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Stew Cues: New hires need to be taught boundaries

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Stew Cues: by Alene Keenan

Hiring new crew requires more than just vessel familiarization procedures. “Onboarding,” or organizational socialization, is important, too.

While an appropriate level of knowledge and skills are sorted out during the hiring process, behavioral socialization requires integration of new personalities into the existing culture on board. If this is not a smooth fit, it can create irritating and awkward situations.

New hires need to know what behaviors are appropriate and inappropriate on their new boat, and how closely they can interact with guests and crew.

Define workplace limits early and address violations of professional and personal boundaries right away. Asking too many personal questions, reading confidential paperwork, or overstepping boundaries with guests or crew are generally unacceptable.

However, the culture on board may be all new to this person. One of the most dreaded statements to hear is “Well, on my last boat we did such and such.” This is a new boat with a new culture. Avoid poor morale and crew drama by correcting crew who repeatedly cross the line.

When you observe behavior or actions that cross the line, speak up. Before you ask for an explanation, have a private conversation with that person to describe your observations and explain the problem. They need to understand how the behavior impacts the rest of the crew and why it is an issue.

It’s likely that no harm was intended, but for change to occur, the crew member and supervisor must come to a mutual agreement about the offense and a course of action to avoid crossing the line again.

Boundaries are the rules set to define how a crew member fits in with the level of formality on board and with the crew, as well as how safe a person feels. Touching or hugging without permission is a physical boundary. Unwanted personal remarks, criticism or teasing are emotional boundaries. Psychological boundaries respect one’s identity and self-esteem. If crew are excluded from things, bullied or treated in a hurtful way, it creates a toxic environment.

Corrective behavior should match the severity of the issue. There should be zero tolerance for sexual harassment or assault, but in many gray areas crew must count on intuition and communicate uncomfortable feelings.

The person putting down the boundaries does not owe anyone an explanation of why they  feel the way they do. Everyone has the right to set their own boundaries. It is up to department heads to speak up to protect the personal boundaries of crew.

Observation and follow-up are important to make sure that change is taking place within a set period. Observe behavior going forward and set a date for follow-up of any disciplinary action taken. Document conversations and the outcome to make it easier to have a factual follow-up session.

If the behavior is not corrected, a warning should be issued. Sit down together and state that the problem is still occurring and that there are consequences for their actions. If no responsibility is accepted or if the crew member refuses to comply, stronger measures must be taken.

For formal documentation, supervisor and crew member should both sign a summary of events as evidence that the behavior was fully addressed.

When the behavior is corrected, follow up by acknowledging it, but do not praise a crew member for simply doing what they were supposed to do. On the contrary, thank them for being conscientious and for making sure it doesn’t happen again.

Alene Keenan is former lead instructor of interior courses at Maritime Professional Training in Fort Lauderdale. She shares more than 20 years experience as a stew in her book, “The Yacht Guru’s Bible: The Service Manual for Every Yacht,” available at . Comments are welcome below.

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