Aug. 10 2006 05:23 PM

As I began to analyze the Mailing Systems Technology 2002 Wage & Operations Survey, I wondered what effects September 11, bio terrorism and the economy had on our industry. The effects popped off the pages of data. It quickly became clear the mailing industry is undergoing changes precipitated by these events.


This is our 13th year of analyzing the mailing industry. As usual, in this issue, we delve into wage and staffing issues, while in the next issue we will unveil the survey results for the operational side of mail centers. This year, we analyzed over 370 mail centers and over 5,100 mail center employees, including 520 managers, 365 supervisors and 3,247 full-time and 987 part-time staff. On behalf of all our readers, I want to extend a thank you to those who took the time to fill out our annual questionnaire. Without your input, our industry would not have a standard against which each mail center can judge itself, and we would not be able to identify and follow important trends that affect your operation.


The Bio Threat Hits the Industry

As a result of the bio terrorism acts after 9/11, "mail" threatened and scared Americans. What was the impact on the mail center? Managers faced a perception by Americans that the mail center was a life-threatening place to work. One way in which managers seem to be combating the problem is raising entry-level wages for staff (up 4% over last year). Managers who felt the bio-threat affected their operations have entry-level wages set at $9.91, while those who didn't feel an effect have average entry wages of $9.41 an hour. Financial and other transaction mailers along with manufacturers and government institutions were more likely to feel the effect of the bio-terrorism threat than other industries.


America's attention was focused on the mail, which according to our survey results, had both positive and negative impacts on mail centers. Ten percent of managers felt the effect was positive, 17% believed it was negative, 16% considered it both positive and negative and 57% thought there was no effect. For those who felt it had a positive effect, they noted security/safety was improved and there was more awareness of the mail center operation as the main two consequences. The two most prominent negative outcomes were slower processing/reduced productivity and fear. ·


The Second Hit: The Economy

The weakened economy is also having an impact. As the unemployment rate increases and businesses struggle with decreasing revenues, managers have had to keep staff high-end wage increases to a mere 1%. Long-term mail center staff must also feel the effects of the economy and are staying on the job, even though wage increases have been slight. Even with the bio treats, retention rates have increased by 1% last year to an all-time high of 91%.


Even though managers have been able to reduce turnover, they have had to reduce staff size more than they anticipated. Last year, only 5% of managers thought they would be decreasing staff. The reality of a down-turned economy: 15% of managers actually reduced staff size. And for the first time in the history of this survey, a decrease in volume was the number one reason for the decrease in staff. In previous years, managers who decreased staff size did so more often for productivity and automation reasons.


A Show of Strength

Even though more managers decreased their staffs than anticipated, the number of managers who added employees outnumbered those that decreased staff size. Therefore, the industry had a net gain of 3% more workers. Lettershops continue to be the number one business that adds the most new positions, followed by manufacturers and wholesalers and then printers. Most job reductions came from transactional mailers (financial, insurance, communications, health and utilities). Of course, the largest volume mailers (over one million per month) created the most jobs, but surprisingly low-volume centers (less than 50,000) were the next category to create positions.


Support Tools Pay Off

As a result of bio terrorism and a more professional industry, managers have stepped up the pace of implementing safety standards, from 73% having safety protocols in place in 2001 to 77% having them in 2002. Seventy-four percent have a security protocol in place.


Managers who have implemented support tools for their organizations are more likely to earn substantially more. Managers who have at least four of the following six tools in place earn, on average, $49,100 per year while those who have less than three make $37,300. The support tools include operations manual (57% of mail centers have the tool), customer service manual (37%), list serve manual · (39%), home page (30%), safety protocol and security protocol. Only 8% of mail center managers have implemented all these tools, most of whom are managing mail centers in educational institutions. And, interestingly, managers of education mail centers are more likely to have a mail-related certification. Of those who have mail center home pages, 70% are informational and only 30% are interactive. Of those that are interactive, some uses include billing, quotes, ordering, forms request, scheduling, tracking and list exchange.


More Positive Affects on Wages

Associations continue to play a vital role; however, slightly less than half of mail centers have an affiliation with associations. For those managers who are association members, it pays off financially. On average, they earn 11% more than managers who do not belong to associations.


The Internet also affects wages, although in a surprising manner. In those centers where mail volumes are being decreased because of the Net, a manager's salary is 4% higher than those where volumes are being increased. However, managers get paid more if the volume increases or decreases due to the Internet is less than the overall average (18% average increase in mail volume and 15% average decrease). Once the volume is affected by more than the average, a decrease in a manager's salary starts to occur.


Although it has been a challenging time for mail center managers, their efforts over the past year have paid off through higher wages. On average, managers realized a 7% increase in wages over last year. However, mail center supervisors, like staff, did not fair so well; their average increase was only 4%. Managers who received higher increases in pay were more likely to process Standard Mail rather than other classes, be in educational institutions or have mail center budgets in excess of $5 million.


Watch for the next issue of Mailing Systems Technology, which will feature the results for the operations side of the Annual Wage & Operations Survey. We will take a look at the U.S. Postal Service's performance, outsourcing, Postal Service program participation, purchasing patterns, staffing requirements and more.