As Christmas draws near the focus is on more than just gifts and family, especially if you’re a FIFO worker. The holiday period places increased pressure on FIFO workers mental health. Many miss out on family celebrations due to work rosters. Many have Christmas dinner at a work camp or mining camp and rely on telephone, text or Skype conversations with their loved ones.
FIFO workers are not the only ones who may find Christmas a difficult time. Many have issues with their mental health. However, for this article, we focus on employees on FIFO working arrangements to reveal strategies organisations can use to improve their mental health. We take a look at a 500-page report produced for the WA Mental Health Commission in September 2018. We summarise the key findings and recommendations.
Report Card on FIFO Workers Mental Health
The report paints a generally negative picture of FIFO workers mental health.
One-third of FIFO workers report high levels of psychological distress and are more likely than other workers to contemplate to have suicidal thoughts. They have higher levels of burnout and significantly worse sleep quality, especially those working nights. Contractors, construction workers, and camp, catering and logistical staff are the worst off.
FIFO workers on compression rosters and travelling long distances that encroach on time off adds to their stress and fatigue levels. They feel worse when transitioning to the site (e.g. sadness, anxiety, not wanting to return to work) and feel better when transitioning home (e.g. happy, excited). However, for many, feeling happy when returning home is dampened by fatigue.
Loneliness is also a big problem with many FIFO workers who feel isolated due to being separated from family and missing out on important family events. Some also find camp life lonely and feel that they can’t create meaningful connections with others, especially when there are limited opportunities for social interaction (e.g. only the wet mess). Their partners and children miss them greatly when they are apart. See our article, Are Family-Friendly FIFO Rosters the Answer?
They also report that they are more likely to be bullied or witness bullying at work. Some FIFO workers feel institutionalised, because of camp conditions such as poor quality of accommodation and food, unreliable internet connection, and the many rules and regimes. Job insecurity, high workload and lack of autonomy (i.e. low choice/control over decisions and job tasks) add to the stress.
71% of FIFO workers drink more than two standard drinks on any day and drink more frequently. 29% use illicit drugs. The extended drinking is linked to perceived masculinity norms, stigma, loneliness, home- work-life conflict and difficulty with the psychological transitioning to and from work.
5 Strategies to Improve FIFO Workers Wellbeing
There are several strategies that organisations can use to improve FIFO workers mental health.
- Demonstrate a genuine commitment to improving the mental health of their workforce.
- Assess psychosocial risk and monitor FIFO workers mental health. There are several tools that we can use to assess mental health.
- Provide training for leaders and FIFO workers, e.g. mental health first aid training and employee mental health training. See our article, Does Mental Health First Aid Training Help?
- Address the stigma associated with poor mental health. Educate workers to recognise signs and symptoms.
- Promote a broad range of support services, for example, provide easy access to your EAP and helplines. See our article, Do Employee Assistance Programs Work? In this study, 26% of FIFO workers could not recall any available mental health support options on-site. However, the research shows that FIFO workers who actively seek out support have significantly better mental health and wellbeing. Organisations need to ensure that support is not only made available but that it is clearly and regularly communicated.
There Are Other Things That Can Help
The five strategies above are organisational cultural, support and training to improve FIFO workers mental health. There are structural strategies that can also make a difference.
- FIFO workers with even-time and shorter rosters (2 weeks on/2 weeks off; 8 days on/6 days off; 5 days on/2 days off) have significantly better mental health outcomes. Organisations need to make sure that R&R is of sufficient length for recovery and detachment from work, as well as allowing the worker to have quality time with their family and friends.
- Providing adequate communication infrastructures such as the internet and the availability of landline telephones helps FIFO workers to keep in contact with family and friends.
- Receiving an induction is significantly linked with the FIFO partners’ psychological wellbeing.
- Having a financial plan, savings, manageable debt and an exit strategy are important for the mental health and wellbeing of FIFO workers.
Where to From Here?
With one-third of FIFO workers reporting high levels of psychological distress, providing employee mental health training is a step in the right direction.
Tap into Safety has Mental Health training modules that include two specific FIFO focused topics of ‘Away at key times’ and ‘Transition to home’ that can easily integrate with organisations existing wellbeing programmes.
Each module presents the user with customised animated stories of typical workplace issues. These issues can impact on the mental health of the individual and those around them. Helpful coping strategies are taught to users to address emerging issues before they escalate.
FIFO working arrangments are here for the long-term and managing workers mental health is paramount. This article reveals the impacts that FIFO arrangements have on workers mental health and provides five strategies that organisations can use to support and educate. Structural changes that can help include even time rosters, providing adequate on-site communication, financial planning, and inducting partners. As we draw closer to the holiday period, remember to keep an eye on each other and don’t be afraid to ask how your workmate is going and if they are ok.