Is it Time for a Holiday?
Onboard Autumn 2021
Once upon a time in a land far, far away, full of unicorns and rainbows (London, circa 2000), I was young and full of hope, and fuelled by ambition. Like many people in my early 20s I was embarking upon a career, and I wanted to be the best I could possibly be. On top of my full time job, I studied part time, I volunteered for all the crap duties, and I worked harder than everyone in an effort to prove my worthiness. I wanted to be called up out of hours or over a weekend – bizarrely that made me felt validated, needed, and important. I was thrilled to be given a work mobile phone and would stare at it willing it to ring with a problem so I could roll my eyes dramatically at being in demand, whilst secretly adoring every second. Meeting up with friends after work always included the discussion about who’s working the longest hours and the longer they were, the more bragging rights you seemed to have.
Corporate jobs have, over the past few years, and especially due to covid, finally recognised that this way of overworking is totally unhealthy, leads to burn out and miserable staff, and increases employee turnover. So, many companies have made steps to ensure a better working environment for their team. Working from home is now most definitely a thing for those who can (and want to – it’s not for everyone), and finally meetings for meetings sake have been reduced thanks to zoom calls or even just a group email. Thank God. Nothing worse.
Over in the commercial maritime sector, with the exception of emergency situations, crew work shift patterns, adhere to their hours of rest, and get rotated on and off their vessels to avoid burn out, exhaustion and the inevitable mistakes that operating at less than 100% usually results in.
Meanwhile, in yachting, hours are for the most part, still crazy. And many crew love to tell everyone they haven’t had a day off since last year. “We’ve been so busy, just back to back charters, I haven’t had a full night’s sleep in months, but the tips are worth it!” they declare, with eye bags so prevalent they’d be charged excess baggage at the airport. And the longer this goes on, the more proud we seem to be of ourselves for completely ignoring the fact we’re exhausted, fed up, burnt out and let’s face it, about to get horribly sick the moment we do get some time off. So why have we bred this culture of overworking? Why do we praise it, why are we happy to be taken advantage of, and why are we so adamant it’s something to be smug about? It seems we’re guilty of equating longer hours with achievement. We are giving ourselves purpose. And possibly working ourselves into an early grave.
Well, it doesn’t help with the big guns of the world bragging about this work ethic. Elon Musk of Tesla said nobody “ever changed the world on 40 hours a week”, and went on to state that 80 hours was a sustainable number. He reportedly works up to 120 hours a week. When does he sleep?! Apple boss Tim Cook is a notorious workaholic and starts sending work emails out at 4am, and regularly runs 5 hour meetings. Good grief. I hope he supplies coffee and donuts by the bucket load. Meanwhile on the flip side, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos claims to have a great work life balance, getting 8 hours sleep a night, having breakfast with his family and never sets his alarm clock. Which sounds lovely but then what about his employees? Amazon’s been in the news repeatedly over the past few years due to staff being pushed into working overtime whether they like it or not, being expected to answer work calls throughout the night, and working so hard in the warehouses to meet ridiculous targets they’ve had to pee into bottles to avoid losing time in bathrooms.
Look online, and you’ll see that overworking not only increases mental health problems (anxiety, depression, even suicide). Harvard carried out a study and found that working overly long hours increases the risks for Type 2 diabetes and, even more worryingly, heart attack and stroke. Cheerful reading huh?
So what can we do to better look after ourselves during the season? We all know the drill, when it’s busy, it’s hella busy and self care can take a huge back seat – that being said, don’t forget that self care can just be having a nice hot shower, and sleeping 8 hours. If you can’t be bothered to do some yoga, go for a run, a swim etc, that’s ok. Watch some Netflix, read a book, call a friend, whatsapp your mum, or have a nap. Don’t make self care as competitive as the hours you work. Again, crew compare themselves to others constantly on social media, and when they see one of their Instagram “friends” (I’d rather say connections, because are they really your friends in the actual sense?) claiming they just took some “me time” to “meditate and clear my mind” whilst getting someone to take a photo of them on the bow looking serene at sunset, start to feel guilty that when they finally got a few hours off they jerked off and watched Game of Thrones. Maybe simultaneously. I’m not judging. Self care is self care my dudes, you do you. Literally if you want.
And when the season is over, make sure you take a proper break. For the love of God, take your holidays. Don’t be a “hero” because if you drop down with exhaustion and are forced to take time off during a crossing or when the boss is on, nobody is going to thank you for it. Least of all your body. It’s not big, and it’s not clever, so go on, take that bloody leave! Do not book in courses which will consume all of your leave days (try to negotiate some unpaid leave if the yacht won’t pay you for doing your courses), make sure you have some time for yourself away from yachting entirely. An engineer told me a couple of weeks ago he’d only taken 16 days leave in the past year and cited a range of excuses but seriously, come on. Take a week off, go sit in a spa if you can’t get home due to covid restrictions, hike up a mountain, do nothing but recharge and your quality of work upon your return will skyrocket.
Haven’t you noticed how your productivity goes down the toilet when you’re tired? Work stops being fun? Even the smallest things can tip you over the edge when you’re worn out, and yes, that does explain why the stewardess was in tears when she overflowed the salt shaker yesterday. And why the captain locked himself in the bridge and refused to open the door for half an hour. Sometimes we just. Can’t. Even. And that’s ok. Just important we recognise that, and put plans into place to keep us going – book your time off and get planning so you have things to look forward to. Then you’ll be surprised how more often than not, you’re actually excited to return to work and get cracking in the madness once again. And if you’re not, well that’s when you need to make some changes… but that’s a topic for another day. Stay well out there!