The nature of the fly-in fly-out labour market has been somewhat tumultuous over the last couple of years.
With a spike in health-related deaths over the last two years, and a number of reported cases of suicide within the FIFO community, it sparked a senate inquiry, carried out in February 2013, calling for action to be taken in regards to looking after the welfare of workers in the mining and resources sector.
Workforce practices have been under scrutiny at both a senate and community level. Families of FIFO workers are calling for better work practices, more flexibility in shift work, and improved regulation of occupational health and safety within the industry.
A 2012 study from Murdoch University observed a high level of voluntary employee turnover in this workforce.
“Stereotypically, FIFO workers are seen as “get rich fly by nighters”. However, the view taken for the current research was that the high rates of employee turnover are reflective of low organisational commitment, caused in a large part by employers not adequately addressing the higher needs of their workers such as a sense of belonging, recognition, self-esteem, privacy, and respect.”
The study found there to be a lack of organisational commitment from workers due to high disengagement between employers and employees.
They also found effective communication to be low. This found workers to highly value the social-exchanges between them and the organisation. When these were low, workers developed a belief around how much they were cared for or valued by the organisation.
Little engagement created poor beliefs of value and care, which eventuated into a lack of commitment or long-term retention, as well as almost non-existent expressions of interest in succession planning within the company.
This is all essentially feeding into rates of poor mental health in workers, low job satisfaction and slowed productivity.
An employee’s perspective
Disgruntled workers and job dissatisfaction are evident in many case studies.
A 23 year old worker who is a health service provider for remote mining camps shared her experiences with fly-in, fly-out, and drive-in, drive-out work.
“I’ve been working for 18 months and it’s killing me. It’s destroying my life. My whole life revolves around work,” she said.
An inquiry into the mental health of FIFO workers in Western Australia (2012) found workers were hesitant to seek help for mental health issues on-site, because they were afraid of being sacked.
Regional community collaboration
ABC investigated the impact FIFO work was having on communities and families, particularly local communities and workers where townships were inundated with interstate FIFO workers.
“[The town] went from being a real tight-knit community and family-friendly place, where there were family-friendly rosters, everyone got along and sports clubs- everything for the kids- and now it’s completely fractured the town.”
It is fundamental that regional community collaboration is encouraged with practical-based strategies that sees the provision of more ease to access health and wellbeing programs for FIFO workers, better flexibility of shifts and a developed sense of organisational value and care. For example,
- Pro-active involvement in hiring and skilling up local workers.
- Develop regional training and programs for local communities.
- Active involvement in community-driven projects such as providing funding for sporting clubs.
- Improved housing accessibility for families of long-term FIFO workers.
How can workforce development tackle this?
The following strategies can be implemented to improve the overall levels of commitment of workers, improve retention rates, increase job satisfaction in workers, and improve figures in training costs due to high levels of staff turnover.
- Demonstrate organisational care through revisal of roster and work schedules, flexibility in rotations, better approval systems for time off.
- Develop better sense of perceived value to the company by workers through developing cross-sectional communication strategies, incentivising long service of FIFO workers, and designing a feedback model where FIFO workers can freely contribute ideas and express concerns to upper management.
- Implement easily accessible psychological wellbeing programs and education free of charge or subsidised.
- Challenge stereotypical perceptions of participating in wellbeing programs as being “weak” or “unmanly” through poster campaigns and focus groups.
- Change culture internally around mental health. Encourage communication and develop inquiry into whether it’s possible for employers to include contractual clauses that FIFO workers will not be terminated based on the reporting of a mental health condition.
- Provide widespread increase in accessibility to health services, community groups, and social activities.