these Tasmanian devils of frenzied activity definitely look like they have a sense of urgency, some of them are only spinning their wheels. They return to office at the same time as everyone else, or even later, because in spite of dizzily bouncing around like a pinball they are not focused, and in reality are working less efficiently than others.

I tend to be one of these people. One time a cute clerk told me you're running around everywhere but you're not accomplishing nuthin.' Because she was cute I let her get away with this, otherwise my honor would have been gravely injured, and it would have been dueling pistols at dawn, at 15 paces.

Other letter carriers are cool as cucumbers. They glide through their routine in a graceful, smooth moonwalk, and although they look like they're taking their time, if you stop and marvel at the economical use of their God-given appendages, you see they get the job done really quickly, with a minimum of apparent effort. They never seem to sweat, although one used to say his butt crack got sweaty, sometimes. Definitely TFI. These smooth operators beat everyone to the street, and they return to office before everyone else too. How the hell do they do it? is the most frequently uttered question heard in conversations about these folks. Such carriers definitely do not appear to have a sense of urgency, but the best mailmen and women I know are of this variety.

Therefore, sense of urgency appears to be an arbitrary thing, a completely abstract concept, unrelated to productivity at all. Perhaps it is just an attempt to shame you into skipping your unpaid lunch and perhaps your breaks too, in order to squeeze the harsh reality of an overburdened route into some neat mathematical model, kind of like stuffing one of those big ships into a tiny bottle.

The bottle-squeezing flavor of the month is the new PET program, a system that tries to predict today's postal reality by demonstrating what reality has been for the last few weeks. Can a meteorologist forecast today's weather based on what happened six weeks ago? Can we really say with confidence that it is not going to rain this Friday, just because it didn't rain on Friday six weeks ago? Even the freshest CCA knows that his or her pace is going to be determined by today's completely unpredictable factors, such as accountable mail, parcel volume, weather conditions, and how long the five minute stand-up talk, where he was beaten up for not having a sense of urgency, ran over into ten, or even fifteen minutes.

The union tells us to give an honest day's work for an honest day's pay. Your supervisor may be urgently trying to get off somebody's s**t list for failing to make some imaginary, pipe-dream number, but he or she signed up for that BS, not you. Their urgency does not constitute your emergency.

Bonus Capsule - It Ain't The Giftcards, Folks

A couple of months ago I wrote an installment of the Postal Tsunami in which I commented about the drastic increase in parcel volume, then speculated on various factors that might be responsible for it, including hoarding for the Trumpocalypse. The Trumpocalypse may have been a stretch, I'll admit, maybe driving a little too fast and drunk on an expired journalistic license, but some of the comments that this speculation generated were off the mark as well.

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In particular, I received a comment that the parcel increase was strictly seasonal, not a sign of trends to come, merely a consequence of Postal Customers spending their Christmas gift cards.

Sounds like a legitimate theory, but is it true? Being a numbers nerd, in order to debunk the idea I examined the statistics I collect on my route on a daily basis. The following results were revealed:

During January through February 2016, my route averaged 88 scans daily. Through the same period of 2017, I averaged 108 scans. That is nearly a 20% increase, one year to the next. If this was only due to gift cards, the numbers should have been similar one year to the next, but 20% is a hefty boost. I think the real reason is the increase in Internet commerce, the closing of brick and mortar stores everywhere, and the economical shipping alternative that the Postal Service offers.

Furthermore, I fear the parcel volume is only going to keep going up, whether the Postal PET system - which I have serious Pet Peeves about, realizes it or not. Rather than letting us be horse whipped for our alleged lack of sense of urgency, our union should put pressure on the USPS to get busy readjusting our routes down to a manageable size, in anticipation of further parcel gains to come.

Lets face it, ladies and gentlemen. In the Post Office, every day is Christmas now.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on April 09, 2017:

Thank you rebelogilbert. I guess being given unreasonable expectations by your boss is a universal phenomenon, not just a postal one. I really appreciate you dropping by.

Gilbert Arevalo from Hacienda Heights, California on April 08, 2017:

I liked being led into part of what a postal carrier must go through in an everyday work life. I think "sense of urgency" applies to all of us. You related to everyone on this topic. Sense of urgency changes according to situation, people involved, subject of focus, mood, our interest or disinterest.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on March 21, 2017:

Thank you Linda. Hopefully not so interesting that it spoiled your appetite, or anything like that. I appreciate you always coming by with your positive, uplifting comments.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on March 20, 2017:

You have a great gift for sharing your message creatively, Mel. The imagery in this article is very interesting!

