Speak Hope International is a unique crew coaching and training initiative that focuses on the health and wellness of superyacht crew. With years of experience in shore-side management, founder Fiona Johnson aims to teach leadership, team building and provide strategies for crew to excel at life at sea and beyond, if they decide to transition ashore.
“Creating a ‘dream team’ that ensures the owners and guests receive the best experience every time, no matter what is happening behind the scenes, is a magnificent concept for any vessel,” Johnson explains. “With my background in human resources and crew management, I have come to understand the complexities that can come with not only trying to keep a team together, but getting the team to consistently operate at its optimum level.”
In a recent survey conducted by superyacht recruiter Faststream and industry job board Yotspot, covered by SuperyachtNews, captains and crew were asked whether they feel that they are under excessive pressure in their current role. The results found that 36 per cent of crew and 45 per cent of captains do indeed feel this way. While this may be inevitable due to the inherent demands of crew over the course of a busy season, it is an issue that could be alleviated through providing a greater focus on crew mental health and wellbeing.
Speak Hope recognises that life at sea can be tough, especially for ‘green’ crew who are being thrust into an unfamiliar environment, and therefore believes that having an outlet where crew can speak of any struggles without judgement, and receive the feedback and guidance needed to operate at their full potential, is key to overcoming immediate hurdles. “For most, it’s often their first time away from home, which can lead to both an exciting and overwhelming experiences,” Johnson adds. “Life on board can be exhilarating but crew are often in a bubble with not much outside influence.”
With the evolution of the industry over recent years, Johnson believes such a platform is becoming more and more necessary. “The superyacht culture has changed and yachts now have a higher crew turnover than ever,” she explains. “Crew may get into the industry for one reason or another but once in the on-board environment they might find that it is not conducive to their personality, or it is not in alignment with the perception of what they envisioned yachting to be.”
Of course, there are many other contributing factors for high crew turnovers, but by assisting a crewmember to understand his or her reasons for being on board, Johnson believes that they are likely to stay longer. “They may not have the correct social skills to fit in, which can create a lack of synergy with the other crewmembers,” she continues. “Essentially, Speak Hope’s aim is to partner with captains to nurture and develop their existing team by addressing areas of concern through leadership or sensitivity training and team-building exercises to improve longevity and ensure the right dynamic on board for the owners.”
Despite being a relatively unique initiative for yachting, since inception Speak Hope has been well received by the industry. “Our clientele often very quickly sees the transformation in their leadership and the positive impact it has among their team,” Johnson reflects. “We aim to create a place where they can feel freedom and a level of trust. A lot of the time they will know the answers to what they are going through but they just need a sounding board to aid in the discovery process. Speak Hope gives them a different way of looking at things and guides them through the process.”
Introducing the concept of crew health and wellness to the industry in such a personal way is perhaps an opportunity to enhance the emotional development of young people venturing into a new career. “One of the most important things for crewmembers is to know that they have someone with whom they can speak, which in turn assures them of the emotional investment by the captains and owners alike,” Johnson concludes. “Speak Hope provides a platform where every individual we come in contact with knows that they are valued and valuable.”
Considering the myriad of responsibilities that captains undertake, it is unsurprising that HR procedures in the superyacht industry can often fall short of those found in land-based work places. While most crew are able and willing to discuss personal issues with their captain or head of department, industry initiatives such as this are likely to appeal to the industry as a platform from which attention can be dedicated to crew wellbeing. In addition, crewmembers will welcome having someone to speak to if necessary, which in turn will make them feel that they are being invested in on the emotional side as well as the physical side.
Image: Fiona Johnson, Speak Hope International