Developing Crew Stability: The Crew Turnover Survey

Posted: 10th March 2017 | Written by: Karen Passman

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There are many myths and differing perceptions about the causes of crew turnover, but it remains one of the most challenging issues for the superyacht industry. Last year Impact Crew conducted an extensive crew turnover survey to identify the facts and dispel some myths.

The survey received over 800 responses, yielding results in line with industry norms and providing valuable insight into solutions for improving crew stability and retention.

Here we explore the findings in more detail, look at the real cost of high crew turnover and discover the all-important recipe for improving teamwork and crew retention. 

A poll of Yacht Managers and Captains taken at the 2014 Monaco Yacht Show estimated crew turnover to be between 10-30% per annum. However, our crew survey revealed that closer to 50% of yacht crews leave within the first year; specifically 38% of senior crew 1, 69% of junior crew 2 and 65% of Chefs, all departing before completing 12 months in the job.

These figures align more with the tenure of those on short-term contracts packing boxes for Amazon3 than staff working in the high end, luxury yachting industry, where the expected quality of service and attention to detail take time to cultivate. So what are the issues? 

Is the desire to earn more money driving crew to change jobs? 

Only 9% of all respondents cited money as one of their main reasons for leaving. However, this figure reduced when crew were asked what would have encouraged them to remain on board for longer, with just 3% stating more money. Pay is often used to motivate crew, whether by way of a ‘13th month’ or guaranteed annual rises, but motivational theorists disagree with this reasoning and the findings of our survey bear this out. 

Are short term contracts being used to reduce costs?

Around 18% of crew stated that they left their job either because they were on a short term contract or because the vessel was working to skeleton crew for the winter. But what are the longer term financial implications? To begin with, there is the cost of re-recruiting, the time spent re-training and the mistakes and damages made by new crew (not to mention the impact on safety).

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Inspiring Teamwork

Lack of continuity can have a negative influence on the quality of maintenance and guest experiences.  Another significant consequence often overlooked is the cost of additional spending by new senior crew, which Jason Gilbert of Ocean Independence has been monitoring. He explains:

“If a senior crew member leaves, of course a new custodian to a role is full of enthusiasm, which is great, and we really do not want to quell this as it brings the positive outlook and atmosphere. However, with this enthusiasm comes a cost. The incumbent Chief Stew will want her brand of Hoover, coffee machine, cleaning material, additional serving utensils, stationary, improved uniform, shoes, etc etc. 

As Management it is then our task to try to encourage the positivity and not break the bank in the process. In terms of costs, over the first three months we estimate the spending of new senior crew to be in the region of €8-10K for a Chief Stew or Chief Officer and €20-30K for a Captain.” 

These are some of the indirect costs, now add in the direct costs of replacing a crew member, and outlay can spiral towards €50K. Notwithstanding the impact of time to re-train, the instilling of standards and teamwork to provide continuity for the owner, these figures suggest that investing crew retention is a sound financial proposition. 

Recruiting the right person for the job is a significant factor in the crew turnover debate, directing attention to the recruitment process itself. Our survey revealed that over 44% of crew found their last position through social networks and 31% through recruitment agents, mirroring similar patterns in the corporate sector. 

However, often the speed with which yacht crew are recruited limits the amount of time and resources available in the screening process. This is one area where lessons could be learnt from the business world in order to reduce demand for the ‘quick fix’ crew member who often creates more problems than they solve. 

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The corporate sector has found that through job profiling and assessing a candidate on a number of levels, recruitment success increases from less than 30% (using only skills, qualifications and experience) to around 70% – 80%. 

Inspiring Recruitment

Impact Crew is pioneering innovative ways to bring this more successful corporate approach to superyacht crew recruitment, blending the use of technology, the profiling expertise of Occupational Psychologists and their own industry expertise to provide insights during the interview process that can otherwise remain unidentified until the candidate is well into the role. 

The Crew Turnover Survey asked Captains to name their biggest challenges and hiring the right people was high on the list. However, nudging ahead of this were the daily challenges they face in managing crew and poor teamwork. Crews attending our HELM courses echo this sentiment during discussion on the issues that ‘keep them awake at night’. No one said “driving the boat”; for everyone it was “managing the people”. 

There are clearly issues for both senior and junior crew who may be struggling to manage others or who are being poorly managed themselves, and this was clearly evident in the findings. Around 40% of crew cited bullying or unfair treatment, and 64% of junior crew left as a direct result of the leadership they experienced on board. In business there is an expression “People join organisations but leave their managers”. It would appear that crew experience much the same on yachts and ultimately vote with their feet. 

However, it is important that Captains are not unfairly represented when it comes to crew management; after all, many have received no formal training in managing people. A Chief Officer recently mentioned that he spends 80% of his days doing “stuff” he has received absolutely no training for, such as managing issues around diversity and crew training or dealing with attitudes and conflicts. 

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Developing Leadership Skills

Being a leader on board is not easy.  As well as being knowledgeable and competent in the day job, being a good accountant, organiser and planner, people skills also need to be developed, such as teaching, disciplining, motivation and mediation, but first there needs to be a level of self-awareness and a willingness to change. 

The corporate sector has addressed this through leadership development for all staff, whether they are stepping up to team leader or managing vast departments. This can range from a couple of days to programmes spanning several years with a number of interventions. More senior employees may be selected to study for an MBA (Masters in Business Administration), or they may have the opportunity to work with an executive coach on a one-to-one basis. 

Whichever option, the majority of industries from construction to pharmaceutical have identified the value of leadership development for their people. The superyacht industry has yet to embrace this but those who have received team building and leadership training typically speak highly of the benefits. 

Ultimately there are few people who would choose to do a job poorly and this applies to both junior and senior crew. If a junior is underperforming, either they don’t know it, or they don’t know how to improve, and it’s the responsibility of the senior crew to give them feedback and highlight areas for development. Problems arise if the senior crew lacks the skill, time or inclination to address this, which can spark a downward spiral in the general motivation and morale on board. 

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The Crew Turnover Survey provides robust evidence that the best recipe for achieving crew loyalty and longevity is to invest in the very people synonymous with the quality of the product. Formalised team development impacts how a crew develops, moulding them into a motivated, productive and high performing unit. The key is to equip senior crew with the management tools and leadership skills they need. 

Impact Crew specialises in providing team and leadership development on board for an entire crew as well as bespoke programmes and individual coaching for senior crew. Please contact us to find out how we can work with you to optimise your team’s performance and ultimately improve your crew retention.

*1 Senior Crew consisted of Captains, Officers, Chief Engineers, Pursers & Chief Stews
*2 Junior Crew consisted of Deck & Steward(esses)
*3 In 2013 Amazon had the second highest staff turnover of the fortune 500 

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