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Social Interaction Matters (SIM)

Building positive relationships with others is important for our wellbeing. For seafarers working away from home for long periods, it can be difficult to remain in close contact with family and friends, so the opportunity to connect with other seafarers can be a major benefit. However, long working hours, smaller crews, and cultural differences mean there can be barriers to socialising with shipmates.

Aims and objectives

Our Social Interaction Matters (SIM) project aims to help shipping and ship management companies improve seafarers’ social interaction on board, and to positively impact the wellbeing of their seafarers through using programmes with proven success. The project will:

  1. Identify methods to help shipping and ship management companies enhance social interaction on board
  2. Develop a toolkit which documents evidence-based recommendations for enhancing social life on board
  3. Encourage shipping and ship management companies to adopt recommendations which help to reduce social isolation of seafarers

Benefits to shipping and ship management companies

Shipping and ship management companies can make a big difference to the happiness of their seafarers with some relatively straightforward changes. In most cases, this is also likely to contribute to a seafarer’s job satisfaction, motivation and productivity.

Along with the moral motivations for providing opportunities for social activities on board, there are likely to be a number of business benefits:

  • Senior officers showing that health and wellbeing is a priority demonstrates its importance as a workplace issue and ensures that it is a shared priority across the business1
  • There is strong evidence that addressing wellbeing in the workplace ashore can increase productivity by as much as 12%2. This is likely to be the case for seafarers and their work on board
  • Diverse crews which include different age groups, genders and cultural backgrounds may have the potential to be more creative and productive; therefore, facilitating crew cohesion and ensuring minorities on board do not feel isolated, is a worthwhile investment
  • Evidence that a company works to ensure the best possible on board culture will help them to attract highly skilled seafarers and to retain them

Phase One

The first phase of the SIM Project began in April and May 2020 with a large survey of seafarers and other maritime stakeholders as well as 10 in-depth telephone interviews. These examined the relevant drivers and barriers to the promotion of social interaction and specific activities which seafarers around the world identified as helping to engage people.

On 9 July 2020, we held a webinar to present the initial findings from the research:

READ: Summary of webinar discussions and Q&A

WATCH: Webinar recording

From 29 June to 10 July 2020, we held a two-week digital campaign called 'Connecting Crew' to highlight the importance of connecting with others for crew wellbeing:

DOWNLOAD: Connecting Crew campaign resources

On 5 January 2021, we published a report for Phase One of the SIM Project:

DOWNLOAD: Phase One report

DOWNLOAD: Phase One - Summary of findings

We also published a series of articles focusing on the themes emerging from the research:

  1. Social Interaction Matters – Leading by example (February 2021)
  2. Social Interaction Matters – Combatting the impacts of COVID-19 (March 2021)
  3. Social Interaction Matters – What works well on board? (April 2021)
  4. Social Interaction Matters – Dealing with demographics (May 2021)
  5. Social Interaction Matters – Better by design (June 2021)
  6. Social Interaction Matters – Where are we now? (December 2021)

Phase Two

In November 2020, Phase Two ‘The SIM Trials’ began. We partnered with a number of shipping companies to investigate the impact (or lack thereof) of social engagement initiatives on crew living and working on board their vessels.

A total of 21 vessels from 10 different companies participated in the trials, which began by selecting a Shipboard and Shoreside Ambassador to represent each vessel. The Shipboard Ambassadors each completed daily and weekly logs to record the details of life on board, and to describe any social activities that had taken place and the impact of these on overall crew mood. Each crew member was also encouraged to complete a weekly online survey which asked confidential questions about their individual wellbeing and mood.

After the Phase Two trials ended, we conducted exit interviews with each of the SIM Ambassadors, and held an ‘Ambassadors’ Round Table’ so those from different companies could share their insights and experiences from the trials and beyond.

Phase Three

For the SIM Project’s final phase, early next year we will be releasing an industry-targeted report on our findings, as well as implementable guidance and recommendations for facilitating improved social interaction on board based on these findings, along with vessel specifics such as the frequency of port calls, size and type of vessel and voyage patterns. Both publications will be appropriate for both shipping and ship management companies, as well as individuals worldwide, who are invested in working to improve the overall wellbeing and welfare of their crew.

Looking to the future, we plan to explore key themes that have emerged from our research, such as the link between fatigue, safety, social interaction and wellbeing.

1 https://mhfaengland.org/mhfa-centre/news/cbi-front-of-mind/
2 https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/how-support-mental-health-work

Project resources

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