Postal Service Merit Program Should Provide More Incentive for Improving Performance

GGD-81-8: Published: Nov 24, 1980. Publicly Released: Nov 24, 1980.

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The Postal Service was a pioneer in implementing merit pay in the Federal Government. In 1972, it initiated its program to stimulate improved productivity by replacing the old, almost guaranteed, salary step increase system with one which evaluated employees and made raises contingent on performance. The Service has made many changes over the years to improve the program's soundness, and it has added several elements that are characteristic of an effective merit program.

The Postal Service's size and the legislative mandates it must follow have made the transition to merit pay difficult. The GAO review of the fiscal year 1978 and 1979 programs indicated that more could be done to improve the program's administration. Appraisals and ratings have not always been accurate and fair assessments of employee performance, and the merit program has not been as effective as possible in rewarding and improving performance. Appraisals do not specifically or accurately describe performance results, because they are not adequately tied to duties and responsibilities or developed by using specific assessment criteria. Overall ratings are influenced by nonperformance factors, inadequately documented, and changed by managers above the employee's supervisor without adequate explanation. The supervisor-subordinate dialogue concerning the evaluation process has not been effectively carried out. Training is needed in how to carry out the evaluation process. Evaluation is needed to ensure procedures are appropriate and properly administered. The Postal Service's practice of awarding merit increases to low as well as high performers and providing general salary increases to all employees detracts from the recognition given to high performers and lessens the incentive for continued good or improved performance. For many employees, there is a long time between merit increases and the performance for which they were awarded. Employees at or above the maximum of their grade levels are ineligible for merit increases regardless of their performance.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Postmaster General should determine which evaluation process to use for different positions on the basis of the duties and responsibilities of the positions rather than the grade level.

    Agency Affected: United States Postal Service

  2. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Postmaster General should develop an appraisal form for those job families with duties and responsibilities of a continuing nature that more closely links evaluations to duties and responsibilities.

    Agency Affected: United States Postal Service

  3. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Postmaster General should discourage the use of peer comparisons as a primary basis of evaluating performance.

    Agency Affected: United States Postal Service

  4. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Postmaster General should change the merit program procedures so that merit increases are received close to the performance that is rewarded.

    Agency Affected: United States Postal Service

  5. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Postmaster General should require the documentation of actions planned to improve poor performance.

    Agency Affected: United States Postal Service

  6. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Postmaster General should reevaluate the benefits of the self-appraisal processes as now conducted and revise the process which provides for simply checking performance adjectives to one which requires support for the appraisal.

    Agency Affected: United States Postal Service

  7. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Postmaster General should reemphasize to supervisors the need to discuss objectives, self-appraisals, appraisals, ratings, and merit increases with employees.

    Agency Affected: United States Postal Service

  8. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Postmaster General should provide more specific guidance and training to supervisors and subordinates on how to carry out the different aspects of the merit program.

    Agency Affected: United States Postal Service

  9. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Postmaster General should institute some method of rewarding high performers at their maximum salary level. One alternative is to reward these employees with lump-sum cash awards.

    Agency Affected: United States Postal Service

  10. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Postmaster General should reemphasize to supervisors the need to base overall ratings on performance without the influences of nonperformance factors and require supervisors to document the basis of ratings. In addition, reviewers should be required to discuss the need for changes to ratings with supervisors and document the reasons for revisions.

    Agency Affected: United States Postal Service

  11. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Postmaster General should develop specific guidelines for conducting the compliance audits initially called for in the fiscal year 1980 program as a means for better monitoring and evaluating the merit program's administration. These audits would help ensure that policies and procedures are properly carried out and aid in identifying weaknesses in the program's design or administration that need to be corrected.

    Agency Affected: United States Postal Service

  12. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Postmaster General should develop an overall salary increase policy for nonbargaining employees which is consistent with the objective of the Merit Performance Evaluation Program, rewarding on the basis of performance to provide incentive for improved performance, and clearly communicate this policy to all employees. If the policy includes both merit and general increases, the Service should consider following its previous policy of awarding merit increases to outstanding, very good, and good performers only, with general increases going to all employees. Such a policy will allow for adjusting the merit increase percentages to provide for greater differentials in reqards between different levels of performance.

    Agency Affected: United States Postal Service

  13. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Postmaster General should develop performance assessment criteria that can be used to depict performance results more accurately.

    Agency Affected: United States Postal Service

  14. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Postmaster General should require supervisors to tie performance evaluations more closely to an employee's duties and responsibilities. This can be facilitated by requiring that (1) wherever possible, employees and supervisors mutually develop objectives that are specific, measurable, and pertinent to the position and organizational unit, and that supervisors use these objectives when evaluating employees; (2) position descriptions be kept current and used as a starting point for identifying duties and responsibilities; and (3) job standards be established and used in evaluations for those positions whose duties are of a continuing nature.

    Agency Affected: United States Postal Service

 

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