In a recent conversation with an owner, the topic of crew well-being arose. When discussing the relationships between crewmembers and owners, he raised the striking idea of how the industry’s simple rhetoric can fundamentally affect the relationship between those on board.  

“We still refer to them as crewmembers, whereas in companies we don’t use the words ‘employee’ any more, especially in smaller companies or more modern management structures, within which we refer to them as ‘team members’, as we are all members of a team with a similar objective,” he explained.

The terminology of ‘owner’ evokes an almost feudal image; a throwback to a servant/master relationship which is no longer applicable in any other areas of contemporary working life. If the rhetoric shifted slightly, would it lead to a better dynamic on board?

As the adage goes, a golden rule is that the man with the gold makes all the rules, and this is rarely more evident than in the yachting world. As many crew would testify, owners are fundamentally seen as the rulemaker. As the owner of the yacht, the payer of all the bills and the employer of all of the crew, it is to be expected that the owner be viewed in this way.  Interestingly, however, the owner I spoke with doesn’t see their on board relationship like this, “If the crew says no, then it’s no. If the crew says you cannot host a dinner for 20 people, the dinner will not be hosted. If the captain says it’s not safe to go out, then it’s not safe.”

Looking at successful start up companies for inspiration on how to treat employees is a novel idea, especially in an industry that is largely resistant to change and persistently tarred by the conservative brush. Owners are often treated with the utmost respect by crew and almost feared on board, would this ‘startup’ mentality work on a yacht? More and more companies are using unorthodox management techniques; if you look at successful and creative brands such as Google, Virgin or Facebook, bosses cite higher productivity and better output by embracing a ‘new age’ approach to working.

Each yacht has a unique cultural fingerprint that is instilled by the owner and captain. Might a more inclusive dialogue lead to crewmembers feeling more valued and thus more inclined to remain on board? Job satisfaction is frequently cited as being a key factor in professional performance; positive enforcement through a simple change in dialogue could lead to a happier and harder working crew, which, ultimately, means a happier owner.

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