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Title: Work Interference with Family Life in Fly-In/Fly-out (FIFO) Employment: I need a better swing mate.
Ethics Approval Number:
2012/073
Daniel Funston
Study Complete: 01/11/2012

Research Summary

Fly in and Fly out (FIFO) employment has grown rapidly in the past decade as the mining and resource boom has created thousands of jobs. With this massive increase in exploration, there has been more jobs created and there spike in the demand for workers. FIFO has become a necessity for the resources industry due to vast isolation of resource operations throughout Australia. The fact is there is just not enough workers in remote areas to match the demand as the majority of the Australian population live in major cities, and the remote population is vastly distributed across the country. In the past families were relocated to small mining towns that were set up in remote areas, although as the demand for employees kept growing it become increasingly difficult to relocate workers to remote areas on a permanent basis. It was also not cost effective to move whole families to the bush. As a result of the increase demand for workers and to reduce costs, FIFO employment became a viable and popular option to attract employees to rural and remote areas.

FIFO employment has a number of serious financial benefits, as employees can often earn much higher wages for comparative jobs or trades in urban areas or other sectors. The FIFO lifestyle offers the potential for great money to be made, however the high wages do come at a cost. The FIFO lifestyle is one of long working hours for consecutive days, while living in isolation from your family. Not everyone fits the FIFO mould, as the physical and mental exertion from the workload and social isolation can often take its toll. Employees often make the decision that the positive aspects of financial compensation outweigh the negative aspects of the FIFO lifestyle. The fact is many employees soon realise that the long hours and isolation is too much of a burden, hence the resource industry experiences a very high staff turnover rate.

In the FIFO lifestyle, employees are required to work in non-standard work schedules in a high workload setting, while spend long blocks of time away from their families. All these factors make FIFO employees more susceptible to Work-Family Conflict. Work-Family Conflict is WFC is the conflict that arises from either work interfering with family obligations and meeting family demands (work interference with family) or the extent that family obligations interfere with the ability to meet work demands (family interference with work). Work-Family Conflict can be seen as a perception of insufficient energy and time to successfully perform in work and family roles due to the conflict that arises between the two settings. Work-Family Conflict has been found to be related to: job satisfaction, life stress, fatigue, burnout, life dissatisfaction, turnover intentions, depression and poor physical health.

Within FIFO employment there are a number of different swings/rosters (eg.14 days on/ 7 days off) available or utilised by different operations. There is a massive variation in types of swings at work as they vary in the length of turnaround and time away. Different swings may be more be more susceptible to higher levels of Work-Family Conflict due higher workload and more time spent away from their family.

Method

  • 202 FIFO workers (166 males and 32 females) completed an online or paper based survey.
  • Consisted of FIFO workers from all over Australia from a range of jobs.
  • For this study employees completed following measures to determine:
    • Work-Family Conflict
    • Organisational Commitment
    • Perceived Organisational Support
    • Turnover Intentions
    • Type of Roster/Swing (Swing converted to a ratio (Swing Ratio=(Days Off)/(Days On)), the closer to 1, the more even the amount of days on- are to days off.
    • General Demographic Information

Key Findings

  • As expected, a negative relationship is observed between Work-Family Conflict and swing ratio. As the ratio moved closer to 0, Work-Family Conflict increased.
    • As expected, the relationship became stronger when employees had children, particularly more than two.
    • The relationship was strongest in single parents.
  • Contrary to expectations, male FIFO workers have higher Work-Family Conflict than female FIFO workers. However, the difference is small.
  • As expected, employees who did not want to change their swing had significantly lower Work-Family Conflict.
  • As expected, perceived organisational support had a negative relationship with Work-Family Conflict. Employees who felt more supported had lower Work Family Conflict.
  • As expected, Work-Family Conflict is positively related to turnover intentions.
    • Swing ratio and perceived organisational support partially mediates the relationship.
  • There was a negative relationship between Organisational Commitment and Work-Family Conflict, however it was very weak.

Discussion

  • The type of swing allocated to a FIFO worker is related to Work-Family Conflict. This can be rationalised simply by the notion that the more time one devotes to work, the less time they have to meet the demands at home. The difference in time allocation can be massive between different swings. For example, not including holiday/sick leave an employee who works 21 days on/7 days off will only spend 13 weeks (91 days) at home per year, while an employee working 14-days on/14-days off will spend 26 weeks at home (182 days).
  • The inflexible FIFO schedules and poor swing ratios can really make it hard to devote time to their family responsibilities. Time-based demands are likely the major contributor of Work-Family Conflict. However, Work-Family Conflict may also arise due to the impact of the increased work-load and shorter rest and recovery time, increasing physical and psychological stress. A swing with a poor ratio also contributes to more days at work in an industry with the highest average working hours in Australia, and less time to recover.
  • IF FIFO employees have children, the type of swing becomes more important in managing Work-Family Conflict. More children equate to more resources one will need to expend to meet all the family obligations of partners and children. The same can be said for single parents, as in single-parent households role demands are greater, as one person must perform the task commonly performed by two partners.
  • FIFO employees with higher perceptions of support from their organisation had lower Work-Family Conflict. FIFO employees with higher POS may feel that their organisation is looking out for them and their family needs, which improves their perception of works’ interference with family life.
  • Work-Family Conflict was a small predictor of turnover intent. The rational for relationship between turnover intentions and Work-Family Conflict may be workers who experience Work Family Conflict will be more inclined to withdraw from work in an attempt to eliminate the conflict and stress stemming from work. Even though it’s a small predictor, turnover can cost mining companies millions of dollars a year, thus even a small influence may account for significant improvement.

Concluding Thoughts

With the increased exploration and increased reliance on FIFO employment organisations need to consider the best options and structures to improve life for their employees and retain their workforce. The type of swings organisations allocate to their employees and perceptions of organisational support can have a significant impact on how work interferes with their family life. Organisations should take note on the choice of swings they choose for their operations, and create a productive work culture where employees feel supported to maximise their chances of retaining their workforce in a competitive industry.