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The missing ingredient for those working onboard

The missing ingredient for those working onboard
January 30, 2024

R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Find out what it means at sea. Steven Jones, founder of the Seafarers Happiness Index, channels Aretha Franklin to make his point about declining levels of contentedness across the world’s oceans.

If we ever begin to question the power of respect in shipping, it’s probably a good idea to look back to popular culture and check ourselves. Whether Erasure or Aretha, we will be quickly reminded of the power and importance of respect in all relationships.

Respect can make us feel ten feet tall, overcoming all barriers, succeeding where mere mortals fail, as we commit ourselves to over-achieving at every turn. Heady stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree. Respect then, the vital spark allowing people to feel willing and able to do great things.

Conversely, the lack can make even the best people ultimately shrug and give a two-finger salute…or middle, depending on your cultural mores. You get the idea. Unfortunately, all this is very relevant as the latest figures from the Seafarers Happiness Index have once more shown a fall, with the issue of respect, or lack of it, very much to the fore.

With crewing shortages looming, smart companies will take steps to recognise and celebrate their seafarers

Yes, alas, 2023 was the year in which troubling peaks and troughs gave way to a constant fall. The nursery slopes of our usual ups and downs becoming a terrifying black run. Never have we seen a full year of dropping sentiment, down, down, down and down, the troubling trajectory of 2023.

The latest decline in the fourth consecutive quarter has seen satisfaction ratings fall to 6.36 on the 10-point scale, down from 6.6. This sustained downward spiral once more highlights growing discontent among crews worldwide.

What, though, is driving this downward curve and consistent sense of dissatisfaction? Well, at the core of mounting seafarer frustration are feelings of being overburdened, undervalued, and disconnected. Which would be bad enough, but then we also hear a sense of feeling under-rewarded and even when things are passable, just a general sense of being ignored or overlooked.

Heaping indignity onto indignation, seafarers speak of having to deal with a day-to-day lack of respect from ashore. Raising concerns that within all too many companies, shoreside management is seen to lack empathy or operational knowledge. While concerns for crew welfare struggle to even reach a compliance level, let alone better. The “do what we have to, and no more” approach seems the norm.

There are too few companies which seemingly strive for excellence when it comes to their people. This is not only a disappointment, but it will likely come back to bite the industry big time. Yes, some do great things, and when they do, seafarers really do appreciate and realise how important it is. Though the more usual tale is one of ennui, dismay and usually resigned disappointment.

Lest we forget, respect is the foundation of any strong relationship, professional or personal. Nowhere is this more evident, perhaps even important, than at sea, where bonds between ship and shore should be able to rely heavily on mutual understanding and shared trust.

The slippery slope of falling satisfaction of seafarers, and their calling out lack of respect highlights how feeling undervalued and disconnected by management eats away at self-esteem and morale.

Now, these may seem very “soft skillsy” in nature, but they come with some very hard lessons indeed. There can be no hiding as respect starts with real and demonstrable concern for health, safety, and personal needs. It is about minimising or easing burdens.

Respect for seafarers is about doing the best to make things better, whether they be work or rest, heck even leisure. Better communication, genuine empathy and carefully considered policies demonstrate true respect. Something which cannot be faked or forced. It emerges from a place of sincere appreciation and care.

Streamlining reporting and cutting superfluous paperwork, empowering all onboard with the latest digital tools, and not making them belt-and-braces back to paper. Every minute lost to pointless bureaucracy is disrespectful of seafarers’ time and abilities. Every rude and inconsiderate block of shore leave, every dollar slashed from the feeding rate, all weaken the bonds of shared endeavour and undermine the relationship across all sides of the equation.

So, back to the harsh, yet simple truth. Respect is a vital and fundamental relationship foundation, and while it may come with increased costs it also can deliver immense rewards. Where we see respect we see reciprocal loyalty, satisfaction, and performance. Much good can come from the willingness, capacity and desire to treat seafarers as they should be.

When crews feel their efforts are appreciated, they happily redouble their commitment. By supporting seafarers and minimising daily burdens, we can reignite that spark of loyalty and pride that once defined this profession.

With crewing shortages looming, smart companies will take steps to recognise and celebrate their seafarers. While those who fail to show fundamental respect will struggle to attract and retain talent in coming years.

Respect breeds optimism and progress; disrespect fosters disillusionment. The choice ahead is clear for both seafarers and industry alike. As seafarers face security threats and risks the world over, as they travel further and longer on voyages and do so with stoic determination and commitment, the very least we can all do is give a little respect.