CRUISE – Handling stress in coworkers

18 May

We are in Hamburg, and you know what that means: we shoot embarkation photos. Lolek, and Bolek, and me. And Henry, if he can be asked to stop rambling, and start contributing. By now you know what scheme the events will follow: I get shooed around the canvas, and due to being held to impossible standards I get verbally abused every half hour. That’s life as a rookie photographer. It’s no longer news, so instead of continuing to whine I will discuss my thoughts on work stress and human intervention.

Hamburg town hall

This is my third port day in Hamburg, but once again no photographer has time to leave the cruise ship.

Embarkation shootings follow a very repetitive scheme. The incoming passengers line up, we ask them to pose for a photo in front of a canvas, we shoot, and the crowd slowly moves on. I am supposed to “crowd control” the passengers, i.e. keep them in line, and push them in front of the canvas. And whatever I do, my Macedonian colleagues usually perceive it as wrong, because approximately every ninety passengers we get a rude Italian couple that just stalks right through the photo studio, dragging at least a dozen other passengers behind them. And although that happens to every photographer who “crowd-controls”, it only is worthy of comment when I do it. And even when my “team mates” make me switch positions with them, the problem remains: whatever I do is wrong, even if I do the same as everyone else.

This type of harassment of coworkers fits snugly into the definition of “bullying”. If this happened in any regular office job, you would go to your boss, and ask for an open discussion with your colleagues. Unfortunately, that option is off the table, because our boss is a lunatic. We all avoid talking to Manager Mihai, because we rarely receive answers that are less than offensive. Constructive criticism is not part of his repertoire, so asking him to mitigate a dispute is like asking a ferret to pick a chicken.

Cruise Photography during embarkation

Cruise Photography: embarkation shootings usually get two teams of photographers, because picturing 4000 passengers takes a lot of time.

Option #2 is this: I talk to my coworkers, and ask them to extend their criticism to other photographers, or stop picking on me. In order to do so I would need to pull them aside for an hour, which I cannot find the time for. In the morning I get up early, while they stay asleep. (Yes, even on port days.) During work hours they are totally stressed out, and the manager forbids us to speak to each other anyway. The meal breaks are about thirty minutes long, which is enough time for everyone to gobble up some pasta with ill-defined meat bits, and type a few messages on their not-so-smart phones. After work I am tired enough to fall asleep, while my coworkers go to party in the smoker’s den. Since that place is loud and smelly it does not appeal to me as a place for an honest discussion of work ethics.

And before you inquire about free time – we don’t have much of that. Nine to ten work hours a day (plus two hours preparation and clean-up) leave little time to spare. On port days I go outside to conjure up motivation for the job; on sea days I launder clothes and try to catch up on sleep. That is literally the life of a cruise photographer – work, and eat, and sleep. No wonder everyone is so stressed out all the time! Maybe by the end of my contract I will also become a verbally aggressive workaholic. I think I’d rather quit the job, though.

It is difficult to understand what makes their positions so stress-inducing. After all, I have to fulfill nearly the same tasks that my coworkers do; and despite having fewer years of experience I approach my work with the same professional attitude as they do. My coworkers just take this whole situation way more serious. On embarkation days in particular they are very vigorous, and utilize a wide variety of gestures and multilingual phrases to pose unwilling passengers in front of the photo canvas. They spend a great deal of energy on maximising their performance, and at least half of them require energy drinks AND a pint of coffee to push through the embarkation shooting. In turn, they expect me to also jump about like a crazed frog, and are massively disappointed when I refuse to do so. My coworkers are constantly on the edge; they think I am underperforming, and therefore try to push me towards being more Rodeo Clown, and less professional photographer. Since none of us really has time to think while at work, they can’t develop a comprehensive concept of how to teach me their way of “cruise photography”. And so they just build up anger, and release it in episodic bursts.

Goemon5 aboard the ABC RypMeOff

Maybe people with more facial hair are just more relaxed. Most of my male coworkers are pretty rancid, though.

One of my best friends aboard is Mateja, a young Lithuanian photographer who started her first photo contract just three days before me. The same hostility that makes my job so difficult is also extended towards her, and every other day we have a brief talk between breaks regarding these issues. Mateja is a wonderfully energetic photographer, and you can just see the passengers brightening up in her presence. But barely a day passes on which she doesn’t complain to me about being bullied. Every other day I have to reassure her that this job is worth keeping, that her coworkers are not being particularly mean, and that they are not targeting her directly. The stress level of our “team members” is just so high that they cannot be argued or reasoned with as long as they remain on the cruise ship.

In my experience it won’t be possible to maintain that kind of mental exertion over weeks or months. So Mateja and I intend to sit it out, ignore the unintended harassment, and stay strong for ourselves. We both had to spend valuable resources to gain this position, and we won’t let those ignorant egomaniacs destroy our efforts. Neither of us is willing to become a photo bully, so instead of socialising with our coworkers in a dusty smoker’s bar, we sleep one hour longer, and channel positive energies for the next day.

I cannot see a way to calm down our coworkers, so instead of submerging myself in pointless argumentation I will continue to ignore them. Short-term it may anger them more, realizing that I am not actually listening when they try to “teach” me. But in the long run they should be able to see beyond my mistakes, and focus on a more organised approach to their own jobs, and the world around it.

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