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

Families Mental health Mining Rural development Fly-in fly-out workers drive-in drive out Labour mobility Australia

This paper summarises the emerging literature on the effect on children and family relationships of having a fly-in fly-out/drive-in drive-out FIFO/DIDO parent.

Abstract: A limited but growing amount of Australian research into fly-in fly-out (FIFO) work practices tentatively suggests that a FIFO lifestyle can have positive, negative or few effects on children and on family relationships, depending on the circumstances. Effects vary according to a range of contextual factors, such as workplace cultures, rosters and recruitment practices, as well as community and home environments, and individual characteristics. As a result, there is a high level of complexity involved in understanding the FIFO lifestyle and how it may impact on outcomes for children and family relationships. Substantial limitations in regards to the available evidence highlight the need for further research rather than providing any robust conclusions.

Key messages:

  • Limited studies exist that explore the effects on children and family relationships of having a FIFO parent. Research to date indicates that FIFO families are likely to be healthy, functioning families that demonstrate high levels of communication and cohesion. Most FIFO couples report healthy, satisfying and cohesive relationships.
  • Potential impacts on children include: negative emotions experienced as a result of the FIFO parent's absence; increased levels of behaviour problems (particularly amongst boys) when the parent is away for longer periods; greater experiences of bullying at school; and increased pressure to succeed academically. However, some children view the extended time that a FIFO parent has at home as a positive outcome.
  • Parenting is a challenge for FIFO families, particularly for partners at home to manage the continual transitioning from solo parenting to co-parenting. Providing for the physical, emotional and intellectual needs of children can be difficult without the support of a partner at home.
  • The ability to communicate regularly, privately, effectively and spontaneously is an important factor that mediates the impact a FIFO lifestyle can have on children and families.
  • Family support services, policy-makers and practitioners need to be aware of the unique set of challenges faced by FIFO workers and their families.
  • Further research is needed that is longitudinal, engages with all types of FIFO workers and their families, and includes data collection prior to entry into FIFO work.
  • A FIFO lifestyle does not suit everyone. Families considering FIFO should thoroughly review the likely advantages and disadvantages to all members of the family. Before commencing FIFO work, families should identify the resources and supports available at the work site and in the home environment and be aware of pressure points and coping strategies.
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