Elin Stenberg – a responsive and driven HR business partner

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As a personnel manager at a shipping office ashore, you need to create personal relationships and build up trust to make improvements for the crews on board according to Elin Stenberg, HR business partner at Wallenius Marine.

We go to the same job, have the same manager, do the same duties and have the same working hours. How come some people feel good at work and others don’t? This question made Elin Stenberg change her job from childcare and communications to HR work.

“I wanted to know if it was possible to do something to make people feel better at work and see what employers can do,” she says.

After basic training as HR specialist, Elin Stenberg joined an advanced course in labour law, where she met Tallink Silja’s HR manager who recruited her for the company. She had no previous experience of shipping, but Elin had seafarers in her family so the sector was not completely unknown to her. She quickly stepped into her professional role and saw that there was a potential for improvement. 

“The Social Insurance Agency had changed its rules for rehabilitation support and the shipping company needed to adapt the way it worked to fit in with the new rules. But new procedures should not come as an edict from the shore-based office to the ships. Changes must be made together, and that is what we did.”

Elin Stenberg says that she often went out on the ships and talked with the crews on board to try to find procedures that worked. 

“Reporting sick is not just paperwork – it involves people, which means it is important to meet people and have personal contact with them.”

The work culminated in new procedures and Elin Stenberg describes how they, in turn, led to less time off sick and reduced costs. At the same time, she got to know the crews better and created valuable relationships.

“Telling someone how you feel requires trust, and all of this work meant that people dared to talk.” It became clear that some of the crew did not feel very good and there were rather large challenges in some departments.

A questionnaire given to Silja Symphony’s technical department showed that there were problems with low job satisfaction, insults and harassment. Elin Stenberg drew up an action plan in collaboration with the technical department’s managers that included large meetings, working groups and hours of individual interviews. When a follow-up questionnaire was carried out one year later, it showed that significant improvements had been made in virtually all areas.

“After that we carried out similar projects in other departments on board and we continued with them long as I was working at the company.”

The job with Tallink Silja came to an end during a reorganisation there however, and in May last year Elin started working as HR business partner at Wallenius Marine. She has faced new challenges with ships that sail worldwide, since the crews are more difficult to meet than those who worked on the ferries. The job is temporary until August, but Elin has still had time to launch a work environment project.

“We are working on a training scheme. The first step is a specific work environment course that will focus on everyday tasks in order to work with a structured, aware approach to work environment management. Supervisors who work ashore will be the first to take the course, but I hope that it can be offered to crews on the ships in some way. Further training in the area of equal treatment is also in the pipeline for the spring. After that I will have to see what I have time for before I finish.”

What about that question of why some people feel worse at work than others – did you ever get an answer to that?

“Yes, to a certain extent. I think that if you work regularly with OSW (organisational and social work), it is possible to make improvements both at the individual and organisational level. Everybody needs to be seen and heard at work, to feel they are important and are given the chance to be involved and influence things. Big measures are not always needed to make a difference.”

Elin Stenberg’s work environment tips:

Be aware of individual responsibility – I am responsible for how my behaviour contributes to and affects the atmosphere around me and for moving the work environment in a positive direction.

Linda Sundgren, text

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