What to do when your HOD is a lazy _________!

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Q: Anonymous, Stew, 25:

“My Chief Stew is incredibly lazy. This is my first season, but she leaves me and a new girl (who I trained) to do all our service and housekeeping, while she just sits in the crew mess and pretends she’s working on her computer when she’s actually watching TV—or even sleeping! She and the Captain have worked together for years and the Owners think she’s great so I can’t complain to anyone about it, but I think it’s really unfair. I’m doing all the work and she’s getting all the money! I’m not expecting her to clean toilets with us, but this is ridiculous! Who can I talk to and what can I do about it?”

A: The Crew Coach:

You’re not the first Stew to complain about their Chief Stew, and I’m sure you won’t be the last! In fairness, I do think sometimes people significantly underestimate the amount of behind-the-scenes organisation Chief Stews have to do to keep the interior running smoothly and it can sometimes look like they are skiving when in fact they are managing a huge amount of admin and planning. Having said that, there are also some people in life who get to senior positions and then completely take their foot off the accelerator, and yet another category of people who probably should never have been promoted in the first place.

So in your case, you’re right—it’s pretty unfair that she is lumping you with all this responsibility and you are only receiving a Junior Stew wage. And what does that mean? Absolutely nothing, I’m afraid. The fact is, as a Junior Stew, your power to influence this situation is limited… but the power to influence how you react to it and what you take out of it is everything.

You’ve cleverly recognised that the Captain and Owner are unlikely to be receptive to any complaints, and the sorry truth of it is that your Chief Stew is probably well aware of that too. In this situation she has power and you do not. Which is why complaining about her will almost certainly backfire, and why you need to be careful about how you handle this.

We’ll get to that in a minute, but first I want to say ‘LUCKY YOU!’, and draw your attention to the many, many positives of this situation.

Think about it. You’re a Junior Stew with one season’s experience, and yet you’re running service, housekeeping, and training a new Stew. Have you been too busy being annoyed to notice you have actually jumped years ahead of a normal interior career trajectory? Let’s put this in perspective: many Stews are stuck in the laundry for their first season and might not even graduate to service for a couple of years—let alone running service! You are fast-tracking your career by hurtling right down the inside lane, girl!

In addition to this, I know quite a number of Stews who would happily trade their micromanaging Chief Stew for the quite extraordinary level of autonomy that you’re being given. In effect, the job you’re doing is that of the second Stew of a larger yacht, with some Chief experience in there too. Your eventual move up to Chief will be a lot easier for you after this ‘sink or swim’ experience.

Which brings me to my next point, which is fundamental to seeing how to move forward from here. In order to get more clarity, you first need to analyse your emotions about this and figure out what is really bothering you about this situation. Ask yourself truthfully:

A) Are you mostly just angry at the unfairness of her laziness?


B) Deep down, are you worried you’re not really able to meet the expectations placed on you?

A: To some of us laziness in others is blood-boilingly infuriating, as it clashes with our innate sense of fairness. This is even more exacerbated when the ‘lazy’ person is ranked higher and paid better. You find yourself thinking: ‘How can they get away with this? They’re slacking off while I’m doing their job for them, and they get paid three times what I do!’ It’s easy to get carried away with frustration in this situation, but it isn’t helping you one little bit, so try not to take her behaviour so personally.

The key to not allowing her laziness to get under your skin is recognising your inability to change other people’s behaviour. Instead you could change your thinking to: ‘Yes, she’s lazy, but I can only do my job to the best of my ability. I can’t force her to work harder, and I don’t want to let myself get upset about it.’ This kind of thinking helps reduce stress and create better relationships with your managers.

B: The second option is that you think it’s too early for you to have this responsibility and you resent being put in a position where you might fail through no fault of your own. Fair enough too—becoming a great Service Stew takes time, and it’s completely understandable if you’re stressed and angry at the Chief for dropping you in at the deep end.

In this case, I would thoroughly recommend talking to your Chief Stew about it: in a way that doesn’t attack her, but instead asks her for help and advice. Try something like: “I’m feeling a little worried that my service knowledge is not as broad as yours, could you please help me with a bit more training or talk me through a few things?” Appeal to her ego – if you can draw information and some mentoring out of her this will be a great win.

A couple of last things. It is deeply unlikely that you are the only person onboard who has noticed her laziness. Remember, it’s the Captain you want your reference from when you leave, so if you can reframe this as an opportunity to build skills and gain respect, you have the chance to put yourself in a really strong position for the future.

Secondly, you must be doing a pretty good job or she would not keep throwing responsibility at you – this bodes very well for your future yachting career and is a credit to you, so take it as a compliment! Think about how good your resume will be for your next interview when you can legitimately say you were given all this responsibility in your first season.

Lastly, don’t forget you been given the gift of experiencing a lazy HOD. Why is this a gift? Because you will always remember this feeling of unfairness, which means you won’t do this to your own Stews when you become Chief. Sometimes the very worst managers are the ones that teach us the most powerful lessons.

You are learning so much about yachting, so fast. Try not to get caught up in the anger, and instead take this experience for what it can be: your own personal fast-track to becoming a great Chief Stew yourself.

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Alison Rentoul

Alison Rentoul

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