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New study finds FIFO families OK, except for young boys

Australian FIFO families have mostly adjusted to the unique set of challenges of the lifestyle, however young boys in the family are adversely affected, according to an analysis by the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

The review of the research was led by the Institute’s Ms Elly Robinson,  manager ofthe Child Family Community Australia information exchange. It looked at the problems faced by the workers, most of whom are men, and their families centred in the resource states of Queensland and Western Australia.

The review found families with fly-in fly-out (FIFO) arrangements were likely to be just as healthy and well functioning as daily commute mining workers.

Ms Robinson said the ability for families to cope with the lifestyle depended on a number of factors unique to each family’s situation, including workplace cultures, rosters and recruitment practices, as well as the community, home environments and individual circumstances.

“Most families have tended to cope with the lifestyle but it does not suit everyone. Children may experience negative emotions as the result of the FIFO parent’s absence. They may have increased behaviour problems ? particularly boys, greater experiences of bullying at school, and increased pressure to succeed academically,” she said.

“Parenting is a challenge for FIFO families, particularly for partners at home who have to manage the continual transitioning from solo parenting to co-parenting and back again, while providing for the physical, emotional, and intellectual needs of children, without the support of a partner always at home.”

Key findings of the FIFO analysis include: Organisational factors

  • Employees benefit from having contingency plans enabling them to get home quickly in the event of a family emergency.
  • Contract FIFO workers are often subject to different conditions to regular employees, such as working longer rosters or experiencing poorer accommodation, which can impact negatively on their wellbeing.
  • A heavy drinking culture exists across some mining sites, particularly for young, single male workers. While the FIFO industry has taken considerable steps to address this, the crackdown may lead to greater consumption when at home.
  • FIFO workers may be reluctant to seek support and have poor insight into their own stress levels, even with the availability of employee assistance programs.

Recruitment practices and FIFO expectations

  • Applicants for FIFO positions frequently lacked accurate knowledge or understanding of how the lifestyle may impact on them and their families and first time or ?green’ recruits needed to be managed carefully.

Roster cycle

  • Highly compressed roster arrangements have been linked to lower levels of employee satisfaction, compared to roster cycles that are shorter in length and allow more time on leave.

Access to communication

  • Regular and private communication between the FIFO worker and families is vital, with partners at home expressing frustration at not being able to access their partner on site if mobile phone coverage was inadequate.

Accommodation and facilities at worksite

  • The standard of worksite accommodation and facilities varies greatly, and may not be designed to give individuals adequate privacy.
  • In some studies, workers cited onerous rules and regulations, excessive noise, isolating conditions, poor sleeping conditions and the quality of food among complaints about facilities.

Individual and family factors

  • Return-to-home and departure-to-work points in the FIFO roster were times of high stress, as couples and families prepared for separation and then adapted to having the worker home again. Both the worker and partner were more likely to argue or experience depression or anxiety during these transition periods.
  • Partners at home faced difficulties including feeling lonely, problems finding flexible employment and childcare and coping with the physical and emotional work of managing children and a household without a partner at home.
  • While children generally coped well in FIFO families, high maternal stress indicates that mothers may play a significant “buffer” role for the family disruption caused by the FIFO lifestyle.

Ms Robinson said the greatest parenting challenge found in this review was the frequent transition from a single parent household to a dual parent household and vice-versa.

“The research indicates that the coming and going created confusion about who makes decisions and which role each partner plays and can lead to conflict,” she said.

“One of the potential impacts on children is a lack of daily interaction with the FIFO parent. However the flipside is that the FIFO parent is then home for extended periods and available to spend quality time with children.

“Families themselves need to thoroughly review the benefits and challenges of the lifestyle and the likely impact on individuals within the family and the family as a whole.

“The lifestyle does not suit everyone, with some research suggesting that in those families who cope well, the at-home partner is supportive, has access to family support, good education options and child care, and is more self-reliant. Generally speaking, unmarried couples or families with teenage children fared best in a FIFO arrangement.”

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