By Therese Lardner
The challenges and rewards of FIFO work are really unique.
The working environment, employment conditions and how you interact with workmates on site can’t compare to a 9-5, high frequency travel or even the military lifestyle. FIFO stands on its own in terms of what the lifestyle will demand of workers and their families and the opportunities it creates.
Research tells us that people tend to start FIFO work with a very limited understanding of what FIFO is actually like and what the challenges will be. The benefits of FIFO work include extended periods of time at home to invest in hobbies or to spend with family. But common stressors can include:
- Isolation and loneliness
- Lack of contact with loved ones and communication difficulties while on site
- Stressors on site, like working in a harsh climate
- Extra pressure on relationships with your partner, children, family and friends
- ‘Travel fatigue’ in terms of the logistics of travel requirements
Transitioning into FIFO work will be an adjustment for you as well as your spouse, children and even your wider social circle. The first few months can be quite tough, and feelings of sadness, loss and confusion can be common, especially if you haven’t experienced FIFO work before. These feelings tend to settle down once you get into a new routine and establish new ways of staying connected to your loved ones. This doesn’t just happen though, you will need to take an active role in getting your head around this new way of working. Workers and their families who don’t prepare for, and work on adjusting, to FIFO tend to fare much worse and then have a negative FIFO experience.
How to adjust to FIFO
Every new job involves some level of adjustment, but the extreme differences between FIFO and other styles of work mean that there is often a culture shock for first timers. There will be changes to your work tasks, rosters/shifts, sleep and exercise patterns. Getting used to camp life will also mean getting your head around being with your workmates almost 24/7, and changing your accommodation and diet.
Looking after yourself
This can be a challenge for FIFO workers. The unique stressors of FIFO work can result in depression, anxiety and other challenges. In preparing yourself for FIFO, think back on your past:
- Have you ever experienced loneliness when you were away from home, for example on holiday or away on a work trip? How do you tend to cope?
- Have you experienced periods of depression or anxiety in the past? How did you manage this?
It’s also important to know what support and resources are available to you and your family in your new job that can help you in coping in tough times. These services are a benefit of your new job – you might as well use them.
Physically, you’ll need to make sure you have a healthy and varied diet, get enough exercise and that you work to adjust to the different sleeping patterns onsite and at home. Have a plan in place to help you adjust from work to home and back again to minimize the disruption to your sleep.
Preparing your family
One of the biggest impacts that FIFO work will have on your lifestyle will be on your relationships with your partner, children, family and friends. The cycle of emotion involved in FIFO work (constant entry and exit from the household) can be difficult for couples. The couples who adjust best are able to focus on a shared goal (life or financial) during the difficult times. Think about:
- Why you chose the FIFO lifestyle in the first place. If your answer is financial, don’t stop there. Money in and off itself doesn’t mean much. For most people it represents having choice, options and security. Get specific about the financial and life goals that FIFO work will help you achieve.
- Missing key family events and milestones can be especially tough. Again, having strategies in place to manage this will be important to adjusting well to FIFO work.
- Who will be available to support your partner while you’re away?
- How will you manage missed birthdays, school/sporting events and special occasions?
Make doubly sure that you and your partner have shared expectations about how the children will be disciplined while you’re away, how much contact and communication to expect and how you can help each other ease into and out of R&R.
The most important element of adjusting to FIFO work is preparation and planning. Winging it just isn’t an option, unless you’re looking forward to being miserable at camp, and your partner and children being beside themselves! Take active control of the change and you’ll find that you can really reduce the impact that it will have on you and your family and you can get on with enjoying the FIFO lifestyle.
Therese Lardner is an Australian-based registered psychologist with extensive experience in all areas of the employment cycle from recruitment and selection to development, employee engagement and career transition.
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