Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

The pointless work evaluation

When I first started with the Postal Service in January 1983, about five months after I left the Marine Corps, I knew that there was a 90-day period in which I had better do a good job or I would be back on the street.

True, in the Marines there was Parris Island and I passed that test, and I did OK enough in the service to make Corporal (E-4) before my honorable discharge, but this time it was for keeps.

During orientation for the post office, I remember hearing multiple times about the need for perfect attendance and punctuality, and how any absences can and would be held against me, even if I had a 108-degree fever. Misuse of sick leave during probation would lead to a short postal career, so you had to be there, and be on time, or else.

I wanted the job, so I was a willing and eager worker, but there was one instance where I did not come to work, though I did call in, and I feared it would be the end of my career in the Postal Service.

I did have an excuse. Sometime in February 1983, a giant snowstorm hit the New York City area. I was living with my parents in Queens and working in Plainview, N.Y., at a postal facility, and it was a beast of a drive in my parents’ Chevy Impala. I desperately needed to make enough money to buy my own car, as I didn’t want to impose on my parents much longer, and of course I wanted a place of my own.

I worked the night shift, and the snow had fallen all day. That night, I went to leave for work, and the snow was up to my thighs. I decided that it was too dangerous, so I called in to work and said I could not get through the snow.

You would have thought I had just called the Postmaster General and said bad things about his wife. They advised me that I had better come in the next night, and that my absence would affect my 90-day evaluation.

The following night, I made it to work, and several people commented on the fact that it was really bad that some of us did not make it to work. True, the facility ended up with no mail to work since the trucks couldn’t get through, and employees were sent home early due to lack of mail, but that was no excuse.

I did not miss a single scheduled workday through the rest of my probation, but I still worried.

But there was a co-worker who had an even worse attendance record than I had. He had been hired with my group, and he was a 15-point veteran (I got just five points for being a veteran). He had a terribly long commute, no car and used to drink a 40-ouncer of beer on the way to work, when he came to work. He did very little work, and often spent the whole shift in the men’s room.  

He missed two out of three months and, when the new hires all moved to a new facility, showed up a couple of days but then gave up again.

The thing that blew my mind about the whole process was that when we all got our evaluations, I passed my probation despite my missed night due to snow, and he made a rare appearance and passed his despite being a rare visitor to the facility. That’s how I learned how such systems can be so unfair, and how some folks can get away with almost anything.

In fact, there was only one employee who did not make her probation, and she had a pretty negative attitude from the start. Still, this was the Postal Service, and the story was you could get away with almost anything and keep your job once past your probation.

The rarely-appearing veteran eventually stopped coming to work and, since he did very little work anyway, his absence was hardly noticed. A couple of co-workers had talked to him one night, and he said this job was his last chance to live outside a Veterans Affairs hospital for the rest of his life.

I think the deck was stacked against him. He lived too far away, had no reliable transportation and I guess the word had come down that he was to get a satisfactory evaluation no matter what.

As for me, I worked for the Postal Service for almost 11 and a half years, then moved on to other things.

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January 9, 2009 - Posted by | Living in the modern age | , , , , , ,

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