All Aboard – Positive Employee Engagement

The main entryway to 75 Enterprise Center

There is much made of the phrase “human resources” – but do companies do enough to ensure that promotions, encouragement and enthusiasm are the bedrocks of positive working experiences? We explore 5 keys to engagement, asking how companies can do more, especially for seafarers to get them onboard, literally and metaphorically.


Mark Woodhead

You may have seen a number of articles in the media lately about the changes within KVH Media Group. Our Managing Director, Mark Woodhead, has been made KVH senior vice president for training and content, directing our market-leading maritime crew welfare, safety, and productivity services. This also includes Videotel maritime training packages, as Nigel Cleave heads off for a well-deserved retirement.

Given that our services are currently in use on more than 12,000 vessels worldwide across our numerous news and entertainment brands, it is a big change, and one which will have a positive impact on the lives of seafarers and our company too.

This got us thinking about the importance of promotions, of engagement and of how employees are rewarded and move up through the ranks. At sea there is a major concern that people are often seen as a commodity, rather than being genuinely viewed as “human resources”. So what should and can be done to make seafarers feel special?

The terminology may have changed over the years, but a pivotal question is whether seafarers are viewed in positive terms – or is it simply about minimum manning levels, and of anyone with a ticket will do? Sadly, there is evidence that crew are sometimes viewed as chattel, and that does our entire industry a disservice.


World maritime day

It can be confusing for observers looking in at shipping. Without seafarers, ships wouldn’t move, and trade would quickly grind to a halt. Yet there are concerns companies are simply not doing enough to make sure seafarers feel valued and part of the chain.

The topic of the importance of seafarers is a common one at events, conferences and in articles by a range of organisations, charities, and companies. Everyone insists how important seafarers are to business and global industry interests. Yet it can sometimes be hard to see how the message filters down.

All kinds of initiatives exist to drive the concept of careers at sea, and to recognise the importance of seafarers. Away from the World Maritime Days, the Seafarer Weeks, et al are we doing the basics right?

There are some incredibly important questions to be asked – and they have an impact not just for people, but the industry and the entire global supply chain. Get the questions right, and it is probably the biggest win-win situation imaginable. Get it wrong, and people lose jobs, companies and entire industries collapse…let’s remember, if shipping sneezes the global population can catch a cold. Literally.


Human resources

When we speak of human resources, we need to remember the importance of shipping to real resources. Without ships people the world over could go hungry, and without power they can be cold too. Ships power the modern world and society – and the industry needs to manage its own resources, to ensure the world can function.

Management is the key word in maritime business, and in order for shipping to harness its assets…both people and vessels, there needs to be a positive planning process, and a means of bring the best out of what we have.

Let’s look at the people issue, the way in which seafarers are treated and how they are managed. Is the shipping industry engaging employees effectively? “Employee engagement” is the workplace approach which results in the right conditions for all members of an organisation.

This form of engagement means that each employee – in this case those at sea, are willing and able to give their best each day, they understand and are committed to the organisation’s goals and values, they are motivated to contribute to success, and with support and feeling part of a team they have an enhanced sense of their own well-being.


Employee engagement

These are the conditions in which employees offer more of their capability and potential. Let’s be honest, are they really the conditions which most seafarers experience? The answer is some companies is a definite yes, and KVH Media Group works with many companies who constantly look to provide the best for their crews.

Alas, elsewhere, and on a larger scale the answer would have to be no. There are so many seafarers who feel isolated, ignored and less of a human resource, more of a pawn in a game of shipping chess.

Employee engagement is based on trust, integrity, two way commitment and communication between the company and crew. It is meant to be covered within the tenets of the ISM Code, but so often it is not. Management systems may talk the talk, but the reams of paper seldom deliver…so what can be done to foster employee engagement, to increase safety, security and efficiency?

How can seafarers be supported, encouraged, rewarded and nurtured? Well the best employers, share a number of “enablers” which mean they have highly engaged and high performing people. A look at the best employer lists show how badly shipping companies perform – there are very, very rarely any of them troubling the performance charts. Where companies like IBM, Microsoft, Apple excel, our leading lights are left to fade.


Employee engagement is about…

1. Thinking Positive: How can seafarers feel glad about their work? The basics are good food, rest and recreation. They need to feel happy, recognised and rewarded. This is not rocket science.

2. Listening: Seafarers need to be encouraged to share and know that they will be listened to. With less people coming from a seagoing background working in offices ashore, seafarers are the eyes, ears and shipping soul of the organisation. Respect that role.

3. An Understanding: Employee engagement is about understanding and empathy. Seafarers need to understand the structure ashore, and those ashore need to understand what is happening at sea.

4. Sense of Purpose: Employee engagement is about having a clear understanding of how an organisation is fulfilling its purpose and objectives. Make everyone feel a part of the process, of the success…and any failings need to be shared by all. All employees are responsible for the good, and can carry the burden of responsibility for things that go wrong.

5. A Team Game: Employee engagement is about seafarers being included fully as members of the team. Crews should be focused on clear goals, trusted and empowered, receiving regular and constructive feedback, supported in developing new skills, thanked and recognised for their achievements.

Employers with strong and authentic values, with clear evidence of trust and fairness based on mutual respect, where two-way promises and commitments – between employers and employees – are understood and fulfilled. These are the companies that have…and keep the best people. Which in turn means they are more likely to succeed.

Looking after seafarers, giving the connectivity, communications, content, entertainment, news and training crews crave, these are the foundations on which positive employee engagement is based.

About Rob Parkin 22 Articles
Rob has worked in the maritime communication and content industry for over 18 years, during which he has gained great experience and insight in to this essential and sometimes misunderstood service sector. Coming from a media background, Rob has developed a passion for the welfare and connectivity of those at sea. Rob is very excited about new technologies and media services that are heralding the beginning of a new digital chapter in shipping.