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Wednesday, 8 August 2012

A long engagement

The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns, as it were, instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink.' - George Orwell

When it comes to butchering the English language Australia Post's internal communications take some beating.

Post's version of The Pyongyang Times, Post Journal, arrived in the PO Box at Rabbit Flat last week with the usual colourful and didactic array of exhausting hagiography. Along with the usual celebration of Post as some bizarre corporate cult there was an A5 insert containing the results of the 2012 employee survey.

It wouldn't be good enough for Aussie Post's internal communications team  to refer to this survey as, say, an internal staff survey. No, that's just so active and accurate, so instead the survey has been 'branded' as say2action.

Calling the survey Say2action does several things; it creates the illusion that Australia Post management are listening; it creates the illusion that some tangible change will result from the survey; and it creates work for graphic designers who would otherwise be doing something else.

Like a lot of agitprop, Australia Post's internal communications are an irony-free zone. When the A5 insert uses the phrase “an incredible increase of 4.6% since last year” it does so without any acknowledgement that the word 'incredible' includes the meaning 'hard to believe'*, which undermines the veracity of the survey figures furnished.

The increase concerns 'engagement', although what this means is not entirely clear. The insert describes employee engagement as “what you think and feel about working at Australia Post and the extent to which employees go the extra mile”. No, I don't have any idea what that means either, unless they are referring to those employees that will have to move further out in the suburbs because with falling real wages under Post's Fair Work Agreement they will no longer be able to live closer to inner-metropolitan Post facilities, but I digress.

“Australia Post has higher levels of engagement than other companies going through change” according to the survey, although the source for this is somewhat obscured, in fact non-existent, and how you measure something as unclear as 'engagement' has got me beat.

I certainly hope this 'engagement' is not important as, based on the figures supplied, one in four employees at Australia Post are not engaged, which constitutes about 10,000 people, or something approximating a fair sized regional town.

Your humble blogger wrote to the say2action 'team' to for further clarification: “The 'Four Enterprise Focus Areas' figures similarly remain clouded in mystery due to the absence of any verbs. Verbs are doing words and are useful in communication to qualify nouns and create context. Without context attaching numbers to nouns is meaningless. For example, to say that Leadership and Supervision is 54 percent means nothing. I realise that this is qualified on the reverse of the A5 by saying that, in this example, "our leaders are more decisive and responsive to changes in the market". But this begs the question 'What decisions?' and 'what is their response? Is it to run away? Curl up in a ball? To dress in yellow and sing Korean pop songs? These are all responses and thus involve being "responsive to changes in the market", but are they useful or appropriate? Are their decisions to have two sugars instead of one? To demand the sacrifice of every third child? Once again, these are decisions and, by definition inherently decisive, but not necessarily useful.

Without context this language means nothing, so I am curious as to the detailed results contained in the survey.

I remember the scene in the Tennessee Williams' movie Cat On A Hot Tin Roof when Burl Ives, in one of his few big screen roles as Big Daddy (and what a belter it is!), confronts Paul Newman, playing his alcoholic son, and tells him that “...every man I knew who drinks has a reason! What's yours?'

Newman's answer?

Mendacity

“You got to live with it. There's nothing to live with but mendacity”

Mendacity - the appearance of seeming truth; which is to say, using the vernacular, bullshit - seems to be a central cultural pillar of senior Australia Post management.

They say they are 'for zero' when it comes to accidents, but their lack of investment in capital equipment exposes thousands of postal workers every day to illness and injury while they harass, intimidate and belittle those employees that are injured.

They say they value their staff, so much that they are cutting postal workers' wages in real terms by over eight percent in the life of the current agreement.

They say they want to serve their customers better but all they have succeeded in doing is turning post offices into bargain stores, or closing them, while creating an army of underpaid contractors to trash Post's 'brand' across the nation by doing slipshod service in order to survive on the piece work rates Post pays them.


They say a lot of things, but much of it is mendacity. I'm not a religious Mail Officer, but there is much wisdom in the biblical quote 'by their fruits so shall these trees be known'. In the meantime frontline service delivery staff at Australia Post continue to be treated as second class citizens in their own organisation.

* - From Dictionary.com

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