Each month, we are sharing a discussion piece written by a member of the maritime industry who can offer a unique or interesting perspective on an aspect of seafarers’ welfare. You can join the conversation on our social media channels – Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
This month, Talking Point guest author Karen Passman explores the results of Impact Crew’s survey into crew turnover in the superyacht industry and discusses why crew rotation is so important.
Karen has in excess of 20 years’ experience developing managers, leaders and professionals, through facilitation, training, coaching and assessment. She has a passion for developing people which is evident in her positive, enthusiastic and supportive style of delivery. Karen’s expertise traverses the maritime industry and corporate world, where she provides management and leadership development as well as team building and coaching to a wide range of clients. In 2007, Karen launched Impact Crew with the specific purpose of providing development for crew in the unique challenges that working and living at sea create.
In a recent survey within the superyacht sector (conducted by Impact Crew in collaboration with a number of maritime industry professionals), the overwhelming answer to the question ‘How important is rotation?’ was ‘VERY IMPORTANT’.
Increasing crew longevity in the industry has been a passion (although some might call it an obsession) of mine for many years. In 2015, our crew survey found that crew turnover was running at 50% within a 12-month period, and looking at just the junior crew, that figure rose to 69% for deck and 78% for interior.
Overall, as yet, rotation is not the norm, aside from within the engineering department, many of whom enter yachting having been previously employed in the commercial maritime sector where rotation is standard. The reality is the engineers demand it – if rotation were not on offer, there would be a severe lack of engineers. Interestingly, we are increasingly seeing this demand not just from the most senior crew on board, but the juniors too. Gen Zs (also known as ‘zoomers’, born in the late 1990s and early 2000s) are starting to enter the workplace with a strong work ethic (for the right employer), but also a clear agenda for a life that incorporates a work-life balance and personal wellbeing. So how important is this time off to them? The under-30s surveyed scored the importance of rotation on average 8.4 out of 10, and if that’s not enough evidence, 66% are willing to take a pay cut to have some form of rotation.
Why is this time off so important? Mental health has become a much more spoken-about subject, particularly since ISWAN’s 2018 report ‘The Welfare of Superyacht Crew’, which highlighted the challenges superyacht crew face in providing some of the most excellent standards of service that exist. ISWAN’s report found that 80% of women and 54% of men had experienced one or more episodes of work-related stress.
In the recent survey, poor leadership and fatigue (aka ‘burnout’) were identified as the two major contributing factors to work-related stress, with 25% of respondents being attracted to positions based on the amount of leave (or rotation) being offered. The survey also identified that the primary reason (given by 53% of respondents) for junior crew to leave a yacht was due to poor leadership or crew dynamics (which some might argue is the responsibility of the leaders on board – I certainly do!). In business there is a saying: ‘people join an organisation, but leave their manager’. The same appears to be true in maritime. If the leaders on board are not fair, don’t address issues, or allow their fatigue and emotions to run away with them, there is a direct impact on the crew they are ’privileged’ to lead. Once the respect is lost, and the negativity sets in, it is hard to pull back from. Crew simply vote with their feet and leave to have a chance of finding that ‘dream boat’.
Much has changed in yachting over the past 20 years; standards have increased to incredible levels, the size of yachts and range of activities have grown exponentially and the amount of time between guest trips has reduced, with many yacht owners and managers expecting the vessel to be made ready for the next guests within 24 hours. With these high demands, it is not sustainable to ask crew to work five months straight. Some form of rotation or ‘structured leave’ needs to be introduced if we are to prevent crew from ‘burning out’.
A simple and relatively low-cost solution for junior crew is to employ four crew to cover three positions. This enables a 3:1 (monthly) ‘rotation’ – the guests will see the same faces from one season to the next, the experience and knowledge gained is retained and crew have the opportunity to recharge their batteries, see friends and family and take courses, before returning with a fresh spring in their step. The additional cost is outweighed by the benefits, and with improved crew longevity may in fact cost less overall.
There is no ‘one size fits all’ within this very bespoke industry, but perhaps the time has come to start thinking outside the box, to create a sustainable and long-term employment structure, where the quality of leadership is developed to the same extent as the technical skills, and the crew’s mental wellbeing is supported to the same extent as their physical wellbeing.
ISWAN’s Yacht Crew Help offers free, confidential, 24-hour support and guidance to yacht crew around the world. The helpline contact details and further information for crew can be found at www.yachtcrewhelp.org.