Are your morals making you miserable?

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Q: Anonymous, Stewardess, 25:

“I’m having a major moral issue with my job. My crew are great, the Captain’s a decent guy, the yacht has a brilliant itinerary and the pay is really good. I love my chief stew and our interior team is so awesome, we are a really tight team and we have a lot of fun in our work. The problem is that the owner is in an industry I severely object to on moral grounds (which I can’t explain here for obvious reasons). He’s made his money in what I think is a ‘blood money’ industry, which means I’m being paid in blood money, and I’m really struggling with this morally. This is my first boat I didn’t know anything about this when I accepted the job. It’s a really big issue for me and I just don’t know how much longer I can stand it – I literally feel physically sick every time I think about it. Is this common in the yachting industry? Should I leave, or will I encounter the same kind of thing on other yachts?”

A: The Crew Coach:

Wow, what a big question this is, and certainly one that other people will either be currently struggling with, or may have come up against in their yachting careers already. I think quite a few crew will identify with your dilemma. The fact is, it can be undeniably difficult to work for people that you don’t have respect for – even if they have ‘respectable’ sources of income. It’s extremely difficult to be genuinely helpful and service-driven when you resent the person you are serving. At the same time, some people in this industry avoid thinking too closely about their morals when working for people others might consider a bit shady, and they may think you are being silly by worrying about this. I genuinely feel for you in this tricky situation.

Just to quickly explain what’s going on here, your morality (or ethics as some people call it) is closely related to your value system. So this situation is conflicting some of your deepest core values, which is a perfect recipe for stress and unhappiness – and over time, this can even begin to manifest in physical illness or ailments. Our value system comes from our upbringing and is a combination of things we learnt from our surroundings and our primary caregivers. Some values that could be conflicted in this situation are: integrity, fairness, equality, environment, kindness or justice. For many people having primary core values conflicted is not just uncomfortable, it is literally unbearable.

Unlike most other professions where you know who your employer is and can research them carefully before you take a job, the yachting industry creates these challenges because owner’s names and occupations are usually not divulged in interviews for privacy reasons. By the time the crew member accepts the job, joins the yacht, and then does a quick Google search to find out what the boss does for a crust, it’s too late to back out without looking deeply unprofessional to those who don’t share the same moral concerns. This leaves some crew working for people they might not have if they’d known beforehand who they were.

The tricky part about this is that your morals are exactly that: yours, and if you find yourself talking to the other crew about how disturbing you find the situation, they may feel you’re calling into question their own morals, or that you’re not holding up your professional end of the bargain. And no matter how hard you try to disguise it with a professional smile, everyone will know your heart’s not really in it, which could end up detracting from your performance and you could end up losing your job or getting a poor reference simply because you were lacklustre in your work.

Here’s a little test for you. How about if I say you have to hide your ethical discomfort and ensure it is not getting in the way of your work. You’re being paid to do that job, and nobody else should have any inkling that you’re struggling with this ethical dilemma. On top of this, your negative judgement of this person doesn’t actually change anything, it just makes you feel angry; and in fact, you’re only wasting energy and emotion holding onto it. Just put all this to one side and get on with your work.

How did reading that make you feel? Did you find your heart rate rising, or feel frustrated with what I wrote? I only ask because your reaction speaks strongly to how you feel about this particular value. If you had a fierce emotional response, this indicates that living a life in accordance with your morals is one of your core values and it may well be difficult to stay working for this owner much longer, let alone long-term.

Ultimately you only really have two choices. Find a way to get past this and embrace your job along with all the other great stuff that comes with it, or leave and take your chances with a new role. While I can’t make that decision for you, from a professional standpoint as a career coach, I would urge you to try and finish the season at least, so you can learn as much as you can and get some valuable longevity on your resume.

If or when you do decide to resign, be very careful about how you tell the Captain. After all, he and the rest of the crew are not objecting (at least visibly) to the boss’s background, so by being outraged and disgusted and saying you can’t work for such a person, you’re passing your own moral judgement on him and the rest of the crew for staying, and this may well go against you when it comes to getting a reference. I would find another reason for leaving, such as having a personal commitment at home that you don’t want to miss, some training you really want to do, or an opportunity to move up that you can’t refuse.

Given your strong moral compass, when job hunting in future, it might be wise to aim for private-use yachts rather than charter, as you at least won’t run the risk of having different charterers coming through who may well trigger your moral outrage all over again. Conduct as much research as you can on a yacht before you accept a job – you’d be amazed what you can find out on Google these days.

It’s definitely a possibility that you may encounter similar situations on other yachts, although that depends on what you consider ‘blood money’ industries to be. And this quandary is not only limited to yachting: there are many people in land-based jobs who have moral qualms about their jobs, for example some of those in tobacco, mining, financial, or oil industries.

Here’s one last thing to think about: Yachties who have been in the business a while sometimes say ‘there’s no such thing as a perfect yacht’, and it does sound like the yacht you’re on has an enormous amount going for it work-wise. You may swap boats, but on the next one you might encounter a different boss you have issues with, or a bullying crew member who triggers some other moral or ethical dilemmas for you or conflicts your values. Values are really important in guiding us in life, but do be a little bit wary of them controlling your life in a way that doesn’t serve you in the greater scheme of things.

Ultimately, this decision can only be made by you, but think and act carefully to make sure you are acting in your own best interests with the big picture and your future in mind. Wishing you the very best of luck and please let me know how you get on.

What do you think? Would you (or do you) work for ‘blood’ money?

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Alison Rentoul

Alison Rentoul

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