Increasingly, wellbeing at work is understood to be a business critical issue. Workforces that are healthy and happy make for better results. So such wellness can mean ships which are safer, more efficient, and with a good pipeline of excellent people who stick around. What is wellness really all about?
There can be temptation to think of wellness as some kind of nicety, something which sounds good, but in theory is an airy fairy concept which doesn’t mean anything for the bottom line of the business. The truth is somewhat different.
Wellness at work does deliver for the company, it translates directly into the balance sheet and means vastly improved performance. So the challenges and pressures in business today mean that a strategic focus on wellbeing is more essential than ever.
As new generations enter the shipping employment stream this demographic change is beginning to have a big effect. Tie this to increased competition, advances in technology, and changing expectations of workers, and there is a need to respond positively.
Introducing measures which ensure wellness of seafarers, and actually those ashore too, are hugely significant. What are the key facts and issues around wellbeing at work facing employers today? Let’s dig into the issues…
HEALTH AND WELLBEING
In the past few years there has been a growing, widespread business recognition of the importance of mental health and workplace wellbeing. Shipping is no different in that sense, and there is a groundswell of concerted action from a range of industry players.
From charitable bodies (most notably the Sailors Society), leading businesses, professional bodies, flag States and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to deal with the common threats to mental health and wellbeing that have become so familiar to working people.
A commitment is one thing, and shipping needs to introduce real change. Ashore there is determined action which is increasingly set to verifiable agreed standards. At sea the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) is meant to provide the checks and balances needed, but there are questions as to whether it is really delivering above a lowest common denominator level.
So what are the lessons that employers can learn from shore which can be applied to seagoing staff? Increasingly there are initiatives that assess the commitment to support the mental health and wellbeing of workers. While there are schemes that offer guidance, benchmarking and accreditation too. What are the lowest hanging fruit, and what can be done easily, cheaply and effectively?
BEST PLACES TO WORK
Some companies have staff surveys and audits to ensure that they are doing the right thing for staff. There are campaigns which highlight the “100 best companies” to work for. In the US, these are dominated by the likes of Google, Microsoft and Apple.
There are few, if any shipping companies which figure highly in such lists. Which is a real shame. There is seemingly some form of disconnect between the company and seafarers. Sometimes this is real, because crews are employed via numerous third parties. While for others it is just a perceived divide.
Whether real or not, the problems of a disconnected workforce, and the distances in the chain between employers and shipping companies are very worrying and hint at problems in making sure seafarer wellbeing is a high priority.
So there is a need to find answers and ways of not just engaging with seafarers, but of harnessing what they want and need. A way of entering into dialogue which can deliver the results which people at sea need.
MORE THAN HEALTH
Just to remind us, employee wellbeing is more than just people’s medical health, though those elements are important. It is about more than just physical issues too it is about these and the way in which they mesh together to make a person feel about their work, their time at sea, their development, happiness and willingness to remain in the job.
Employers who confine their approach to conventional health factors such as weight, nutrition and exercise miss critical clues on how to optimise a healthy and productive workforce. Though of course and obese, malnourished and out of breath crew are unlikely to be feeling super stoked about life.
The best companies take a more holistic approach to the issue of employment. They are able to look deeper into the ways in which human resources are managed, and of the deliverables which are needed from both sides of the equation.
Looking deeper can reveal the true costs of impaired health which have previously been under-estimated, and which can have a massive effect on safety, standards and efficiency onboard any ship.
Mental wellbeing is a state in which employees are able to realise their own potential, they feel positive about the direction of their own work, career and development.
Wellbeing is a state of mind which means that crews can cope with the normal stresses of life and work productively and fruitfully. Seafarers who feel positive about their wellbeing are less likely to be stressed, they will stave off the effects of fatigue and will be able to respond positively.
Seafarers who are feeling generally good have a resilience to cope with the difficulties and challenges of life at sea. Something which used to be a valuable and important feature of seagoing.
Just a few decades ago, seafaring life was so different. That is not to swing the lantern and call for the good old days – but there needs to be a recognition that smaller crew numbers, and more stressful demands are a barrier to wellbeing. So modern, contemporary efforts to make life at sea better need to be developed and embraced.
There are many ways to improve mental wellbeing such as by being physically active and by taking opportunities for relaxation and social activities. Sadly, what seems easy ashore may not be at sea.
It is all well and good to say crews need to engage in physical activity, exercise, eating well and to be more social – but how? These are issues which seafarers report difficulties with. So the question is whether employers really, truly know enough about what seafarers are experiencing.
This is not something which can really be expressed in hours of rest data, safety meeting minutes or ISM paperwork. This becomes an issue of whether shipowners are asking the right questions. For us at KVH Media Group – we think in terms of solutions.
So we are passionate about the role in news onboard ship – see our blog post on the very issue. In addition to our NewsLink services, we believe that content and movies can all be hugely significant stimulus, and we are focused on the connected ships and crews of today and the future. We look forward to showing the ways in which our services can make a huge difference to your seafarers.
What do you think? Is wellness important? Are you doing enough to support seafarers? Tell us about the initiatives and ideas your company has in place. We look forward to hearing from you…