Crew Management

Understanding the Human Resource Responsibility of a Chief Stew

12 April 2021 By Kylie O'Brien
iStock/Enis Aksoy

Kylie O’Brien has worked on some of the world’s most magnificent vessels with amazing people for more than 13 years. A graduate of The Australian College of Applied Psychology, she is the author of Crew Wanted, The Stewardess Bible, The Chief Stewardess Bible, The Inside Job, and has been a monthly contributor to Dockwalk magazine for more than five years.

Canadian human resource expert Julie Bevacqua once said, “In order to build a rewarding employee experience, you need to understand what matters most to your people.” Unfortunately, given the stresses of the industry, the importance of knowing your team well, in my experience, is sometimes overlooked aboard superyachts. We know that our superyacht team leaders are incredibly busy people and must be as flexible as possible while maintaining incredibly high professional standards. 

As chief stew, you’re juggling many tasks simultaneously. You’re the yacht representative — as such, you are seen more by the owner and the guests. Furthermore, you may be required to act as a liaison between the guests and other department heads, which can be trying, depending on dynamics.

Acting as HR

In addition to providing exceptional guest service and interior maintenance, you have to also manage your team along with other human resource responsibilities in the background, all while guests are on board. As such, many interior managers have several checklists running, like: 

  • Organizing the team to do a detailed preparation of the yacht. 
  • Ordering the guest, yacht, and crew provisions. 
  • Writing up standard operating procedures for your team. 
  • Recruiting and training junior crew. 
  • Setting achievable goals for your interior team. 
  • Managing team conflicts fairly and efficiently. 
  • Managing interior accounts, crew hours, relevant crew visas, holiday hours, and sick leave, per the yacht’s operating procedures. 
  • Organizing timely work performance reviews.

Another important part of the job is explaining the resignation process and procedure to your team. But these are just a few human resource responsibilities of the chief stewardess or interior manager that must happen simultaneously. You’ll have to do these all while usually being sleep-deprived and traveling at sea, so it is of little wonder that things get overlooked from time to time.

Crew Familiarity

Your team is your most significant resource, so you need to learn what motivates them to perform at their best. In a multicultural environment, cultural differences, along with individual competency levels and personal characteristics, play a vital part in getting your team to work well together. To achieve a high level of service within the interior department, you will need to identify each crewmember’s level of competency, potential capacities, creative flair, willingness to learn, and their undesirable traits.

“In order to build a rewarding employee experience, you need to understand what matters most to your people.”

You can achieve familiarity with your team by listening to their suggestions and trying to understand by looking at the situation from their perspectives. Further, this will enable you to understand their professional thought patterns, strengths, and weaknesses. For example, on a busy charter with 12 demanding guests, it’s not ideal to schedule a junior stewardess on night service alone without appropriate supervision. Undoubtedly, she may feel out of her depth and stressed. Her job performance will suffer, along with her self-esteem and motivation. 

In this instance, you’ll need to look at your qualities as a leader — you might have been ineffective because you have not given her the tools, skills, or encouragement that enables her to do a great job. When motivating, you may find that dangling a reward such as time off, money, or a preferred shift may not be getting the desired result. Instead, the individual may respond well to encouragement, praise, and public recognition. The point here is to get to know your team, give them the support they need, share your knowledge, and empower them to do a great job. 

The Human Touch 

Do not forget that they are human. I know that when the season is in full swing, you may neglect the little things like saying please and thank you. Equally, do not forget birthdays! It is such a small thing, but this is where the professional and personal boundaries become blurred.

Find Their Motivation 

I have always worked by the ethos that I am only as strong as my weakest team member. To be an effective leader, it is essential to identify and embrace the attributes of your team. To learn their motivation, ask yourself:  

  • What are their strengths and weaknesses? 
  • How secure is your team professionally? 
  • What are their personal weaknesses? 
  • What are their cultural differences? 
  • How do their personalities differ?

These factors come into consideration when you’re trying to motivate your team. Motivation is particularly useful when they’ve had a busy season, and you are just about to embark on an eight-week charter with the boss. Each team, employer, and yacht dynamic is different and you will do well to identify what makes them tick. Is it positive reinforcement, financial rewards, job security, prestige or recognition, or career progression?

The chief stew clearly has many HR responsibilities. However, acknowledging that your strength lies in a well-trained, cohesive team will make your life as a chief stew or interior manager a lot easier. Knowing your team well and what motivates them can help you to develop a strong, tight-knit group committed to doing their best at all times, which will provide the best possible service for the owners of the yacht and their guests.  

This column originally ran in the April 2021 issue of Dockwalk.


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