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Case Study

Thrive at work case study: FIFO workers

Research shows that Fly-In-Fly-Out (FIFO) workers and their partners are an at-risk group for mental ill health.

In recent years, FIFO workers have been the focus of community and political concern in Western Australia, with reports in the media related to the impact of FIFO work, mental health and suicide. This was the impetus to a WA Parliamentary Inquiry into the impact of FIFO work practices on mental health conducted by the Education and Health Standing Committee in 2015. The Inquiry concluded there was a need for further “independent research into the mental health impacts of fly-in, fly-out work arrangements on workers and their families”.1

The Future of Work Institute recently conducted research in which more than 3,000 FIFO workers and partners were surveyed or interviewed. The work was funded by the Mental Health Commission of Western Australia, and supported by a reference group.

Based on the findings that FIFO workers experience a higher risk to health and well-being than other workers, the research identifies strategies to protect and enhance FIFO workers’ mental health, grouped into each area of the Thrive at Work Framework. Focusing on mental health is not only good for FIFO workers and their families, but also for productivity and business outcomes.

How do FIFO workers experience their work?

The study made a number of important findings with respect to FIFO workers, their work environment and their mental health. These include:

  • Psychological Distress (including feelings of anxiety and depression) scores were significantly higher for FIFO workers compared to a benchmark group
  • One third of FIFO workers (33%) reported experiencing “high” or “very high” psychological distress (as opposed to “low” and “moderate” levels of psychological distress), relatively to 17% of a benchmark group
  • Burnout was found to be significantly higher for FIFO workers than for the benchmark group.
  • Sleep quality for FIFO workers was significantly worse when compared to the benchmark group.
  • FIFO workers report being bullied and witnessing bullying significantly more often than the benchmark group
  • FIFO workers reported feeling isolated due to being separated from family and missing out on important family events
  • FIFO workers working day shifts reported significantly better mental health and well-being whereas when working nightshifts they reported significantly worse mental health and well-being across the majority of measures.

Interviews conducted with some of the research participants also demonstrate feelings of FIFO workers towards the type of work they engage in.

Further reading

You can read the entire Future of Work Institute report on the Centre for Transformative Work Design’s website.

References

  1. Education and Health Standing Committee. (2015). The impact of FIFO work practices on mental health. Perth, Western Australia: Legislative Assembly, Parliament of Western Australia.