Burnout has a knack for slowly creeping its way on board and into the lives of many a crewmember. In fact, it may come as no surprise that crew may be more susceptible to burnout than other professionals due to the unique environment they’re working in.
“The life on a charter yacht is not normal — you live with who you work with and it’s in close quarters; you don’t go home at night and recharge,” says Rob Gannon of The Yacht Crew Coach, who explains that the level of perfection needed on a yacht can fill days with a mix of routine and pressure. “Trying to have things perfect all the time isn’t normal and can be quite stressful.”
There’s no denying that the long days and back-to-back charters can take a toll. If you’re feeling the drain, don’t worry — some of the yachting industry’s best crew coaches shared their wisdom with us.
It’s important to decipher burnout from other feelings it often gets confused with, such as exhaustion or having the blues.
“Exhaustion is just extreme tiredness; people can bounce back from this when they get enough rest, because it does not affect their personal motivation,” says Alison Rentoul of The Crew Coach. “Burnout is different; it goes right to the heart of a person’s inner drive, destroying it completely.”
It also destroys all motivation to want to work, or to even want to do anything at all in some cases. Rentoul points out that thoughts such as, Why am I doing this? What’s the point? Nobody cares or appreciates what we do!, are signs of burnout.
Gannon adds that frustration, lack of patience, and general agitation are also key signs of burnout.
“People and events that didn’t really bother you at one point really bother you now. You are basically fed up, tired of what you have to deal with on a regular basis,” he says, adding that if not addressed, burnout doesn’t really go away.
In order to overcome burnout, it’s best to understand what exactly is causing it in the first place. As Rentoul puts it, the reason burnout destroys motivation is because the actual root cause of burnout is disillusionment. Mental fatigue, time, repetition, and feeling that your work is not meaningful also trigger burnout, Gannon says.
Rentoul is of a similar mindset. “Burnout is usually triggered when a deeply motivated person finds over time their efforts are either not recognized or appreciated, or if the person they are working for betrays them or lets them down in a big way,” she says. “Burnout only happens to those who care, and because of this, your best people are at risk.”
If burnout jeopardizes your crew (or yourself), preventing it is of the utmost importance and requires a two-fold strategy through both leadership and self-care.
Rentoul asserts that leaders can reduce the risk of burnout by creating a healthy working culture that guarantees and encourages crew get enough downtime and breaks, ensuring that hard workers get recognition and appreciation for their efforts (in the form of both verbal praise, thanks, and reciprocal rewards where appropriate), and maintaining a fair and positive working environment with trust, integrity, cooperation, and respect.
“Individual crew can avoid burnout by ensuring they take their breaks whenever possible and by speaking up when they feel things are getting on top of them,” she advises, adding that many people find it difficult to say no to requests, which runs the risk of letting everyone — including yourself — down if you take on too much. “Make sure when you say yes to others, you are not saying no to yourself.”
Gannon agrees that captains and crew must find time to rest and renew and suggests getting in touch with how you’re feeling by conducting self-assessments.
“Check in with yourself and honestly assess where you are. It might sound a little strange, but talk to yourself,” he says. “If you are starting to struggle with a busy charter season, remind yourself of the positives of why you are there. Break it down; one day, one charter at a time.”
If you still find yourself falling down that the dark hole that is burnout — or if you’re currently trying to climb out of it — recognize that while it may be a long and slow process, it is possible.
“The disillusionment that caused the burnout can often be the result of a massive values clash — causing the person to suffer a deep breakdown in trust and faith in others,” says Rentoul. “In order to move past this, the person who has suffered this kind of burnout will need to move into an environment where their deepest personal values are being fulfilled and respected.”
As Gannon puts it, if the feelings of burnout are strong and hard to shake, it’s probably a good indicator that a change or break of some kind is in order. But, he points out, that’s not to say quitting in the middle of the season is a good option; however, if you can’t perform your duties or be pleasant and professional, it might have to be considered.
“But before you get there, go back to the positive and remind yourself this situation is temporary and it will feel good at the end if you pulled it together and made it through,” says Gannon.
The process might be sensitive, but Rentoul claims that with appropriate care and support, you can become a high performing team member once more.
How do you handle burnout on board? Share with us in the comments below.