A small freedom, or a burden on office resources? Some companies ban personal packages from being delivered to work, but is this the right thing to do? Laura King unpacks the dilemma.

Was your mailroom overflowing with employees’ online shopping purchases this Christmas? Or does your reception area sometimes resemble a sorting office?

If these problems sound familiar, you are not alone. Online sales of non-food items have more than doubled in the last five years — from 11.6% of the total market in December 2012 to 24.1% in December 2017. A large proportion of these deliveries are likely to be sent to a work address, with some estimates suggesting that over the course of a year personal packages can account for up to 40% of incoming mail into post-rooms up and down the country.

Trends in online delivery and impact on the mailroom

The upward trend is certainly set to continue. According to Ofcom’s Communications Market 2018 report, 12% more parcels were sent in 2017 than in 2016, and on average, 25–44-year-olds receive 2.2 parcels a week. The letter market, on the other hand, declined by 5% over the same period.

Using a work address as a delivery option is the result of a personal conundrum we all recognise. While online shopping is intrinsically convenient, collecting a package still has its difficulties. Vague, day-long delivery slots can mean you avoid making a cup of tea for fear of missing the delivery driver, and sometimes you can wait in all day and still find a missed delivery card on the doorstep.

Getting personal packages delivered to work seems like the obvious answer. However, it does not come without its problems to the mailroom. Receiving and delivering mail can be a time-consuming task, and if parcel volumes are increasing significantly, this can mean that more and more staff time is taken up processing incoming mail. There are also considerations around security and a company’s right to open mail, health and safety if parcels are large or heavy, and issues of responsibility if a parcel is lost while being processed by mailroom staff.

Apart from the obvious time and logistical considerations, problems are also creeping in from elsewhere as next-day delivery services are increasingly coming under the environmental spotlight. In theory, bulk deliveries should be a relatively environmentally sound way of shopping, but the use of more polluting vehicles (including transport to return items) combined with inefficient packaging, mean that bulk delivery is perhaps not quite as green as you would hope. Many companies are trying to help staff adopt environmentally-friendly behaviours, and it is possible that allowing personal deliveries could start to fly in the face of any such policies.

Do mailrooms need a policy?

It can feel quite awkward getting a personal package delivered to work — especially where there is no policy in place. Some people consider it to be a perk of the job or a practical necessity. On the other side of the coin, there are also people who strongly believe that personal life should not encroach into the workplace; as such they see using the mailroom for personal deliveries as a presumptuous misuse of work resources and a distraction away from the day job.

It can be hard to balance these opinions and there is no general rule on what is reasonable: what one person might feel is okay, another might consider to be taking liberties.

A common-sense approach might be good enough for some smaller organisations where an office manager has overall control and say over what is acceptable; in any larger establishment it is likely that a written policy is going to be needed.

Personal deliveries — what are the considerations?

A blanket ban might be the easiest solution if the number of parcels is getting too high. However, is a ban the right thing to do? The most commonplace argument against banning deliveries is that it will impact on staff morale. Certainly, allowing employees to collect parcels from work can be one way of helping to make life a little easier and so consideration should in the first instance be given to whether an increase in morale and happiness is worth the post team’s effort.

If excessive post is tipping the balance in favour of a ban, there are a few solutions that might help avoid criticism. These ideas are definitely worth pursuing as banning deliveries might not be such a big deal if there are other options readily available.

For a start, consider how else packages can be delivered. Lockers are one option that is becoming more frequent. Often found in places such as supermarkets, these lockers allow the shopper to collect parcels at a more convenient time. There might be lockers located close to the office, and some larger organisations such as universities and hospitals are starting to realise these benefits by getting lockers installed on campus. Physical stores are also cashing in on the boom in internet shopping by offering click and collect services, both for third parties as well as for their own goods. Asda is one example of a store offering third-party collection services.

In addition, consider flexibility. Perhaps personal mail can be specifically labelled or given a unique address so that it can be separated from official mail and employees can come and collect it once it has been delivered. For smaller companies it might even be possible for reception staff to act as messenger and call the employee so that the company does not have to assume any responsibility over the package. Where flexibility can be built in, this should be explored.

What should a policy include?

As a minimum, the policy should include a clear statement on whether personal mail is accepted at the organisation. If personal packages are not accepted, then it might be useful to suggest alternative options.

If personal packages can be accepted, then it should be clear:

  • what the process is for handling personal deliveries and what is expected of the employee

  • what responsibility the post team will take

  • whether there are any issues around certain items being delivered — for example if the organisation needs to scan or screen incoming parcels then some items, such as small electronics might cause problems

  • what rights the organisation has with regards to opening packages, when these rights might be exercised, and what the process is.

Summary

  • Online shopping is set to continue on its upwards trajectory and so the problem of getting a parcel delivered is likely to continue.

  • Where there is no clear policy, it is highly likely that the volumes of personal parcels handled by mailrooms and reception desks will follow this trend and also increase year-on-year.

  • Any policy developed should take into consideration the work-life balance of employees as well as company resources. Being able to use office resources might go a small way towards boosting morale.

  • Other considerations might include whether there are any other options available for staff and how flexible the organisation can be.

  • A policy should be written that clearly states whether personal mail is acceptable. If personal packages are allowed, then the organisation should be clear as to what responsibility it will take for the mail and any other considerations, such as how parcels will be screened, and any instructions for employees.

Last reviewed 19 February 2019