Then I get a short email from Will ordering me to read this from the London Review of Books. It is brilliant. You should all read it too. Here is the voice of reality, a picture of the world that ordinary workers inhabit, it is about day-to-day life experience, something that mangers can seldom even imagine. Though the article highlights something else as well - not ignorance but mendacity.
According to Royal Mail figures published in May, mail volume declined by 5.5 per cent over the preceding 12 months, and is predicted to fall by a further 10 per cent this year ‘due to the recession and the continuing growth of electronic communications such as email’. Every postman knows these figures are false. If the figures are down, how come I can’t get my round done in under four hours any more? How come I can work up to five hours at a stretch without time for a sit-down or a tea break? How come my knees nearly give way with the weight I have to carry? How come something snapped in my back as I was climbing out of the shower, so that I fell to the floor and had to take a week off work?He provides a simple answer:
Mail is delivered to the offices in grey boxes. These are a standard size, big enough to carry a few hundred letters. The mail is sorted from these boxes, put into pigeon-holes representing the separate walks, and from there carried over to the frames. This is what is called ‘internal sorting’ and it is the job of the full-timers, who come into work early to do it. In the past, the volume of mail was estimated by weighing the boxes. These days it is done by averages. There is an estimate for the number of letters that each box contains, decided on by national agreement between the management and the union. That number is 208. This is how the volume of mail passing through each office is worked out: 208 letters per box times the number of boxes. However, within the last year Royal Mail has arbitrarily, and without consultation, reduced the estimate for the number of letters in each box. It was 208: now they say it is 150. This arbitrary reduction more than accounts for the 10 per cent reduction that the Royal Mail claims is happening nationwide.
Doubting the accuracy of these numbers, the union ordered a random manual count to be undertaken over a two-week period in a number of offices across the region. Our office was one of them. On average, those boxes which the Royal Mail claims contain only 150 letters, actually carry 267 items of mail. This, then, explains how the Royal Mail can say that the figures are down, although every postman knows that volume is up. The figures are down all right, but only because they have been manipulated.
Who can honestly say that they have never experienced lousy decisions justified by dodgy data? And this can easily be made to happen if the real knowledge of the people who actually do the job, and who are often closer to the customer, is discounted, dismissed and labelled with words such as 'dinosaur' and 'luddite' or with derogatory clichés such as, 'people just don't like change'.
I once worked for a very good manager (there really are some you know). Whenever anything had gone wrong he had a simple maxim; "don't worry, I have friends in low places". It would soon be fixed. He worked on the basis of respect for those who did the job and saw his role as co-ordination not command. It is very simple. Most of the people who work on the front line are not obstacles, they are experts. Their knowledge is far more valuable than the snake oil of management theory. The denigration of the workforce and the elevation of the great talents who brought us the credit crunch into superheroes is one of the more unlikely episodes in a class war, one being waged, increasingly successfully, against workers, rather than by them.