The slow farewell to the postman

“If it weren’t for the good old post office, where would all the letters come from?” Heinz Rühmann made his way to this film music like “Briefträger Müller” in the 1950s – on the screen he distributed letters in a small town that he knew the residents well of and greeted in a friendly way. The film makes it clear that the postman was an institution. If there was a new edition, the role could be different. Because there are fewer and fewer postmen in Germany. Instead, network couriers who have both parcels and letters with them in the van are becoming more important.

Structural change began at the turn of the millennium and quickly picked up speed in the digital age as people wrote fewer and fewer letters and communicated more with each other initially via email and eventually via social media as well. At the same time, the boom in online commerce has boosted the parcel business. The result: the volume of letters has been declining for a long time and the volume of parcels is skyrocketing.

This is how the volume ratio between the two postal divisions has changed: while there were still 21 letters per parcel in Germany in 2010, this ratio was only 15 to 1 in 2015 and 8 to 1 in 2020. The trend will continue. to decrease: in 2025 Deutsche Post expects five letters per parcel. In 2030, the ratio should only be three to one.

One is “faced with an increasingly intense structural change of steadily decreasing letter volumes and increasing parcel volumes,” says Tobias Meyer, Board Member of Post & Parcel Germany. “The corona pandemic has accelerated this development again and consolidated this trend.” We are therefore expanding the grid supply where “it makes sense and is feasible” – “in order to continue to offer our employees safe jobs with decent wages.” The rationale behind this: If you continue to deliver letters as before, the delivery network will eventually become inaccessible given the drop in letter volume.

An internal document, available to the dpa, illustrates the great importance of the subject for the group. In the document, the company stresses that countermeasures must be taken. One is “constantly exposed to the growing demands of competition, customers and regulators.” Failure to act decisively would risk “serious operational consequences”.

In fact, the restructuring that began two decades ago is proceeding. Of the approximately 55,000 delivery districts in Germany, 55% have already switched to combined delivery – the classic postman no longer exists there. In 2017 the share was below 50%, by 2025 it should rise to 70%. In the past, combined delivery only took place in rural areas, after which cities were also included.

At Deutsche Post, where the annual general meeting was on the agenda on Friday, combined delivery is an ongoing topic. In some parts of the workforce it is registered with concerns.

Maik Brandenburger of the DPV communications union points out that the physical strain on employees who have so far only delivered letters in group delivery is likely to increase: after all, they also have to carry heavy packages. “Many operators are already working to the limit and sometimes beyond: an additional burden will push the already high sick leave even higher.” The union warns of further intensification of work and reductions in staff following the expansion of the network.

Thorsten Kühn of the Verdian union admits that structural change cannot be ignored. “So it goes without saying that we are not continuing as usual in all delivery areas.” The shift from postman to group postman also helps secure long-term jobs.

In principle, people are open to the topic, says Kühn. “However, we have to keep an eye on the load: tools are needed to be able to transport heavy packages, such as hand trucks or other special equipment.” Also, there shouldn’t be any compulsion, she says. “If the postal couriers who have been with us for many years do not want to be retrained as group couriers, then another solution should be found for them.”

And what does it mean for consumers? There will probably be no more waiting for the few letters you still receive. “The parcel network is optimized for efficiency: if the letters are also delivered by the courier, they should arrive as fast as before,” says Kai-Oliver Schocke, professor of logistics in Frankfurt. He also believes that the measures taken by Swiss Post are inevitable and correct. For the consumer, the gradual farewell to the postman is a nostalgic thing: “The well-known postman may soon no longer appear on the doorstep of some people – but the courier is certainly at least as kind.”


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