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Turning the tides

Improving working conditions at sea

It’s no secret that working at sea can be tough. To attract and retain employees, companies across the maritime industry are making efforts to improve working conditions. The Seafarers’ Happiness Index provides an important insight into the overall wellbeing of seafarers.

A career in the maritime industry has a lot to offer. From great opportunities to travel to interesting destinations, to career flexibility and good long-term prospects, a job at sea can provide fulfilling and meaningful work. However, it also comes with many challenges. Demanding tasks and long hours mean that seafarers need to be highly skilled, dedicated, and able to work under pressure. And spending long periods of time at sea can be make many people feel lonely, isolated, and homesick.

The Mission to Seafarers, a global charitable organization, conducts an ongoing survey to measure how happy crewmembers are with their working life. The Seafarers’ Happiness Index (SHI) offers maritime workers around the world the opportunity to confidentially share feedback on conditions on board vessels. Likewise, it helps inform employers about how they can improve working life for their employees. This is becoming increasingly important as the industry strives to attract new talent while retaining its veterans.

General happiness is increasing

The good news is that, according to the latest Seafarers’ Happiness Index, general happiness has risen, scoring 6.72 out of 10 at the start of 2018. In fact, the average score increased in all areas but one. Some of the most frequently mentioned positives include travelling the world, earning enough money to provide for family on shore, and taking part in leisure activities with other crewmembers. However, one of the biggest negatives was distance from family and homesickness when at sea.

Connectivity is key

One of the best ways to address this concern is to provide greater connectivity on board vessels; and this area scored the highest on average in the latest SHI with 7.12 out of 10. With better internet connection, crewmembers can keep in touch with their friends and family back home. And, internet access is also something particularly important to millennials. Providing simpler, more effective opportunities to connect with people on land is therefore not only vital for job satisfaction, but could also help attract young talent to the industry.

Contacting the family gives me the enthusiasm and positivity about life and work at sea. Hearing from them is a good source of strength and motivation despite the isolation we feel when we are away

Source: Anonymous response in the Seafarers’ Happiness Index Q1 2018

Workload and shore leave

Two other areas that are crucial in job satisfaction are workload and shore leave. In terms of workload, some respondents are happy to pass time by keeping busy and were proud to push themselves. On the other hand, too many seafarers feel overworked as they receive new responsibilities. For many respondents, shore leave provides a way of “relaxing” and “refreshing” themselves for their tasks on board, and they relished the chance to take in the culture of new places. While both these areas saw a slight improvement in Q1, there is still progress to be made. Fortunately, amendments in the Convention on Facilitation of International Maritime Traffic (FAL Convention) came into force on January 1, 2018. This IMO convention aims to “prevent unnecessary delays in maritime traffic [and] to aid co-operation between governments”. The latest set of amendments set out additional guarantees relating to seafarers’ rights to shore leave.

Keeping healthy at sea

With limited time on shore, it is especially important to offer crewmembers good quality, healthy food and ample opportunities to exercise on board. There are, however, challenges associated with this. Rough sea conditions can make exercise practically impossible, even if facilities are provided. And multicultural crews present the ship’s cooks with the difficult task of preparing healthy meals that appeal to a wide range of tastes and preferences. In any case, the importance of food and fitness should not be underestimated—the SHI report identifies a clear link between a healthy diet and physical activity, with overall happiness.

What does this mean for the future?

The report shows that respondents aged 25–35 were the happiest age group. This is good news, considering the difficulties that the maritime industry faces in attracting younger generations. While the Seafarers’ Happiness Index indicates that working conditions and happiness are on the up, there is still much room for improvement. If crewmembers are happy, healthy, and well-connected, the industry as a whole will benefit from a more motivated and productive workforce.

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