7 ways to help improve employee retention onboard
Written by: Lynne Edwards
Back in 2017, Impact Crew conducted a survey of over 800 people within the yachting industry that revealed the stark reality of high crew turnover in the industry.
It found that nearly 50% of yacht crews leave within the first year.
Specifically 38% of senior crew, 69% of junior crew and 65% of Chefs.
Five years later, employee retention onboard remains one of the biggest challenges for superyachts.
The same survey conducted in 2022 shows that poor leadership is the most common reason that crew leave, with 53% of all respondents citing this as their reason to leave a vessel.
Today, crew turnover is still around 20-40% each year, which is significantly higher than the majority of shore-based industries.
It’s clear that our industry has its challenges.
But high crew turnover needn’t be viewed as inevitable or something that just needs to be tolerated or accepted.
Here are 7 key leadership skills that will help improve employee retention onboard yachts.
1) Have regular 121s
Prepare and make time for regular conversations with each individual member of your team – ideally, at least once a month, and in a quiet space where you won’t be interrupted.
Rather than an annual review that merely focuses on the achievements and challenges of the previous year, a regular 1-2-1 is an opportunity to check in and discover what their current priorities and challenges are.
Ask these questions regularly and you’ll receive answers that are more relevant than what you might uncover in an annual or six-month review. Aside from discussing their job role, it’s also an opportunity to check in with them on an emotional level and get to know them as a person.
When people feel more cared about and valued for who they are, not just what they do, they’ll feel more engaged with their role and more likely to stay.
2) Encourage every member of your team to ‘sharpen the saw’.
Whether their role is to fold laundry, scrub the deck or lead a team of stewards, every individual needs to develop, grow and change, otherwise they risk stagnating.
In Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, he highlights how important continual learning is for personal growth.
As our coaches continue to see, the yachts with greater employee retention have leaders who invest in their crews’ personal development, because it’s another indication that they’re cared about, recognised and valued.
3) Make health and wellbeing part of your strategy
As many who work in the industry will attest, life on the ocean waves can be extremely fun, financially rewarding and yes, even glamorous.
But it is not without its own unique set of challenges and pressures. The long hours, intense working conditions and many months spent away from home can all take their toll physically and emotionally – even for the most resilient of individuals.
A survey of superyacht crew, commissioned by Yachting Pages Media Group, yielded some staggering results – 72% suffered from mental health problems or knew somebody who had.
To help retain employees onboard, give physical and mental health equal attention.
As well as offering advice on the best nutrition and exercise, help to remove the stigma around mental health by making sure they have access to a qualified, trained counsellor.
4) Practise empathetic listening
A common misconception people often have about leaders is that they must instantly come up with solutions to problems in any given situation. But it’s impossible to know what decisions need to be made without listening to your team.
When you ask each member of your team questions, take the time to pause and reflect on their answers before offering solutions.
Practise empathetic listening by focusing on how the issue is affecting them, which will help you to be less distracted by your own thoughts and feelings about it.
When you create a space where people feel really listened to, and heard, they naturally begin to come up with their own solutions.
The more empowered they feel, the more likely they are to stay.
5) Ask open-ended questions when you ask for feedback
Asking your team for regular feedback is one of the simplest, yet most effective, ways to find out how you’re developing as a leader.
Rather than asking closed questions – such as ‘Do you know why this is happening’ or ‘Are you happy? – which tend to invite closed ‘yes’ or ‘no’ responses, opt for open-ended questions that begin with ‘what’ or ‘how’, to encourage more expansive thinking and self-exploration.
For example: ‘As a leader, what more can I do for you?’ ‘What do you need from me to perform at your best?’ ‘What do I need to do to help you with that?’
Treat all feedback as a gift and take away the nuggets that are the most constructive. It will not only help you to become a better leader but will also help your team to feel more valued for their opinion.
6) Remember to breathe
This may sound simple but it’s one of the hardest skills to master. When under stress or dealing with a situation that could develop into a conflict, we have a tendency to hold our breath, which can create further tension and feelings of fear in the body.
Conversely, when we take time out to pause, count to ten and take several deep breaths, we activate the prefrontal cortex. This helps us release any cortisol that has built up in the body and helps us make better and less-emotionally triggered decisions.
As well as diffusing conflict situations, it will help to build trust with each member of your team because they will see you as someone who remains calm and level-headed.
7) Create a strategy with the help of your team
Begin with the end in mind, but make sure your team wants to join you on the journey.
Ensure you create objectives for the yacht, with the team’s help and support.
When you continue to ask for their input in achieving these objectives, they’ll feel more engaged in the process of achieving them.
Being part of a collective that’s working towards common goals and objectives will give them a stronger sense of purpose.
In turn, this will help to foster feelings of allegiance with team members, which will improve employee retention.