Travelers Are Taking No-Frills Cruises on Ocean Freighters

October 28, 2015 — 6:00 PM EDT

CMA CGM’s Rigoletto

Photographer: Fabien Montreuil

In recent years, big cruise operators such as Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Star Cruises have spent heavily on soaring atriums, sushi bars, cabaret shows, and on-deck water slides to woo vacationers. Don’t tell that to John McGuffick, who’s spent months at a time at sea on cargo vessels—happily ensconced in quarters more suited to a Trappist monk than a Caribbean cruiser.

“The food can be pretty ordinary, and you have to be prepared to go with the flow,” says the 72-year-old retired farmer from Australia whose 10 trips via ocean freighter have taken him to dozens of ports across Asia, Europe, and North America. His personal maritime endurance record: 110 days nonstop from Dunkirk, in northern France, to Singapore. Explains McGuffick: “I like the solitude.”

Shipping companies like the dollars passengers such as McGuffick can bring aboard. In a slowing global economy, freight prices have fallen so far that hauling a person from Shanghai to Rotterdam brings in at least 10 times more revenue than a 20-foot container full of flat-packed furniture.

It’s not luxurious and not exactly cheap: About $115 a day secures travelers a bed and three meals on some of the largest vessels ever built. The handful of paying passengers—ships typically take no more than a dozen at a time—dine with the crew, have the run of most of the ship, and can chat up the captain on the bridge or engineers below deck. Forget about the vast housekeeping staffs cruise lines are known for. Freighter cabins are serviced once a week, and passengers have to wash their own clothes. Rather than poolside bars, there’s usually a modest supply of alcoholic drinks paid for via an honor system. While Internet access is limited, Ping-Pong tables, dartboards, a selection of CDs and DVDs, and books in a variety of languages help passengers pass the time.

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5 Things You Can Do To Drive Corporate Culture


Tech companies may get all the attention for creating engaging and collaborative workspaces and strong corporate cultures, but the truth is that employee engagement benefits businesses in any industry. Enerplus, a medium-sized oil and gas company based in Canada, has made corporate culture a major emphasis in the last few years, and the results have been phenomenal. Keep in mind that this is a VERY conservative industry that isn’t really known for progressive ideas about the workplace. However, not only is Enerplus driving innovation and inspiring other companies across the industry, it is also attracting top talent and can see revenue stability during a tough time in the industry. I sat down with Lisa Ower, Vice President of Human Resources, to learn the secrets to Enerplus’ success and to see how the principles can be applied to any business. Lisa and Enerplus are members of the Future of Work Community, a global brand council devoted to exploring the future of work, they have allowed me to share this information publicly.

Here are five things you can do (and that Enerplus has done) to drive corporate culture with great results:

1. Get leadership on board. Just like changes to benefits packages, stock information, and training procedures need the support of upper-level management, so does an employee-driven corporate culture. Although much of a strong corporate culture should be organic and develop from grassroots efforts, having the support and encouragement of leadership is key in implementing lasting change. Although corporate culture is for more than just the big tech companies, showing the stock prices and employee satisfaction scores from companies like Google GOOGL +1.78% and Netflix NFLX +2.91% can help persuade board members and senior management that developing employee engagement can have a major impact on the bottom line. Once you have management’s support, stay on their radar with consistent updates, feedback, and innovative ideas. While it may take some time to get all board members on the same page, having upper-level support makes the entire process much easier.

2. Listen to employees. No one is living your company culture more than your employees, so getting their feedback is vital. Instead of reacting to existing issues in a brash and impulsive way, use survey data to understand your employees’ current perceptions of the culture. When it comes to making changes, employees are much more likely to listen and help innovate if they feel valued and engaged. Take advantage of a wide variety of data sources, such as employee surveys and focus groups, to truly understand the business mindset. Employees notice when you take the time to listen to and value their input, which can engage them in the process and excite them about new possibilities.

3. Practice what you preach. Embedding culture in your people practices and daily interactions is crucial. Many companies come up with a culture statement or catchphrase and hang it on wall posters without really thinking about it or applying it to normal work life. The most successful corporate culture-driven companies realize that employee engagement comes through practicing what you preach and incorporating your company’s driving principles into every aspect of every day. It’s easy to use buzzwords like collaboration, innovation, and empowerment, but what are you doing to truly incorporate those principles into your employees’ everyday life? The culture at Enerplus revolves around five heart values: honesty, engagement, accountability, responsibility, and teamwork. Instead of just throwing the words around, the company puts them into action, like exemplifying teamwork with regular cross-departmental think tanks and forums, or by showcasing accountability by running an unlimited vacation days schedule that allows employees to take the time they need for personal matters as long as their work gets done.

4. Make it fun. People buy in to things they feel have value and enrich their employee experience. A session on leadership development can be incredibly dull, or you can use it as an opportunity to extend your culture through innovative activities, collaboration, and feedback. This could be as simple as offering mixer events for employees or using pop culture references or hosting a gameshow to explain complex business concepts. No matter the industry, corporate culture is a place that allows creativity to shine through. If you are encouraging your employees to be collaborative and innovative, your cultural plan needs to reflect that as well.

5. Measure and adapt. Creating a strong corporate culture isn’t something you can simply cross off a to-do list and be done with. Just like individuals, businesses are living, changing organizations that need constant adjustments as personalities, economies, and practices change. In order to see real change, you must be constantly adapting and perfecting your ideas and processes (especially when you want to see that same change agility in your people). One of the best ways to do this is to have the employees continuously involved through surveys, think tanks, focus groups, and more. Enerplus found that when they asked employees for feedback, employees were incredibly creative with their ideas and willing to add to the corporate culture experience. And don’t be afraid to rethink everything; as Lisa says, “The future of work is ever evolving and if we do not allow for creativity and innovation, we will continue to be dinosaurs in our space… we all know what happened to the dinosaurs!” Culture varies for every company, so keep tinkering and trying new practices until you find what works best for your organization.

Creating a corporate culture isn’t something that happens overnight—it is a journey. However, that’s not to say that every company can’t benefit from investing time in engaging and empowering employees. After all, corporate culture not only sets the company up for success financially, it also brings in talented recruits and improves morale for a stronger and more cohesive organization.

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