As discussed in my August 16th post (not to mention countless news outlets, of course), the U.S. Post Office is struggling mightily at the moment. As the organization grapples with an array of woes, legions of essential workers are processing and delivering our mail every day in the midst of a global pandemic while so many of us remain safely at home. Some of them, like my mail carrier, even go above and beyond the call of duty by bringing packages that other delivery services leave in my apartment building’s lobby to recipients’ individual doors to reduce the risk of theft.
How can we show our appreciation for their tireless service?
1. Keep your mailbox clear.
Since the beginning of quarantine and the subsequent decrease in the overall volume of mail, many people have been avoiding collecting their mail for days at a time to economize on trips outside or downstairs, figuring they wouldn’t be missing much. But before they know it, their mailboxes become full-to-busting, putting carriers in the difficult and frustrating position of having to find ways to cram in additional items and becoming slowed down on their route. Make their job easier by collecting your mail every day if you can, or every two days at most. If your mailbox is outside, also ensure that it’s clear of insects (particularly wasps and spiderwebs), excessive amounts of dust (which can trigger allergic reactions for some people when it gets stirred up), and items at the bottom/back (like spare keys) that artificially restrict the amount of available space for new mail.
2. Remove safety hazards from their path.
Sprinkler heads, hoses, and small toys lurking in grass — as well as loose pavement flagstones, cracked steps, icy/snowy driveways and sidewalks, and slippery stairs — can all be potential accidents waiting to happen for not only your mail carrier, but also for you, your family, and anyone who visits you. Lower the likelihood of potential injury (and reduce liability risks) by keeping all access points to your mailbox as safe as possible. Also monitor your pets to make sure they aren’t presenting any threats either.
3. Learn their names and acknowledge them.
Especially in a big city like New York, it’s surprisingly easy to have no earthly idea what your mail carrier’s name is even if you’ve had the same person for years, and even if you chat with them frequently. It doesn’t help that there’s pretty much no way to find out without directly asking them…the post office’s confidentiality rules regarding its employees’ privacy and protection prohibit disclosing even mail carriers’ names to any members of the public. I often greet my mail carrier when I see her around and periodically thank her for being so helpful, but her name had completely escaped me (it possibly may never have come up in conversation to begin with). After much hemming and hawing, one day I decided to just put my embarrassment aside. I apologized to her for being unable to recall her name, and asked if she would be so kind as to remind me…which she did. It wasn’t nearly as awkward an interaction as I’d feared, and I’m so glad I asked. Communication becomes so much more personal and meaningful when you can address someone by name.
4. File a compliment case with your local USPS branch.
Because of widespread mail delays and lost items resulting from the USPS’s compromised state and financial hardship, people have been up in arms and making lots of angry phone calls to their local branches. When I tried calling to say something positive about my mail carrier, given that she always goes the extra mile for the people on her route, I kept being shunted into the general USPS voicemail tree — and sadly, the only menu option I could find that allowed people to discuss their local service with a representative was the one to file a complaint. I had no choice but to start there.
When it was finally my turn in the queue, I asked the person who picked up, “Is there any way to file the opposite of a complaint? My mail carrier is fantastic and I want her chain of command to know how great she is..” After a second or two of stunned silence, the guy on the other end informed me that as a matter of fact, yes, you can actually file a compliment case — though they are extremely rare. “Cool! I would love to file a compliment case!” I said. He asked me to describe what my mail carrier did that inspired me to call, which I gladly described in detail. As he jotted down notes, he reacted to what I said with periodic remarks like “Wow, awesome!” and “That’s so great to hear!” and “Terrific!”
When I was done, he told me that he had been barraged with nothing but complaints for his entire shift, and that this call completely made his day. So there you go…if you file a compliment case, you get the opportunity to make at least two people happy for the price of one. And perhaps in the unfortunate event that additional USPS positions are cut, your mail carrier’s job may be spared due to that rare form of commendation they received from you.
5. Consider giving a personal card and possibly a small gift (but not cash).
Once you know your mail carrier’s name, you can write them a thank-you note expressing your appreciation for their service and the specific things they do for you (which is what I plan to do today). Per a news story described by Jen McGillan in the first “People of Note” interview, a letter that a mail carrier received from a little girl set the local post office abuzz with delight soon thereafter. Complaints are so common…praise is so rare.
If you feel moved and are in a position to do so, you can also include a small gift card (of $20 or less in value) with your note…bear in mind that mail carriers are legally prohibited from accepting cash tips. The USPS website provides clear and concise rules regarding tipping and gift receiving for its employees.
What steps can you take to show your mail carrier some appreciation during this unprecedented time?