Fly-in fly-out workforce practices in Australia: The effects on children and family relationships

CFCA Paper No. 19 – February 2014

Summary

This review found that there is a lack of empirical evidence to indicate that specific engagement in FIFO employment has a universal direct effect on children or family relationships. The unique conditions of FIFO employment, however, could impact on families depending on the circumstances of the FIFO workplace and the characteristics of individual families, as outlined in the above sections.

These unique conditions explain why the literature often refers to FIFO as a lifestyle rather than just a job. The ability of family members to enjoy the benefits and manage the challenges, as outlined earlier in Box 1, can significantly influence the effect of FIFO on children and family relationships. Resilience in the transition to FIFO employment depends on a number of factors, including: the ability of family members to adapt to the changed conditions of a FIFO lifestyle; the at-home partner's local support network; and the support and flexibility offered by the FIFO worker's employer (see Fresle, 2010; Gallegos, 2006; Gent, 2004; Sibbel, 2010). What is unclear from the literature to date, however, is whether families enter the FIFO lifestyle with existing risk and/or protective factors that mediate the impact of the FIFO experience.

A distinction needs to be drawn between the potential of the unique FIFO lifestyle to have negative effects for children and family relationships and the actual, direct effects, whether positive or negative. The situation for each FIFO family is different according to the organisational and family and individual contexts described above, and the challenges associated with a FIFO lifestyle can often be offset or managed successfully. The fact that most studies found that FIFO employees and partners were generally no more likely to have high stress levels, poor relationship quality or poor health behaviours than daily commute or community samples indicates that many or most families are able to cope with the unique challenges of FIFO employment (Bradbury, 2011; Clifford, 2009; Kaczmarek & Sibbel, 2008; Sibbel, 2010; Taylor & Simmonds, 2009).

Gent (2004) found that when FIFO workers like their jobs and their relationship is going well, they are more likely to adapt to a FIFO lifestyle. This could be interpreted as when FIFO workers and their families are feeling strong and have resources to draw on, then the challenges of FIFO can be met without detriment to families. In a submission to the Inquiry by beyondblue (2012), the organisation suggested that while there are unique issues, parental engagement in FIFO employment does not present any significant psychological impacts on children. However, as the Inquiry noted, there was not enough evidence to definitively support this claim. While this is also the conclusion drawn by this review, the analysis here more clearly identifies the existing evidence and evidence gaps.