Getting straight to the point – if your yacht doesn’t have a caring, empathic and compassionate onboard culture, it’s more likely that your crew will succumb to poor mental health.
Let’s be honest, the work environment is not always a comfortable one whatever sector or industry you work in. There are indeed high demands, stress, fatigue, and pressure to perform, and these things will never go away. However, in the superyacht sector, where crew don’t often have the daily escape back to family and friends, creating an open and empathic onboard culture is more important than ever.
Empathy helps the team feel valued, included and driven to help the entire crew succeed – especially in rough times. The less individual tension, the more group cohesion. The more individuals feel included and less like social pariahs, the less fear exists around being ostracized should mental health issues arise.
Underpinning all of this is an onboard culture that openly conveys goals through values and beliefs and guides activity through transparent and healthy communication. It doesn’t just drive productivity and creativity, but also protects people from mental health issues going undetected or unexpressed.
Defining cultural norms
Cultural norms often suggest what is supported, discouraged, accepted or shunned within a working group and will shape attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours in various ways. They usually develop organically and while some are healthy, some may be detrimental for mental health.
That is why these undefined and unspoken rules should be formalised through inclusive behavioral guidelines which educates people on the onboard culture and values.
A culture can then grow into a protective entity for everyone that normalises mental health awareness and offers support for crew in difficult times, ultimately determining how open people speak about their struggles and challenges.
These established ways can be questioned and changed, but only if they are defined in the first place.
Where to start:
- Establish goals – Get the whole crew together to discuss what makes an ideal workplace in terms of culture, values and goals. Revise these with the owner and management to ensure they can work effectively as part of the bigger picture – i.e. yacht operations.
- A process for people – It is especially important for people to know who they can turn to and how conflicts will be dealt with on board. Assigning specific people for mental health talks, mediation, and employee disputes enables crew to know who to talk to during times of need.
- Crew satisfaction – Having a regular employee review process in place can help encourage communication, give line managers the opportunity to show appreciation for good work (or conversely, discuss any issues before they get out of hand) and measure job satisfaction.
- Producing and promoting policies – Most yachts will say they do not tolerate bullying and harassment, but is there a policy in place? The same goes for things like diversity and inclusion too.
- Adjusting to change – Both internal and external factors will impact on any cultural guidelines, so there has to be a willingness to adapt to change.
The connection between leadership and onboard culture
Like it or not, leadership and culture are interconnected and as a result, there needs to be an industry-wide focus on training that embraces a positive culture of openness and transparency.
Mental health training is just one type, but exploring leadership styles can also have a huge impact on how a yacht operates and how mentally ‘healthy and happy’ crewmembers are.
A strong and compassionate leadership programme is necessary to provide a plan and behavioral guidelines that the rest of the crew buy into. It will also help the management team to adopt an agile and flexible management style which actually gets the crew involved in shaping the onboard environment and problem solving – leading to a much more positive onboard culture all round.
In our first upcoming webinar alongside Quay Crew, we will be looking at how to create a positive onboard culture in more detail as well as how to recognise and support someone who may be suffering with poor mental health.
If you’d like to gain access to the webinar, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Main image @alexguy21