High satisfaction despite many off sick

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Service personnel are more often off due to long-term sickness than other onboard employees. Many of them enjoy their work, though. These are the results from a very recently published research study.
Maritime researchers Cecilia Österman and Carl Hult at the Marine Officer Academy in Kalmar studied sick leave, job satisfaction and working conditions of service personnel for the report entitled Service personnel’s work environment. The survey included 1,980 seafarers and shows that service personnel on ferries have the most negative experience of their work environment compared with other professional groups. The work is often heavy and full of stress, at the same time as they are expected to be polite and helpful to the passengers. It is also the group that has most long-term illness (60 days or more). The most frequent cause of absence is musculoskeletal injuries. During one evening a waitress may carry up to six kilograms of food, drink and porcelain to each table. The glass trays in the cafés can weigh over ten kilograms each, and one of the participants in the current research study working in the à la carte section had measured over 20 kilometres with a step counter during one shift.
Psychological problems also lie behind the high rate of sick leave, which are more common among service personnel than other departments on board. One of the reasons may be the lack of time for recovery, the researchers believe.
“In the past when they closed the restaurant for the evening the personnel could wind down a little, clear up things and prepare breakfast for the following day,” says Cecilia Österman. “These days they have to fix everything as quickly as possible and then go to the bars to help with the serving.”
The study also shows that staff shortages are most widespread in the service department. Almost 40% think that the manning level is insufficient compared with just over 20% in other departments.
But despite the problems and high sickness rate, there are many who are happy with their work. They feel respected by their colleagues and believe that cooperation between the departments works reasonably well. According to the questionnaire responses, over 80% are satisfied with their work at sea. The highest rating comes from the age group 55 or over, where almost nine out of ten are satisfied.
“There may be a kind of self-regulation where those who don’t enjoy working on board quit,” says Carl Hult. When people approach 40, only the ones that have learned to manage life at sea and enjoy working on board are left.
According to the study, health factors that reduce the risk of ill health and time off sick include
• Time for rest
• Adequate staffing
• Managers who fix problems
• Good relations between departments
• Good air quality
In the fatigue index that the researchers used in the study, those without any of the above health factors had a value of 80 on a scale from 0 to 100. For each positive action taken, the value falls. Those with all the health factors had a value of 50, which is considered to be an acceptable level.
Linda Sundgren

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