Mental working environment on board

What is mental working environment?    Why is it important?    Mental health and safety at sea    Symptoms of a poor mental working environment    How Seahealth work with the mental working environment    Crisis Counselling    Materials on well-being   


The workplace can benefit from a focus on the mental working environment on board. The mental working environment covers a whole range of issues in the workplace, such as organisational and technological issues, interaction between crew and management and interpersonally between shipmates.

What is mental working environment?

There is no real definition of the mental working environment but one might say that:  
"We take the mental working environment to mean all the issues at work which in the long term affect people's personal development and in time influence their ability to work optimally.”

Why is it important?

A good mental working environment is important because it promotes job satisfaction and productivity and conversely, a poor mental working environment can have a whole range of negative consequences.

Many years of research into occupational health and safety have identified various general issues that have a considerable impact on how individuals see their mental working environment.

These are called the "6 golden nuggets” and are:

  1. The balance between demands and resources
  2. Influence on organizing work and goals
  3. Social support from shipmates and management
  4. Meaningful - that one's work is meaningful
  5. Predictability – knowing the general trends in the workplace's future plans
  6. Reward – being recognized for your efforts (pay, appreciation, promotion, etc.)

>> Read more about The 6 golden nuggets

Researchers also talk about the special importance of being aware of the ”2 diamonds”.

  1. Confidence in the people you work with - managers and workmates.
  2. Fairness and the experience of being treated fairly and respectfully at work.

Mental health and safety at sea

The mental working environment plays a core role in working on health and safety at sea because:

  • Well-being in the workplace has a positive impact on the safety culture.
  • Well-being in the workplace helps recruitment and retention of personnel.
  • Contented crew often have fewer conflicts and so are more efficient.

There are also various specific factors that apply at sea that can be especially important for the mental working environment on board, including:

  • Shift work
  • Social isolation (associated with being on watch, for example)
  • Jetlag associated with travelling across multiple time zones
  • Missing family, friends and social activities ashore
  • A limited area for physical exercise and private life on board
  • The risk of a crisis from the vagaries of nature, piracy, fire, collision, infectious disease, etc.

Symptoms of a poor mental working environment

The signs of a poor mental working environment can be seen at the organizational (ship) and individual levels. Below we list various typical symptoms of a poor mental working environment:

Organisation/ship level
  • ”Firefighting activities”
  • Unclear strategies/ vision/ goals
  • Lake of prioritisation
  • High level of sick leave, personnel turnover
  • Numerous mistakes and workplace accidents
  • Lack of job satisfaction
  • High level of conflict, bullying
  • Lack of good humour
  • Unwillingness to work together
  • Lack of tolerance, understanding and flexibility
  • Refusal to take responsibility
  • Scapegoat syndrome - complaints

Individual level
It is also possible at the individual level to further subdivide various examples of the symptoms of a poor mental working environment into:

Physical symptomsMental symptomsBehavioural characteristics
  • Raised pulse
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Headache
  • Tense muscles
  • Sweating/shivering
  • Inner turmoil
  • Dizziness
  • Tearfulness
  • Frequent need to urinate
  • Nausea
  • Stomach pains
  • Low libido
  • Frequent infections
  • Memory problems
  • Concentration problems
  • Lack of oversight
  • Feeling of exhaustion
  • Fatigue
  • Disinclination
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Reduced sense of humour
  • Sadness
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Sleeplessness
  • Low self-esteem
  • Reduced performance
  • Increased indecision
  • Emotionless
  • Lack of involvement
  • Withdrawn
  • Anger, Aggressiveness
  • Distrust
  • Greater use of stimulants
  • Drug abuse
  • Increased sick leave


How we work with the mental working environment

Seahealth Denmark deals with well-being in the broadest sense. We develop tools that can be used directly to promote well-being aboard.

Time off-duty is one of the major factors considered in working on well-being, which is vital for the well-being and health of individuals and for how safety aboard is dealt with. So is bullying and harassment which must be taken very seriously when talking well-being and health. 


>> Read more about bullying and harassment


We can identify and advise on questions of leisure time or well-being in the sector as such.


>> Read about how to prevent social isolation


As part of Seahealth's major well-being survey (2009), we defined the Ten Commandments on well-being that are especially important for well-being in the workplace.

Seahealth provides good advice on what characterises peak loading and stress. We also provide advice on the issues that characterise good leadership at sea.

Courses on the mental working environment
>> Read more about Seahealth's courses on stress management.
>> Read more about Seahealth's courses on good management and leadership at sea.
>> Read more about Seahealth's courses on mental crisis management
>> Read more about Seahealth's courses on conflict management at sea.

Crisis Counseling

We run a psychological counselling service to provide acute psychological help or counselling associated with pressure of work or other psychological conditions that need professional treatment. The process always starts with a counselling session to assess the need for treatment and the precise action to be taken. Seahealth Denmark also offers psychological counselling via the Internet to seamen who are unable to attend personal counselling sessions. Internet counselling is also available as part of training courses, management training, etc.

>> Read more about crisis counseling

Materials on well-being

We have published various material on well-being, most recently a book titled A Good Working Life at Sea and Ship and office at the same wavelength.

>> Read about the Publication A good working life at sea

>> Order A good working life at sea at Weilbach

>>Download Ship and office at the same wavelength

>> Order Ship and office at the same wavelength at Weilbach

List of publications


International Regulation

Effective advice on measures to minimize the adverse effects of work-related factors on mental health should be provided. Without which seafarers may risk adverse effects on mental health.


Further information can be obtained in MOSH Guidelines 6.4 Mental occupational health.

ESCA - European Community Shipowners' Associations on "bullying and harrasment"

The European Transport Workers Association has made a guideline and a movie on bullying and harrasment.

You can find the guideline and the movie on the organizations website


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