What to do if your HOD is not up to scratch

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Q: Anonymous, Second Stew, 27:

“Our new Chief Stew has just joined – but the problem is, she’s terrible!! She’s only been in yachting for a few seasons on a private yacht and I think she must have been promoted way too fast as she has no idea what she’s doing. Her service and cabins skills are really bad, and she’s really disorganised and keeps forgetting things. So far I feel like I’m carrying her, and she’s getting paid much more than me. I’m really disappointed because I was looking forward to learning from someone who could help me become Chief Stew one day and I really don’t think this girl can teach me anything. The Captain’s away a lot so he hasn’t noticed, and I’m worried it will just seem bitchy if I complain. She’s a really nice girl and very popular with the others but I’m finding myself resenting how much I’m having to help her and she’s starting to get weird with me too. I think she knows she’s not really qualified to be above me, so it’s starting to cause friction. What can I do? Half of me wants to help her, and half of me wants to expose her.”

A: The Crew Coach:

Oh what an awkward situation – and actually a very common one, sadly – as unfortunately some yachts do promote people well before they have the competency to be at that level. As tempting as it can be to blow the whistle when your head of department isn’t pulling their weight, exposing them is the last thing you should do. As a more junior crewmember than her, this will only make you look bad as you say, particularly if she is well-liked by the other crew. And if you go about making your feelings known in a negative way, you could be the one walking off the passerelle with your packed bags before you even have a chance to be proven right.

You obviously have high standards and care about doing your job well, and hats off to you for that. It shows you will be a great Chief Stew when the time comes. It can be endlessly frustrating to have to carry someone who is meant to be the boss, and for many of us that conflicts with our sense of fairness, so it’s no wonder you’re struggling with your new strange role as unofficial Chief Stew (without the recognition or salary!) I totally understand what you’re going through, and I think many crew have been here before you. It’s all too easy to feel irritated and hard done by.

But think about this as a golden opportunity for you. Because you’re ‘carrying’ this new girl, you’re having the chance to do lots of the tasks that a Chief normally would. So make the most of it, and volunteer for big jobs that the Chief would normally do, and put some Chief skills on your CV that will make it easier for you to make the move up when it’s time. This works in your favour, even if no-one else in this job EVER realises you’re doing the work. When it comes time to be Chief, you’ll have done it all before, which will not only make the work easier but also give you a great deal of confidence.

And if this Chief is as poor as you say, I guarantee that people will start noticing soon… and senior crew probably don’t need your help to see this. If the Captain or First Mate eventually comes to you to ask your professional opinion as to whether she’s cutting the mustard, then and only then should you offer your opinion. Make it clear that you’re only answering because you have been asked, and try to remain as positive as you can about her while remaining honest. If any other crew asks, say she’s lovely (which you say is true) and that things are good (which they are-you’re getting lots of great experience).

So go on and let that compassionate urge to help her outweigh your frustration at having to carry responsibilities you feel should be hers. After all, imagine how you’d feel if you’d come from a yacht where your standards were perfectly acceptable, to be thrown in at the deep end and realise that you’re not actually as good at your job as you thought you were? You mention that things are getting weird. This is no wonder if she’s realising your skills and knowledge far exceed hers, and particularly if your irritation is starting to show. She probably feels pretty insecure right now, so it would be really nice of you to step up and help her out. And don’t forget that even if you think she has nothing to teach you, she may well have some things up her sleeve – and if not just the situation itself is teaching you a great deal!

In work, as in life, acting with compassion, integrity, kindness and generosity will always see you go much further than being angry, resentful or bitter. Helping a fellow crewmember out while using the opportunity to learn is the behaviour of someone who will one day be a truly great Chief Stew and a fantastic leader. Your behaviour will begin to shine, and when the Captain does notice that she’s not up to standard, he’ll also notice how well you’ve conducted yourself. The nice thing about that is, if you’ve been doing her job in practice, keeping everyone happy and showing how competent you are, you’ll probably be the first person he thinks of for promotion if he decides to let her go.

Best of luck!

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Alison Rentoul

Alison Rentoul

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