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Seafarer Happiness Is Key to Success

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Steven Jones

Seafarer Happiness Is Key to Success 

by Steven Jones, Partner at McWatt and Jones

In all the hubbub of the London International Shipping Week, there was an announcement made at the ISWAN breakfast which is cause for much optimism in the industry. Once more the happiness of seafarers is set to be questioned, explored and reported on.

As Revd Andrew Wright, Secretary General at The Mission to Seafarers proudly announced that his organisation is taking over the initiative, it gave a sense of hope that not only can good practices within shipping be highlighted and praised, but that bad ones can be recognised and acted on.

The satisfaction of those working at sea is one data set that it has perhaps been all too easy to ignore, but it is vitally important that seafarers have a voice on their feelings, and the positives and negatives which affect them profoundly.

The Mission to Seafarers, announced its relaunch of the Seafarer Happiness Index as part of its commitment and focus on supporting a sustainable future for the global maritime industry. The Mission is partnering with project founder, Steven Jones, to pick up the reins from seafarer social network Crewtoo.

From the Brookes Belle event onboard the HQS Wellington

The shipping industry often talks about seafarers and the problems facing them. Though all too often it is done without real data to back up the talk of the realities of life at sea. With these gaps in knowledge, fears pervade the industry that some companies are not doing enough to deliver on the building blocks of a productive job, fulfilling career and the demands of those working at sea, but what do seafarers really think and how can we find out?

Outside of academic research, there is often a dearth of evidence as to how seafarers actually feel about their jobs, and there is one fundamental issue which is often overlooked, whether seafarers are actually happy.

The Mission to Seafarers Seafarer Happiness Index will consist of the same ten questions as the previous index, delivering a mark out of ten on key welfare issues like shore leave, wages, food, training, social interaction and family contact. The anonymous survey also seeks first-hand experiences to support the figures.

Ensuring the future sustainability and growth of the maritime sector through effective crew recruitment and retention has become a key issue in recent years. The Seafarer Happiness Index will deliver key insights in to how to attract and maintain the seafarer workforce of tomorrow, as well as draw attention to potential welfare pitfalls in the industry’s future.

Steven Jones, founder of the Seafarer Happiness Index commented: “While there are studies which assess the confidence of the shipping market and health of businesses, often these are driven by macro issues such as financial markets, socio-economics and geo-politics. However, the industry is also being shaped from the bottom up, by the industry’s key workers – seafarers. By measuring the ongoing satisfaction and happiness of seafarers, the industry can reveal trends and early warning signs of the issues facing shipping.

“Happy, satisfied, well fed, fit and engaged seafarers are less likely to have accidents, they are less likely to become disaffected and they are the manifestation of the confidence which may be felt elsewhere up the industry chain. When the Seafarer Happiness Index was launched in 2015 it provided an opportunity to look past anecdotes and rumour, and provide data where before there was guesswork. With the relaunch of the Index by the Mission to Seafarers, and an intensified focus on welfare, we can build a clear vision of where employers are winning and losing and ensure early course corrections to build a happier, more effective, workforce for the future.”

Ben Bailey, Assistant Director of Advocacy, the Mission to Seafarers commented: “The Mission to Seafarers is primarily concerned with offering direct and tangible support to seafarers, helping them stay in contact with family and friends or aiding in times of crisis. However, this work makes us acutely aware of industry trends and the changing welfare landscape faced by seafarers. Taking on the running of The Seafarer Happiness Index from Crewtoo therefore feels like a natural fit. Our on-the-ground support teams can collect the views of seafarers for the research, and the outcomes will impact our advice to owners and operators to help them achieve best practice.”

From mental and physical health, diet, rest, workloads, connectivity, training, access to shoreleave, relationships at home and onboard, there are real and vital questions that need to be asked. Measuring how happy people are with the various elements of their working life at sea will give the industry a picture of the real successes, problems and provide learning opportunities to improve. Such feedback can be a blueprint to the improvements needed.

By finding out how happy seafarers are, then the shipping industry can build a picture of where employers and seafarers are winning and losing. Happiness is the foundation on which everything is built. Happy people stick around, happy people work well, they embrace challenges, they look to excel and they share with others.

By attempting to measure the ongoing satisfaction and happiness of seafarers, the industry can gain a compelling insight into the issues being faced by shipping, but not just in the offices ashore, but out on vessels too. The real effect of how shipping is delivering is felt in the cabins, wheelhouses and control rooms onboard. In container ships, bulkers and tankers – the industry is being shaped from the bottom up by the feelings of seafarers – the professionals who really shape shipping.

Ultimately, stripping back from investors, the markets, clients, the media, et al – it is the people onboard who affect the so much of how shipping delivers for the world. This is an opportunity to look past anecdotes and rumour, and provide data where before there was guesswork.

Getting to see how seafarers feel, and exploring their dissatisfaction about key facets of life at sea, means that shipping companies have a chance to learn from the mistakes of others. They do not have to wait until an accident, death or the loss of crews to competitors, they can see where things are going wrong and readjust their business course.

Research for the next Seafarer Happiness Index will begin in October this year and continue until December. The Mission to Seafarers will publish the results in January 2018.

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