Crew Coach: Ignoring work-life balance harms boss, employees

Jul 31, 2019 by Rob Gannon

Crew Coach: by Capt. Rob Gannon

In the past couple of decades, it seems there has been more thought and discussion about work-life balance. Employees are trying to find a good fit in their career choices, and some employers are starting to see the value in not overloading staff with excessive hours and expectations. It can and should be a win-win situation if addressed and handled properly.

Those of us in and around the yachting industry know full well about the challenge of balance and the necessity at times to put in really long days. A yacht on charter tends to have its own hours and requirements to get the job done, and I think that’s universally understood. However, a yacht in port or in the yard, and all the careers around yachting, can look at this work-life balance issue and give it the attention it deserves. 

There are very real negative effects to ignoring or being inflexible about scheduling, hours and the overall welfare of employees, captains and crew. There was a study done by The Organization For Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) on the subject of work-life balance. Out of the 38 countries studied, America came in 30th as far as having a good balance of work and life. That didn’t really shock me but here are some of the negative effects. 

In the workplace, 60% experienced poor morale, 36% reported poor productivity and 41% reported high turnover and burnout/fatigue. Those three areas – morale, productivity and turnover – can go right to the bottom line of any business, organization or team: its profits and loss. If there is a problem with those three areas, chances are good there is not smooth sailing ahead. The storm clouds are building and it is not wise to ignore them. Fatigue is also an important and potentially dangerous factor. Injury and accident incidents go way up as a result of fatigue. 

So, here is where it gets to the crux of the issue. Will employers have the awareness and vision to create an attractive yet productive environment? Will they believe it will benefit them in the long run by attracting and keeping good employees? Will employees be able to express their desire for balance or will they feel insecure about speaking up? Can both sides see that this issue can be for the good of all involved? 

I believe there are a couple factors here in America that contribute to it  placing 30th out of 38. For one, there’s the cost of living. Even a modest, somewhat comfortable life takes a lot of money. That forces many to work more, not because they really want to, but because they kind of have to – and that doesn’t do wonders for morale. 

We also have that good old-fashioned work ethic. Some may argue it isn’t what it used to be, but that’s an involved debate for another time. Hard work has always been valued here as a positive thing. I think more folks these days are trying to work smart rather than just hard. I also believe we all have to pay attention to what’s going on and guard workers’ rights, because there are signs of things going in the wrong direction for employees as far as benefits and wages.

What do the top countries in this study do that puts them on top for life-work balance? According to this study, the No. 1-rated Netherlands averages a four-day, 29-hour work week. Denmark, at No. 2, has a minimum five weeks of paid vacation. No. 3, France, has 25 federally mandated vacation days. Gee, I guess all that could help with the old work-life balance thing. 

Hey, maybe it’s not “balance” at all – maybe its work-life separation. Here is how author-entrepreneur Tim Ferris puts it: “I like work/life separation, not work/life balance. What I mean by that is, if I’m on, I want to be on and maximally productive. If I’m off, I don’t want to think about work. When people strive for work/life balance, they end up blending them. That’s how you end up checking email all day Saturday.”

Whatever we call it, balance or separation, in general people shouldn’t work until exhausted, burned-out and feeling out of alignment. If our car gets out of alignment, it can steer us into a ditch on the side of the road. No one wants to be in a ditch. Companies and employers who get it and care are aware of employees’ welfare and wellness. A balanced life produces an employee who is ready to perform and glad to be there.

Enjoy the voyage.

Capt. Rob Gannon is a 30-year licensed captain and certified life and wellness coach ( Comments are welcome below.