Over the past couple of weeks, several shipping companies have sounded the alarm bell concerning the mental health and well-being of their seafarers. Due to COVID-19 global restrictions, employees are stuck on board, some of them already for several months. The restrictions are not only a danger for the world economy, but also the staff’s mental health, which is just as important. Fatigue and frustration can lead to an increase in safety incidents on the working floor. Now, more than ever, communication between shipping businesses and their employees should be frequent.

It is vital during this time of uncertainty that shipping companies continue to communicate regularly regarding the way forward. To keep employees engaged, companies should demonstrate the lengths that they are going to, to put their people first. Organisations cannot make assurances concerning governmental restrictions, but they should at least commit to open and transparent communication, keeping all employees in-the-know.

Having an effective internal communications strategy is especially important to ensure that employees at sea, with limited access to ‘traditional’ forms of office communication like email, are kept informed. Misinformation is rife at this point in time, so it is vital to provide employees with a single source of information collated from trusted sources such as the WHO. Making sure that all employees have access to accurate information builds trust, minimises their anxiety and ensures that they can make informed decisions when necessary. Communicating clear guidelines to employees is important, so that they can understand what is expected of them. Moreover, communication around safety instructions and the introduction of health checks can improve the feeling of security amongst employees.

One company that is addressing this issue head-on is Reederei Nord, using their internal mobile platform called NVision to distribute regular updates from the leadership to their employees both – at sea and at the shore. The application provides tips of how to manage anxiety, loneliness or depression, and it provides inspiring ideas to keep the employees motivated, focused and interested, using videos, podcasts, articles and a group chat. The application aims to improve employee engagement, confidence, well-being and safety of the seafarers and ensures an open communication regardless of rank, position or location. Their solution launches to the entire company this week.

The right communication plan during a crisis is invaluable in avoiding any undue panic and can help to build a more engaged workforce in the long-run. Even during this time when many businesses are busy restarting business operations, it is critical to ensure that lines of communication between employers and staff remain open.