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on March 20, 2017:

Dana, when I was in management that's exactly how I spent my days off, worrying about going back to work. In spite of the impression this article gives, my work life is much less stressful now. I don't take my work problems home anymore. Whatever ridiculous falsehoods management utters just roll off me. But a hostile work environment definitely can make an employee's life miserable.

I hope you are doing well. Thanks for dropping in!

Dana Tate from LOS ANGELES on March 19, 2017:

Mel, I was so busy laughing it was hard for me to stay focused on this article. The blame game is so real in the work place and this is why the work place can be stressful. It's sad that we spend most of our lives in the work place trying to make a living and then the off days are spent dreading going back to the work place. How I envy people who love their jobs because I never had that privilege. How I envy those who do not need to work because they can scratch that off their pile of stress issues. This was a funny read.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on March 18, 2017:

Well of course they walked you on a light mail day, Latice, so no surprise there. More and more it seems there are no light parcel days, however. Thanks for reading.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on March 18, 2017:

Mills, back around 2008-2011, the Union cooperated with the Postal Service in cutting thousands of routes when mail volume was drastically low. Now the volume is back, and it seems turnabout is fair play. Thanks for dropping in!

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on March 18, 2017:

I am glad your local postal experience is still a pleasant one, Jennifer, and that flowcharts and management productivity theories have not completely ruined it. Thanks for dropping in!

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on March 18, 2017:

Bill, the great Isaac Newton was a human terminus for the principles of gravity he identified, but he was dealing with apples, not human manure. I should have been a physicist. Thanks for reading.

Latice on March 18, 2017:

During mail count I averaged 60 parcels/day, now it's 102/day

Pat Mills from East Chicago, Indiana on March 18, 2017:

I've had supervisors and managers who automatically side against me whenever someone complained, or they themselves perceived a lack of efficiency or pride in the efforts I made. Thankfully, they aren't around anymore, and they are (insert pejoratives here) for ever talking to people like that. That attitude speaks more to their ability than it does to mine. The adage that the customer is always right is baloney. The customer doesn't know everything, and those who think otherwise live in fantasy land, imposing their delusions upon us. I wish you luck in sharing your perspective with your union and superiors, but it sounds like you'd be lucky if any positive change gets implemented.

Jennifer Mugrage from Columbus, Ohio on March 18, 2017:


Fantastic rant.

I have never seen anybody reference SHTF in such an erudite manner.

Although not a mail carrier, I have occasionally encountered the "sense of urgency" slogan in other contexts, and it always makes me break out in hives.

I've also seen it posted in our local Post Office. In that context, I figure it means the employees are supposed to jump to do my every whim.

But what they actually do, which is calmly deal with each person in line while cracking jokes, is way better.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on March 18, 2017:

A classic example of shit flowing downhill to its natural terminus. How does it feel to be a human terminus? LOL I tell you, buddy, I love working for myself, but never so much as when I read something like this. Best wishes for your sanity, and thanks for sharing your pain. :)

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on March 17, 2017:

Eric, that gorgeous letter carrier definitely has a sense of urgency when she high steps it past your house. Leave your outgoing letter welded to the box with some kind of titanium clip so impossible to open she'll have to drop her satchel and use both hands. That way she will linger longer. This is Dear Abby's recommendation.

Thanks for the support. Anything you can do to wake up the Chief Exec to our desperate plight would be greatly appreciated.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on March 17, 2017:

Ramiro my friend, your butt crack is legendary, but I mean that with the utmost respect. It's good to hear from you, I thought you had fallen off the planet. Hope you are doing well.

Nobody in our station is out until 8, thank God, even though we can't fill routes because those Riverfront carriers can't hack it. Thanks for checking in.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on March 17, 2017:

Mel-- Mr. Dear Abby. I am getting an issue. Call it guilt. Is my letter so important to cause stress to the gorgeous beauty who walks my beat. Maybe tomorrow would be just in time?

I was just thinking that today as I read your post. I would be happy to join with carriers in drafting the right "put on notice" letter to the executive in chief.

Ramiro Garcia on March 17, 2017:

Hey Mell that sweaty butt crack smells like mine that was my famous saying in that office thanks for the shout out. On that Tuesday I talked to a carrier from the Riverfront office he said that a lot of carriers didnt get back until 8 pm. Keep up the great articles sorry to say but I dont miss my grandma.

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