Whether it’s an office, a container ship, a bulk carrier or a tanker, every workplace is a tiny individual universe. And like all universes it comes with its own very specific combination of people, personalities, rules, and culture.
And even though in an ideal world, everyone would get along with one another, it’s a fact of life that not everyone will be the best of friends - or even be able to agree to disagree!
In an office environment, sometimes a healthy discussion about how to do certain tasks or manage processes can be healthy but if your people are getting into heated debates about even the smallest of things, it can create a toxic, and unproductive, workplace.
And of course, on vessels, there is normally no room for debate and the strict hierarchy must be obeyed for reasons of safety and security. But that might not stop two people from butting heads - regardless of what rank they are.
Arguments in any working environment need to be avoided; they’re not constructive and they can lead to dangerous situations, if the people involved are at sea.
Constant rows at work can also have a knock on effect on your employee and crew retention - after all, no one wants to work somewhere where the environment is negative and unpleasant, even if they’re not directly involved in the conflict.
But the good news is there are ways that superiors, both on vessels and ashore, can help to make your little universe a place where respect and positivity are top of the agenda.
How to handle employees & crew who don’t get on
To take care of workplace conflict in a healthy way and convince crew or employees who can’t seem to help clashing you need to make sure that your internal communications are clear.
It’s all about setting boundaries and turning disagreements into a more constructive form of discussion.
For example, if you’re a manager, owner or Human Resources person in your small to medium shipping company or manning agency and you’ve noticed (or been told) that some coworkers are really not getting on well, you might need to intervene and become the voice of reason.
This is also something that anyone in a position of authority on your vessels could also try if they’ve got problems with crew members not getting along.
Asking the people in question, firmly but politely, “What seems to be the issue? Can I help you with anything?” will provide both parties with an opportunity to step back and put forward their side of the argument.
With you (or your Master, First Officer, Chief Engineer or Bosun etc.) playing the part of the impartial third party, this should help everyone involved breathe for a moment and gain a bit of perspective into the issue.
Make sure employees and crew know what’s expected of them
It doesn’t matter whether you’re hiring a Maritime Recruitment Officer, Crew Planner, Third Engineer or Wiper, anyone that is employed by you needs to know what is, and what isn’t, acceptable when it comes to communicating with others in the workplace.
You need to make your expectations for respectful relationships at work as well as productive conflict resolution clear so that new hires know what to expect. This is essential in the event that a discussion turns aggressive or unpleasant and the employees/contractors involved need to be spoken to.
When it comes to existing employees or crew, this will be worth covering in your team meetings every so often.
But make sure guidelines are reasonable
Obviously you don’t want to be accused of killing freedom of speech! But you do need to make clear what your company expects in terms of how to speak to people, and how to give feedback and constructive criticism.
The knock-on effect of clear communication
If you’ve ever wondered why some of your employees don’t seem to be capable of having a civilized conversation, the truth is, some people just aren’t all that great at getting their point across without blowing up.
But as a leader in your organization you can do your best to lead by example and show people that there are other ways to communicate.
When your lines of communication are open and your employees and contracted seafarers know what is expected of them it will help to create a more positive environment.
Why you should ask employees for feedback
It also helps to check in with your people on a regular basis. And that includes all of your employees - including the office-based people who work remotely as well as your seafarers.
Asking for seafarer feedback can help with crew retention because it makes people feel valued. And let’s face it, reminds them that you haven’t forgotten about them while they’re away at sea.
This also helps to keep the channels of communication open and lets you put out any little fires that might have flared up due to poor communication and misunderstandings between coworkers or crew.
And that will go a long way towards helping stop any potential disagreements before they have a chance to become great, big issues!
Why you need to tackle employee and crew conflict
There are plenty of reasons why negative conflict and clashes should be avoided, both ashore and at sea. These are just a few of them:
- Your company will get a reputation for being an unpleasant place to work - meaning you’ll have less great people applying for your on- and off-shore vacancies.
- Plus, you’ll have more vacancies to fill if office staff are constantly surrounded by toxic behavior as they'll leave to work somewhere more positive.
- Conflict on a vessel when crew are spending long months away from home and working and living closely can be dangerous. Tempers can erupt, safety can be compromised.
- Employee productivity will take a hit, especially if decisions aren’t being clearly communicated due to disagreements.
- It’s also a waste of time when people are arguing at work as everyone else either downs tools to watch or listen and then gathers round the water cooler to gossip about it.
- Employees who are surrounded by bad tempers day in and day out are also more likely to be stressed and take sick days.
- And, needless to say, stressed employees will be more likely to become angry or argumentative themselves.
- Meanwhile seafarers who have had an unpleasant experience on one of your vessels are likely to find another employer or manning agent to work for on their next contract.
Handling employees and crew who don’t get on: the takeaway
We all know the saying “Your people are your business’s biggest asset.”
It’s a cliché because there’s truth in it. But if you want this particular asset to be worth anything, you need your employees and crew to work together efficiently, productively, safely and respectfully.
So set your guidelines, keep your lines of communication open, and check up on employees and crew members to see how they’re doing and you might just be able to create that harmonious working environment that takes your business to the next level.