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Yacht Crew: Getting On Board with Millennials

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The term ‘millennial’ causes much consternation among those involved with crew recruitment, management and development. Who exactly are we referring to when we talk about millennials?

For those of us who have been in the workforce for a few decades, it causes almost as much eye rolling as words like ‘hashtag’ and ‘tweet’.

To clarify, millennials are also known as 'Generation Y' and are generally accepted as being born after 1980 and before 2000 (although some academics specify 1981-1995). Consequently, millennials first entered the workplace around the year 2000 and by 2020 they will make up 50% of the workforce in the UK. Onboard they are probably the majority of your crew and, in some cases, all of it. 

Some of the rhetoric around millennials in the workplace is supremely negative, painting a picture of entitlement and poor levels of commitment. This is overstated but, whatever they may or may not be, millennial idiosyncrasies are shaping the future of the workplace. So if you’re struggling to understand what makes this new generation tick, it’s probably time to find out.

Issues of Hierarchy

As an executive coach, a captain I recently worked with expressed his bewilderment over the departure of two junior crew members; he was unaware of any problems, they just upped and left. After the event he pieced together the issues, but he was deeply concerned that they hadn’t spoken to him first. Many millennials have had upbringings far more closely supervised than previous generations, with parents who advocated for them at school, college and even at university. It’s not that they don’t want to speak up for themselves, but they probably need to learn how to. 

This may be further compounded by millennials having little experience of hierarchies. In fact, their experience may have been quite the opposite so, if you’re a hierarchical boss with fresh crew from a non-hierarchical background, there are bound to be tensions and misunderstandings. One encouraging factor is that millennials tend to have high expectations of themselves and want to do well.

Leadership 2

Ways to smooth the pathway for young, inexperienced crew include getting to know them by name, and engaging them in conversations through informal as well as formal means. Take advantage of the social activities you have with crew and make a point of speaking with them individually to reinforce your approachability. If you haven’t already got a buddy/mentoring system in place, start one. Millennials will be reassured by having this support system in place and, if the mentor is doing their job well, this will also give crew the confidence to communicate and voice concerns before they become insurmountable.

Leading v Managing

Millennials prefer close relationships with open communication and a boss who’s more of a coach than a manager. So, think about how much you encourage your crew to find the answers for themselves as opposed to telling them what to do.

It’s important to avoid over generalisation, but it’s reasonable to observe that millennials have grown up to expect greater work-life balance, that academic achievement and training will result in more rapid career progression and that they are unique, fortunate and capable of greatness. It’s therefore no wonder, according to the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM), that 89% of millennials want a workplace that is sociable and fun, with the ability to progress quickly being one of the top five factors for employment. Being respected and validated by their boss is considered to be the most important management behaviour.

2 girls Impact CrewSo how does all this translate to your yacht? Think about the culture onboard. Do people laugh a lot and smile as they go about their work and do you hold regular social gatherings? Are crew encouraged to grow and develop with good mentoring and opportunities for development? How visible and approachable are you and do you practice and encourage a culture of respect and value for the individuals in your charge? Would you want to work for you?

There are certain things outside of your control, for example, where more senior positions are not becoming available it's hard to prevent an ambitious junior from moving on. Some business organisations are now incorporating this prospect into their recruitment by being up-front about the development opportunities they can offer and keeping the door open for staff to return. Other businesses have accepted that a two-year tenure from a millennial is a reasonable benchmark to aim for.

Development and Progression

Gaining commitment from millennials represents the ‘golden egg’ of management practice. Your yacht may be a great place to work but, if young workers don't find the work fulfilling, they will leave. This is supported by the ILM who reported that in 2016 nearly three quarters of graduates considered themselves to be underemployed. To avoid this and increase commitment among your crew you can provide opportunities for them to learn new roles, new practices and to develop their skills, even if these are not needed for their current role.

woman Impact crew2

Millennials appreciate a sense of continual development and an interest in their progression; they thrive on feedback that links their individual contributions directly to the overall success of a project or positive outcomes for the vessel.

One way of achieving this is through regular performance reviews that link a crew member’s individual value to the success of the vessel. Another is to make sure that millennials are clear about the vision and mission for your yacht, as this will place what you do into context and make clear the purpose. Never say 'this is the way things are done around here' without explaining why, as this is a sure-fire way of propelling your millennial’s career onto someone else’s vessel.

Your vision and the values that guide the running of your yacht are perhaps more important to millennials than to any previous generation. Tapping into the social and ethical responsibility that is fundamental to many millennial crew is likely to hold the key to obtaining their commitment. Thus, providing crew with opportunities to take part in activities which promote socially constructive projects and charitable causes has the potential for a win-win situation.

Impact Crew is a research based training organisation specialized in leadership training for the superyacht industry, as well as individual coaching for senior crew. Please get in touch to see how we can support you!

Tel: +44 (0)1425 614 419

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  • Stewart et al (2017) Managing Millennials: Embracing generational differences;

  • (ILM) Institute of Leadership and Management (2017) Workforce 2020, Managing Millennials 

  • Whitney Johnson (2017) A business without Millennials is a business without a future

  • Maureen Wilson (2004) Teaching, learning and millennial students

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