Organisational culture refers to the beliefs, values and assumptions that characterise organisations or industries. Like ethnic cultures, these include commonly accepted norms, shared attitudes and widespread assumptions. Bennis and Nanus3 described a typology of leaders which is salient to the idea of organisational cultures. Their model describes collegial, formalistic, and personalistic leaders. Shea4 empirically explored these theoretical types of leaders using a battery of questionnaires among 700 seafarers from a range of countries and across different types of ship. He found that the “Collegial” and the “Formalistic” were the two behaviour types that occurred in the seafarer’s working environment. The “Collegial” behaviour type describes people who are positive and demonstrably supportive towards subordinates. Here the maintenance of cohesion between people is seen as important and is facilitated through team-working, discussion, participation and consensus. On the other hand, the “Formalistic” behaviour type describes people who displayed indifference towards subordinates and their activities. Critical issues here are seen to be stability, control and coordination, with the continuity of the organisation being seen to be a key objective.  

Shea’s research has also demonstrated a link between leadership style and safety on ships. Respondents indicated that the “Formalistic” behaviour type negatively impacted the safety climate of a ship. More particularly, when seafarers found themselves working in a non-collegial environment the accident rate increased:  ’the existence of a collegial culture on a ship therefore improved the safety culture of the ship’4 (p 107). While this is very relevant to the focus of this chapter it also suggests the possibility that leadership behaviour and organisational culture may also be related to health behaviours and practices, and indeed to health problems, as well as accidents on board ship.

One of the ways in which organisational behaviour and health behaviour may be linked is through perceptions of organisational justice – how fairly people feel they are being treated – in their work aboard ship. In other spheres links between feelings of injustice – being unfairly treated – and health problems have been established. Critically this conception of ‘justice’ goes well beyond health-related behaviours. For instance, crew members onboard ship may be paid, at least in part, on the basis of where they come from, and which labour-market they have been recruited through. This can mean that similarly qualified crew may have different rates of remuneration. This sort of discrepancy has been found to relate to worker demotivation in the context of international aid where more highly paid expatriates work alongside less well paid local workers, who may have the same, or indeed more relevant qualifications and experience5. Such demotivation has been found to relate to working less hard and intensions to leave one’s present job, as well as being associated with mental health problems6.

The idea of developing a ‘just culture’ has been applied in the maritime industry with for instance, BP Shipping and Teekay Marine Services. These programmes have focused on safety and how organisational culture can be changed from seeing accidents as inevitable with the people responsible being sacked (the organisationally “pathological” approach) through a series of steps involving more positive reactions to accidents, developing a systems approach to detect, developing proactive initiatives to avoid them, and finally to the “Generative” level where safety is seen as a “profit centre” and where information about accidents, or near accidents, is positively sought out as a valuable source of diagnostic information about how the organisation and its components are working7. In the same way as safety can be seen as a “profit centre” so too can health, where, as we have already stated, healthy and happy workers will perform better.