Crew Phones: Give Them the Float Test?

Question: Geoff, Captain:

“Every time I see my crew these days they seem to be on their blooming mobile phones. No-one talks to each other in the crew mess anymore and I’m sure their work is suffering because they’re obsessed with checking their phones every two seconds! They’re using up all the WiFi bandwidth which is annoying me and no doubt the guests, and I swear the next one I catch on their phone in work hours is going to see their phone given the float test. I told them this and now they are all sulking. Why are they all so addicted to their phones and why are they being such babies about not being allowed to use them when they’re meant to be working?!”

Answer: Alison Rentoul, The Crew Coach:

Oh Geoff. You are far from alone. SO many Captains I speak to these days are struggling with the same problem. But the funny thing is, you are both right – and you are both wrong. I know that isn’t what you want to hear, but let me just explain a bit about what’s really going on here, because it’s a little more complex than it seems on the surface.

Firstly I just want to reassure you that I get it. I know it can be extremely frustrating when crew seem surgically attached to their smartphones and it drives many of us senior (and, ahem, older) types completely batty. We can only imagine what our first captain or chief stew would have said if we’d been caught making personal calls during working hours. And in ‘our day’ scrolling through Facebook or stopping work to watch a YouTube video would have been the equivalent of sitting down with a newspaper and a beer at the aft deck table while everyone else carries on work around you.

The thing is, for your younger crew it’s completely normal to be permanently connected to their cell phones. This is part of a phenomenon that came in with the generation that followed Generation X, known as the ‘Millennials’ (in other words, those who ‘came of age’ in the naughties) and it is continuing with the newest generation, known as ‘Generation Z’, in even more extreme forms of addiction to online networks such as Minecraft and other games.

What we have to understand is that these generations grew up with cell phones, Facebook and social media as an intrinsic part of their lives. There was never a time that these things didn’t exist for them. This has led this generation to have a strong need to feel connected, not just to the people around them, but with the whole world. Studies have proven that in order to be happy at work, Millennials need to retain access to their social networks – and crucially, being deprived of these will generally make them feel disconnected, distracted and even sullen. That’s clearly what is happening when you try to implement an all-out ban – but this shows that a total phone ban would actually hinder their performance rather than improve it.

To prove how serious this addiction actually is, a recent study revealed that 53% of millennials would give up their sense of smell instead of their social networks. 27% prioritise keeping up-to-date on Facebook above dating, listening to music and going to parties. And, even more tellingly, 56% would refuse to work at a company that bans social media.

To put it bluntly, you’re extremely unlikely to be able to win this argument by simply banning their phones. All this will do is demotivate them and make them feel like children having their toys confiscated, and that’s far from the best way to treat adults if you want them to follow and respect you as a leader.

To start with, when it comes to managing use of the bandwidth, there are great options for yachts now such as the BOSS system by Global Marine Communications which allows you to allocate bandwidth specifically via password protected access, right down to the individual guest or crew member – and also close off or open access according to certain times of the day. I’ll wager this is a far better way to achieve fair bandwidth sharing than threatening to throw their phones in the sea.

Having said this, the real secret to getting your young crew to stop engaging with their phones is to start engaging with them, and learning how to get them more fully engaged with their work. In a nutshell this means developing a closer mentoring style so they feel they are learning valuable lessons from you and your HODs that will benefit them in their careers.

Another way to increase engagement is to set small goals with tight deadlines so they can see their development and get fast recognition and rewards for their progress and achievements. Give them autonomy over certain tasks and projects, within approved guidelines, and let them show you what they can do when they are allowed to think for themselves.

Treat them as equals, and as individuals and be genuine and authentic when you talk with them. They won’t trust you otherwise and therefore won’t listen to what you say. Take time to genuinely connect, value and appreciate them. This might sound like hard work, but the investment of your time and energy will pay multiple dividends in having motivated and enthusiastic crew. Embrace and encourage their ideas and creativity and let work be FUN! They will be far less likely to withdraw into their social network online if they are engaged and enjoying the actual real life present moment they find themselves in.

About Alison Rentoul

Born in Melbourne, Australia, Alison came to Europe in her early twenties and began her career in yachting in 1998. After many years cruising throughout the Mediterranean and Caribbean as a superyacht stewardess and chef, followed by a reputable career in marketing for many of the industry’s leading players, Alison retrained as a professional development coach and founded the Crew Coach in 2009. Alison is 100% committed to helping people discover what they are deeply passionate about and truly capable of, and giving them clarity and focus on how to go forth and bring their aspirations to life.The Crew Coach offers career coaching, CV services, leadership training and team workshops to help clients leverage their personal and team potential to create success in their chosen field of yachting. We coach individual crew at all levels of their career and also work with Captains, owners, and senior crew to build high performing teams and develop outstanding industry reputations.

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