The Management of Human Resources on Cruise Ships: The Realities of the Roles and Relations of the HR Function

  • Thomas Schlingemann

Student thesis: Doctor of Business Administration


This thesis aims to contribute to a deeper understanding of human resourcemanagement (HRM) within cruise ship organizations. The cruise ship industry is oneof the fastest developing sectors within the tourism industry. Therefore, it shouldcome as little surprise that the demand for seafaring human resources has alsogrown. Assuming that effective management of crew members is key to theeffective operation of cruise ships, the specifics and challenges for HRM in thisparticular organisational context are identified and analysed as well as the realitiesof the roles and relations of the shipboard HR function examined.The present study is original in its theoretical approach, as it brings two approachestogether which obviously are not linked. Ulrich's model talks about roles and thestudy used aspects of this framework in terms of the position of HRM. Goffman'sconcept of total institutions was also consulted in order to frame internal business-specificconditions and social relations. The combination of both approaches allowsfor the examination of HR roles and professional relations in a much more detailedand contextualised manner.The cruise industry is acknowledged as being under-researched, and this is all themore true for research on HRM in this specific sector. Therefore, the nature of theresearch in this study is empirical and framed within an explorative approach. Theanalysis is based on a single case study within one cruise ship owner company, inwhich 23 semi-structured interviews were performed; there is also the use ofethnographic fieldnotes recorded during a three-month assignment on one of thecompany's cruise ships.The thesis contributes to the existing literature in three ways. Firstly, the researchanalyses shoreside HR and how it is coping with various business-specificchallenges, i.e. high growth rates, a high demand for new cruise ship employees,high turnover rates of crew members and a distinctive context of ethnic andnational diversity. The analysis reveals that the HRM approach of the cruise shipowner company could be characterised as generally reactive and short-term infocus, a pure strategic orientation is absent.Secondly, the thesis examines the content of shipboard HR work. The study revealsthat the main focus of the shipboard HR function is on tactical HR work, especiallytraining and development, employee relations, and advisory role in relation toshipboard leaders. The shipboard HR role includes HR activities that are not usuallyprovided by HR business partners, such as the facilitation of training. This and theintense liaison between the shipboard HR function and its shoreside HR partnersmake shipboard HR work somewhat unique. Whereas a huge amount oftransactional HR work does not necessarily add value to the business, strategic HRwork is practically non-existent on cruise ships.Finally, the thesis examines the realities of HR roles and relations on board cruiseships. The analysis demonstrated that HRM on board cruise ships can currently besummarised as reactive and short-term in focus, and the strategic partner role ispractically non-existent. It is more a series of functions with different stakeholderscontributing to it in a variety of ways and with overlap in terms of task executions.This shared nature of HR adds complexity to the HRM approach. Furthermore,strong influential links from shoreside HR were identified, which undermines theability of the shipboard HR function to become a stronger partner of the business.Nevertheless, the analysis revealed the potential in this specific sector forenhancements and for the further development of HRM on cruise ships.
Date of Award1 Aug 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorDamian Hodgson (Supervisor) & Miguel Martinez Lucio (Supervisor)


  • Human Resource Management
  • Cruise Ship

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