A guide for workers and families
Since the end of the 1980’s Australia has experienced a resources boom that has seen thousands of families impacted by fly in fly out (FIFO) work. The FIFO lifestyle involves workers flying to non-residential based gas, oil and mining operations to work ten to fourteen hour shifts for two to six weeks at a time. Whilst the financial gains from this type of work are substantial the undesirable impact this type of work is having on individuals, couples and family units is becoming hard to ignore.
The FIFO lifestyle often sees workers flying out to stay in remote locations with hundreds of other men and women in basic, but fully serviced accommodation, working long hours with the opportunity to wind down after a long shift at the “wet mess” with other co-workers. This lifestyle is often far removed from the life they lead at home with partners and children.
Ways FIFO Work Impacts Families
- Relationships become strained due to the distance between the couple
- One parent often takes on the role of single parent
- Children are impacted emotionally spending time looking forward to mum or dads return and then having to say good bye again. This is especially hard during the early transition period of FIFO when they may not have been separated from a parent for an extended period of time.
- FIFO workers find it difficult to adjust from single life to family life
- juggle as the parent who stays at home with the children needs some time out from being a single parent and the FIFO worker needs time to wind down after working such long hours
Ways You Can Stay Connected in Couple Relationships
Prior to starting FIFO work couples need to be realistic about the impact this type of work is going to have on the family. For this lifestyle to be managed successfully it is beneficial for couples to discuss how they will approach things such as social life, parenting, contact with each other (and children) during the period away. It is also important to discuss the expectations that the whole family has about how life is going to be when the partner who works away returns home. For example who will transport children to and from school? How much time will be allocated to friends and extended family? Will there be nights for just the two of you to go to dinner or have time out together? If these expectations are discussed in a logical and practical way, it could reduce the level of stress and disappointment. It is also important that these discussions continue throughout the FIFO arrangement to ensure the arrangements are still working for the both of you.
Tips for the partner who is working away
- If you know your roster, provide your partner with it so they know when you will be available to talk.
- Provide your partner with an emergency number where they can reach you if required.
- Organise times that you will call your family to ensure they are home and able to speak for undisturbed periods of time.
- Do not take on additional shifts or a change of roster without first discussing this with your partner to ensure they will be able to cope with the changes.
- Allow ‘date nights’ or ‘couple time’ when both partners are home to reconnect with each other (away from the children if you have them).
- Discuss what you need from your time off from work with your partner. For example; FIFO workers need plenty of sleep and recuperation time.
If you have children
- Recognise that your partner has established boundaries and rules with the children while you are away. It is important that these rules and boundaries remain in place when you are home. Be clear on what these are and provide support to your partner by ensuring that you remain a parent to the children and not let the rules go so you can just have fun with the children.
- Recognise that your stay-at-home partner will be taking on a single parent role while you are away and that they may need time out. Discuss possible social activities that your partner could engage in whilst you are away. This can assist in reducing insecurities. Also recognise that this parent will need some down time when you are home, so make time to take the children out in order to provide your partner with this opportunity
- Spend plenty of time with your children. FIFO work can take a toll on them emotionally, and they will, in most circumstances, look forward to your return for weeks on end.
- Make an effort to speak to your children (especially if they are young) as often as possible, preferably before their sleeping times.
Ways FIFO Work Impacts Individuals
- Working away can cause a sense of isolation that can cause depression.
- This isolation and time away from partner can lead to fantasies about partner being unfaithful or not interested leading to insecurities.
- Difficulties forming new relationships if single. Meeting someone and then having to fly out for several weeks makes it difficult for romantic relationships to form.
- Binge drinking and/or recreational drug use is a feature of FIFO lifestyles.
- Changes in mood are often experienced by FIFO workers. This mood can be low at the end of the work block and can remain low for a couple of days on returning home until the worker is rested and settled in again. It is not unusual for some workers to begin to feel low again a few days before heading back to work. Usually this will settle, but sometimes for some workers the low mood will remain until they are home again.
- Fatigue is often experienced during work hours due to very long shifts. This leads to the need for extended recovery time once home.
- Missing significant events such as birthdays, weddings can result in feelings of exclusion and increase feelings of isolation or depression.
- Often high levels of stress whilst on the job with little means of support can result in increased drinking at the “wet mess” and a build-up of emotions.
- Struggling to feel part of the community due to long stretches away
- A sense of not ‘belonging’ anymore, including family, friends and environment. This can be especially so for those workers spending six weeks away and much less time back home.
Ways for Individuals to Stay Connected and Make the most of FIFO
- Stay in touch with friends and family while away, including Skype, phone and email.
- Make plans before leaving or while you are away to catch up with people on your return and commit to these plans where possible.
- Talk with a trusted friend or family member about your concerns or any difficulties you are experiencing whilst working in a FIFO position, or seek professional support.
- Continue activities that you enjoy such as sport that you are able to pick up again when back home such as fishing, golfing, boating, movies, concerts etc. Part time study online can often fill time while on site, and can provide you with an interesting new challenge.
- Draw on the experience of other FIFO workers who understand the challenges that go with the job both onsite and offsite.
- Maintain as healthy a lifestyle as possible. This can be beneficial to you both physically and emotionally.
- Putting some goals into place can often be helpful in maintaining a sense of purpose. For example, use this period of your life to become financially secure in order to finance any dreams you may have, like owning your own home, setting yourself up in business or planning for a comfortable retirement. Assume FIFO is not necessarily viable in the long run.
- Don’t over commit yourself on returning from work especially if already exhausted; take time to recover in order to fully enjoy the events and time off you have been looking forward to.
If you are experiencing coping difficulties, or your relationships are starting to suffer as a result of fly in fly out work, please contact Eliza to further discuss your concerns.