When's the last time you sent an actual written letter?
While there are still paper-and-pen writers out there, many of us now send a substantive amount of correspondence via email. And this shift has led to a big decline in revenue for postal services around the world. In Finland, the decline in snail mail has gotten so dramatic that Posti, the nation's state-owned mail carrier, delivered the same volume of mail last year as they did in the 1960s.
Like many industries faced with disruption, Posti is looking to diversify. One particular scheme generating headlines around the globe: Finland's mail carriers will be offering to mow lawns every Tuesday for a tax-deductible fee of between 65 and 130 euros a month.
Much of the media coverage has been positive. But I did wonder, what do postal workers think about the new role they may be asked to perform? Luckily, I have an in: My uncle and godfather has been a Finnish postal worker for most of his professional life. And we were long overdue for a phone chat.
I asked how he was — "Great!" The sun was shining, the grandkids were healthy and Finland has just beaten the United States in ice hockey. What more could a Finn want? But when I asked about the scheme to turn mail carriers into lawn care experts, Uncle Jouni was a little less sanguine.
"It doesn't seem like a sensible idea to me. And most of the people I work with would seem to agree. Why are we offering a service that has nothing to do with what we've traditionally done?"
That's not to say my uncle and his colleagues are resistant to change. Having been a mail carrier since well before the internet age, Jouni is more than aware the old business model needs updating.
"Of course the postal service needs to diversify. There just aren't enough letters being sent to sustain the operation as it is. Whether it's delivering parcels, distributing advertising or even adding services like meal delivery for the elderly or checking on their well-being — we've always been a form of social service. These all seem like a logical extension of what we've always done. But lawn mowing? It doesn't make much sense to me."
According to the BBC, a Posti spokesperson says the idea for adding lawn mowing services came from postal workers themselves. So it's fair to say views are mixed among postal workers. Indeed Jouni concedes if postal workers want to volunteer for lawn mowing duty, he's not necessarily opposed. If the duties become mandatory, however, Posti's leadership may need to prepare itself for some grumblings.
It's not only postal workers who have reservations. Finland has a large and diverse private sector, and lawn mowing typically has not been seen as a primary service of the welfare state. The BBC also reports a group representing property maintenance companies is sounding alarms:
At least one organization isn't happy about the plan, though. The Real Estate Employers group, which represents property maintenance companies, says it's concerned that postal workers don't have the right skills. "Using power-driven machinery and equipment requires a certain expertise," says managing director Pia Gramen. "It is hard to believe that just anyone can start to cut lawns."
My Uncle Jouni would appear to have some sympathy with this line of argument.
"There are plenty of companies and individuals who mow lawns and manage people's gardens for a living. Why would we, as postal workers, want to encroach on their livelihoods?"
With that, we cut our conversation short. Finland was playing Hungary in the ice hockey world championships, and Jouni had to get to the game. Finland won, 3-0.