FIFO life has its perks, like using the Qantas points to book extravagant hotels that we wouldn’t normally pay full price for, access to the lounge at airports, and that sweet golden honey pot of extra cash.
All pretty superficial when you think of the pitfalls of FIFO life, such as being away from your loved ones and missing major life events.
3 years in a row I spent my birthday alone ‘cause Craig was working away. Countless functions and invites declined or attended alone. New Years? I think we celebrated it together once. Then the worst part of all. Being away from home when disaster strikes. Like the time our house was burgled, I was alone, and he was a day’s journey away in some remote Indonesian island. Or the time our fur baby, Amber, had suspected bowel obstruction, he was uncontactable, somewhere in transit between Perth and the North West Shelf.
FIFO life isn’t for everyone, it certainly wasn’t working for us. But it CAN be sustainable if there is both harmony at home AND at work.
I want to share with you some of our tips and insights into making sure that everyone in the family can cope with the rigorous demands both mentally and physically that FIFO work places upon them.
First a little background on Craig’s experience. He worked offshore in Oil and Gas for almost ten years, and in that time never had any dedicated R&R (rest and relaxation). This meant when he was home from site he was either in the office or taking one of his 28 annual leave days. Can anyone else relate to this?? It’s crazy, isn’t it, that a company would fly an employee away for 6 weeks, make them travel home, arriving back in Perth just after midnight on a Sunday night AND still expect that person to be in the office at 8 am Monday morning for a full week of work!!? No consideration for that person or their family’s mental wellbeing whatsoever.
In his first year in Perth he only had 11 weekends off out of 52, so you can imagine how many days he needed to be switched on for work.
It became difficult to plan anything because he was Ad-Hoc, (meaning often his work would tell him stories like ‘there’s a job next week but we don’t know when’, nothing would get booked, so we would make plans for our weekend. Then, sure thing, the call would come at 4 pm on a Thursday afternoon. ‘the job is ready, we’ve booked your flights AND slap bang you’re leaving at 4 am tomorrow morning AND we haven’t booked your return flight ‘cause we don’t know how long we’re sending you away for’) – this was a regular occurrence, leaving me at home alone, frustrated, scared and not knowing if Craig would be a way for 3 days or 3 weeks.
It was especially hard, more so for us, as the rest of our family live on the other side of the world.
So, below are Craig’s list of tips to help those struggling to get the FIFO balance right.
The first few days of R&R
Fly home day is a beautiful time. The FIFO worker has spent a lot of time away from their family, completed a large number of hours (most of those in high temperatures probably) and lived in moderate isolation. Their family are delighted that they are on their way home, having had to deal with the stresses of home life. They will have no doubt planned either a list of jobs and activities for them to complete or take part in. Here lies the problem… The word ‘isolation’ from the worker and ‘list of jobs’ from the family. If you have spent a number of weeks away and been on your own, sometimes it’s hard to switch between work life and family life in the first couple of days. It might seem selfish to suggest to your partner that you need time to adjust, but I believe this is helpful so that you can be a better partner or parent. Some of these practices have helped me shift between work life and family life almost right away.
Using a routine to signal a shift towards home life. I never usually drink sugary drinks, but I would get a ginger beer on the plane home from work to tell my mind that this only happens when going home. That way my brain begins to focus away from work and gets excited about seeing my family. When I was in the UK I used to buy a scratch card to fulfil the same affect (I never won). These little prompts can work wonders. What are your little routines, let us know?
Go for a float. Floating changed my life, which isn’t hard to understand since we are obsessed with it at Clear Mind Studio. By going for a float either the day I get home, or the day after, I allow myself to speed up the process where I come out of my isolated work state, and into my joyful home frame of mind. It works by giving the brain a chance to relax in a sensory deprived environment, but also allowing your muscles to recover as well. An hour in the float tank was the perfect antidote to sort my shit out, so that when I emerged from the tank, I was ready to dedicate all my energy to what was happening at home.
Take the pressure off. Everyone has their own vision of how R&R would look for them. Some love spending time at the beach, doing work on the house, others might want to take the family on holiday. Whatever your plans are, my tip is to think of R&R as simply time that is spent together, rather than as part of a specific activity and task. Put simply, if everyone is together and having a good time, that is more important than the scheduled activity itself.
The last few days of R&R
Nooooooo, it’s that time again where you need to go back to work. Usually it’s spent cramming in last minute jobs around the house or packing your bag again to go away.
It’s important that you don’t leave for work with unresolved family issues that might affect your mental wellbeing while you are away. There was a huge spike in suicides in 2018 from various sites which were attributed to the stress of unresolved issues at home. Below are my tips for the last few days of R&R to help everyone get through the following few weeks.
talk to your partner about any concerns you have. If you don’t have the courage to talk about problems face to face, it makes it difficult to resolve anything over a short phone call hundreds of kilometres away. I have seen people in tears offshore over a conversation they should have had at home and it can make their swing feel twice as long and twice as stressful. This puts themselves and their workmates at risk of harm. At home, your family will be going through the exact same thing.
Set realistic targets when resolving tasks. Are you trying to cram in all the jobs you needed to complete on the last few days? If these have been left to the last minute, perhaps making a daily plan with realistic goals would lighten the load so that you don’t feel rushed before returning to work. The same goes for the family too, there is no point holding onto a job in your mind and springing it upon your partner at the last minute. Talk to each other and work out the best way to handle everything.
Never leave angry. This is my most important tip, and one that needs the least explanation.
I hope that my tips are useful to those dealing with FIFO life, or are about to embark on a FIFO adventure. These tips are equally important if you are single, because that is when the isolation can really take hold.
So stay present, talk to your partner, meditate, practice yoga, eat healthy, reduce alcohol, float, try an Infrared sauna, seek help, see a life coach, see a counsellor, spend quality time with your loved ones when you are home. Talk to someone.
Look after yourselves, and each other.
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