Soft Skills: Ensuring The Well-being of Seafarers
Challenges of Shipping Jobs
As a seafarer, being away from family and friends may mean that you are less likely to talk about poor mood or feelings of unhappiness than someone ashore who sees their loved ones every day. Just as means of communication with family is limited, seafarers may face other restrictions to their well-being such as limited shore leave, monotonous routines, long working hours, shift work, and few opportunities for exercise or socialising. We must pay attention to our mental health because it affects how we think, feel and act.
A Group "At Risk"
Evidence collected from maritime organisations has highlighted that seafarers are a group ‘at risk’. Based on research, around 6% of seafarer deaths were due to suicide, between 1960 and 2009. This increases if suspicious cases when seafarers go missing are taken into consideration. Further, according to IOSH, mental health issues are generally higher among seafarers. Moreover psychiatric disorders have become more common onboard cargo vessels in recent years. It is generally noted that seafarers may be particularly prone to emotional exhaustion, “burn-out”, and loneliness at sea.
Seafarers are exposed to an increased number of work-related stressors: fatigue, long hours, monotony, noise, vibration, temperature changes, a multinational environment, limited recreation, isolation, long periods away from home. It has become apparent that seafarers should possess not only the knowledge but also the skills and experience which can help them efficiently deal with such stressors. Seafarers who are required to lead, perform within a diverse group of people, achieve tasks and be efficient should develop a strong skillset in a range of areas such as coping under pressure, self-management and interpersonal skills.
Coping Under Pressure
The demands of work onboard, such as split shift patterns, the pressure of frequent inspections and administrative tasks all create a very demanding environment. Other challenges such as excessive responsibility, monotony, fatigue and others all affect well-being and mental health on board.
The ability to cope under pressure, make decisions and maintain healthy functioning are of utmost importance to survive and thrive in such an environment. Seafarers must manage to make decisions, plan and respond efficiently to pressure and stress. How seafarers respond varies from one to the other, depending on the soft skills they possess.
The interpersonal skills of seafarers such as agreeableness, assertiveness and conformity play a vital role in their overall well-being. It may not be easy, but seafarers who respect and can build relationships with the fellow crew members will have improved well-being. Working onboard is a “team effort”. According to Marine Insight, It is essential to enhance the interpersonal relationship between people to ensure that all jobs are done smoothly and safety.
Individual well-being is associated with choices and activities aimed at achieving physical and mental health. Maintaining a healthy body that has the energy to get through activities while maintaining emotional well-being that enables to cope with life’s challenges are of paramount importance.
Soft skills have the power to improve our relationships, mental health and well-being. They are all about human interaction, coping and communication. They are the personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people in the workplace, cope under pressure and perform efficiently. Therefore, seafarers should spend some time to assess, identify and develop their soft skills and as a result, improve their well-being and mental health. Developing these skills will enable them to perform more efficiently and increase their confidence.