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Fly-in, Fly-Out Workers Run a Greater Risk of Depression


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Fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) is a working arrangement where, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, “the place of work is sufficiently isolated from the worker’s place of residence to make daily commute impractical.” The worker, therefore, flies to their place of work for a period of time, before flying back home.

FIFO is especially common in mining and construction industry in Australia, where the job site is often isolated from city centres, and is situated in rural and remote parts of the country. It is estimated that approximately 65,000 resources sector employees in Australia work on a FIFO scheme.

Hickman founded Bullyology last year with the aim of empowering companies to tackle bullying and promote good mental health through consultation with change makers in leadership. 

FIFO workers run a greater risk of depression. A study by the Edith Cowan University finds that FIFO workers record double the rate of depression compared to others.

Jobsite ANZ spoke with Jessica Hickman, Founder of Bullyology, about issues and responses to mental health in the construction and mining industry, with a special reference to FIFO style working conditions. Hickman has extensive experience in both mental health and construction sector, having worked as the HR and Culture Lead at a Darwin-based oil and gas project.

Hickman founded Bullyology last year with the aim of empowering companies to tackle bullying and promote good mental health through consultation with change makers in leadership.

Issues in the Industry

Hickman says there are many issues facing workers, especially those with fly-in, fly-out working arrangements. This means construction professionals work continuously for long periods of time, often away from their family.

Such work arrangements put considerable strain on family life. When workers return home for their break (usually one week), they are exhausted. Having so little time to catch a breath, some turn to drugs, gambling, and alcohol to relax and de-stress before going back to another job site.

This, compounded with the frequent lack of job certainty, can quickly create an environment where professionals are over-worked and turning to “quick fixes” for relief, which may have a detrimental effect on their mental and physical health.

How can employers support their workers?

Hickman says it’s all about creating a supportive environment, a “home away from home.” A few of her suggestions include:

  • Promote two-way communication. Managers need to take a personal interest in every employee. Walk around the job site, ask people about their home life, and anything that is on their mind or is causing stress. Create an environment where people feel genuinely cared for.

  • Recognise and respect risk by developing a respect for safety and making it relatable. Accountability plays a big role in such approach. A worker should be able to say to his mate, “my mind is not in the game today, can you please look out for me? I have kids that I want to get home safely.” A safe work environment is one where workers develop a bond and become responsible for each other’s safety.

  • Develop a reward and recognition program that isn’t just a “token gesture.” Get workers to nominate each other for awards to build a community spirit.

  • Have campaigns that engage the workforce about having a healthy lifestyle. Promote good eating, social activities, and regular exercise.

  • Identify early warning signs. As touched on, FIFO construction workers are away from their home for extended periods, and they may be feeling the effects of homesickness. For example, they might be away for a family member’s birthday, or they might miss their anniversary. This can weigh heavily on their mind and cause them to lose focus at work. Once again, letting everyone speak up and helping them feel supported is of an essence here. 

Lastly, Hickman stresses the importance of closing the feedback loop.

“What causes uncertainty in the workforce are unaddressed issues, no matter how small. They can boil and bubble. So, if you have an answer, even if it’s not the answer the workers might want to hear, you need to be honest and upfront,” she says.

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