Successful actions improved well- being in the engineering department

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When the questionnaire on well-being and victimisation was sent out to the crew on Silja Symphony, the engineering manager, Magnus Östman, was worried. He and his colleagues decided to take the questionnaire seriously though, and the latest staff survey shows major improvements in the department.

Problems with the psycho-social work environment on Silja Symphony came to light during a staff issue in the department. A wide-ranging action programme was started and in January 2016 a questionnaire was sent to all the machine crew, which included questions about many areas from general well-being to conflict management and offensive behaviour.

“When it landed in my lap I was shocked and a little horrified,” says Magnus Östman. Responses were a long time coming and all that spring it felt like there was a cloud over the department.

When the results arrived at the beginning of the summer, it was clear that a change was needed. The general level of well-being was low: offensive behaviour, badly managed conflicts and dissatisfaction with managers, colleagues and the employer ashore, as well as other departments on board all came up. The HR manager at the CSO, Elin Stenberg, also carried out long interviews with everyone in the machine department in the spring, which confirmed the responses in the questionnaires.

“All three of us chief engineers quickly decided to take this seriously and to make the best possible out of it. We also decided not to allow any dissatisfaction with other departments or the shipping company influence our approach. We focused on our own problems and what we could influence,” says Magnus Östman.

The entire engineering department was called to a large meeting chaired by Elin Stenberg and the chief engineers. The results of the questionnaire and the individual talks were presented at the meeting.

“When we had presented the review, there was total silence in the room,” says Elin Stenberg. “Then all three chief engineers stood up and said, “It’s our responsibility that things are like this, so we want to put it right.” I think their reaction had a huge effect on making it work out as well as it did.”

No fear of losing face
Magnus Östman agrees that he and the other chiefs took on the task of changing attitudes with a genuine desire to bring about an improvement.

“We have approached this without any fear of losing face, which I believe is essential to its success,” he says. “We three chief engineers are completely different individuals who have tackled this in different ways, but we have all taken it very seriously. Everyone who works in the department has their own responsibility too, of course.”

A large meeting was followed up by organising working groups, tasked with proposing improvement measures. Among other things, it was agreed that everyone would reflect on their own behaviour.

“That was possibly the most important action”, says Magnus Östman. “If you can agree to treat others as you would like to be treated, and actually do it, that is major progress. It really doesn’t need to be very complicated.”

Another proposal was to start up shared activities outside working hours, which resulted in a combined cruise and study visit to a newly built ship. Regular relief meetings were also introduced to reduce the ”them and us” feeling between the two engine-room teams. Standing discussion items at these meetings included the psycho-social work environment, the physical work environment and so on. Every-thing discussed was recorded and put on the notice board for everyone to read.

“Some of the crew think this is great, while others say that we get lost in petty details,” says Magnus Östman. “But the other chief engineers and I have pushed for having these meetings. It gives us a chance to bring any criticism or bad feelings to the surface instead of letting them fester.”

The shipping company sent out a new questionnaire recently to examine whether the measures had the desired effect, and the results show great improvements. For example, 100% agreed with the statement “I get on well with my colleagues” as opposed to 79% on the first questionnaire. Confidence in managers increased from 56% to 87.5%, and positive responses to the statement, ”My managers can lead and motivate their staff” from the crew rose from 55% to 94%.

“I notice a big difference when I’m on board and meet the employees,” says Elin Stenberg. “The atmosphere has improved a lot and people talk with each other better than they used to.”

A new meeting was held at the beginning of November with all the crew and the results of the latest survey were presented. The plan now is to continue working on the issues that got less positive responses. For example, 25% of the crew and 8% of the officers thought that the department did not take a clearer stand on harassment and victimisation compared with one year ago. The statement, “Everyone is treated equally and with mutual respect in the department” only rose from 53% to 58% in the crew’s responses.

“As far as general well-being is concerned, things look very good,” says Magnus Östman. “But we still need to deal with some of the more serious issues. The first step was for all of us officers to go on a course to learn more about conflict management.

More training courses for the crew are also planned.”

“This is something that people have wanted for a long time, but which has been almost completely forgotten over the last few years. We have now started to send employees on courses again, and we’ll continue with that during the winter,” says Magnus Östman.

More people ask for help
Elin Stenberg says that talk of the improvement work in the engineering department has spread throughout the company and that several other departments have contacted her to start the same process. Similar work has also begun in one of the service departments.

“I think a lot of departments and ships would benefit from this approach, not only at Silja,” she says. “We don’t have the resources to do it in all the departments on the ships, but we now have a sure-fire method if the need arises. The Symphony model has become a concept.”

Linda Sundgren, text and photo

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