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When Oil Rig Workers Get Emotional

Should oil rig workers open up and talk about their feelings?

A 2016 article in NPR seems to think you should. The focus of the article is an interview with Tommy Chreene, now 62, who worked on an oil rig from the time he was 15 until he retired.The article also talks about a new process the Ursa crew undertook to be more open and emotionally aware.

Chreene says that in the early days he saw a lot of death on the rigs. The companies were so intent on making money, and paying such high prices for leases on rigs that when a co-worker died the men were given 15 minutes to mourn and then it was back to work. This type of cracking the whip and impersonal management style was not good for morale.

The "rig code'"

Chreene also talks about the "rig code" which is to not talk about feelings or fear. However, a woman named Claire Nuer, who is a Holocaust survivor and leadership consultant, knew about these men and the "rig code." She knew that men were dying because of accidents and that there was a lot of unspoken fear and anger among the crews. She felt that these men, even though they worked together, were really very emotionally isolated. She believed that if they were given the opportunity to talk about their feelings, and be really honest with one another, things on the rig would improve.

Nuer knew this "rig code" was also negatively affecting the family life of the rig workers and she wanted to do something about it.

The Ursa crew

So Nuer got in touch with the head of the Ursa project, Rick Fox. (Ursa is a 48 story tall, $1.45 billion offshore well.) Fox knew something needed to be done and agreed to let Nuer work with the crew.

Nuer led seminars in New Orleans  for not only 100 of the crew but also management. While not a comfortable experience, the intense series of exercises  (from 6 AM to 11PM) really did help to open the men up. After sharing stories from their lives, and some of what they had suffered and some of what they feared and some of what made them angry, the men did feel more understood, more safe, and more supported. The seminar also included presentations on safety.

Most of the men said that they felt changed for the better. They also said their relationships with their sons improved.

Is open and honest communication good for work morale? Does it help with oil rig safety? What do you think?

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