Let’s ask those who matter: What do you think about me working away?

In my first blog entry I touched on what working FIFO and away from home means to me. I noted some of the opportunities and challenges myself and most away workers face when they leave home to make a living.

For me there is no doubt these opportunities and challenges also exist in locally based work; I experienced most of them in previous career lives. But I also believe from experience many aspects of employment, positive and negative are magnified in the various FIFO / working away industries. Contributing factors here are the increased remuneration, diversity of career paths available, time away from home and inconsistent communication with friends and family left behind.

It is not my intention through these posts to complain about my chosen career path and current work situation. I am a firm believer in “if you don’t like it, you can change it”. This is a message I support and have passed on to many people, both who I have worked with and who have worked for me. My intentions in writing about working away are threefold:

  1. For those considering the change to away work: to give tangible, experience-based insight into what they may expect and to help them make an informed decision to embark on this journey;
  2. For those currently working away: to share my and others experiences in an attempt to lower the height of the hurdles they face and to know they are not alone in these challenges;
  3. For the families and friends left behind when the trip back to work starts: to create a forum to enquire more about the life of an away worker in an effort to bridge some gaps that may exist and help strengthen relationships.

It is this last point that I’d like to explore in this post! After writing my opening entry, I asked my sister to pen in her own words what my working away meant to her. I had never asked her this question before and honestly did not know what to expect.

Just some back ground before you read on. My sister and I are close in age; 2 years apart. Physically we are very different, but we share the same passion for life and enjoying all the fruits of it. She is extremely highly educated and one of the most intelligent people I know.

We are both very family orientated with a common love and admiration for our parents; along with the frustration that comes with dealing with Grey Nomads!

We have always been close. We lived together, travelled together; she was the groomsman at my wedding and my pillar through my separation. She is one of the most important people in my life and her happiness means the world to me.

This is what she thinks of me working away…

…My bro works away from home for extended periods.

I believe they use the term FIFO to describe him these days. No not the inventory term ‘first in first out’, but ‘fly in fly out.’ We have always been close, although not necessarily physically close.

He moved to western Queensland while I studied at University. He spent two years in London, then I spent two years in London, he spent some time in Canada, I spend one year in Tasmania. I travelled a lot for work and holidays, but there was always a constant, my brother was always there for a quick phone call day or night. A quick text, or when we were both in the country, pretty regular catch ups.

But then he went FIFO!!!

What changed you say? How can being a FIFO be different to being in different states?

Weirdly to me, it actually is. Why? Living in different states, we had no expectation to catch up regularly and when we did, it was a big deal. By a big deal I mean, if I was coming to town I would be on leave and he would take leave or clear his diary for some sister time. If he was coming to town, I would take leave and clear my diary to hang out! It was well arranged, it was exciting, it was special!

But now, he comes back after nearly 4 weeks for nine days at home. This means he is back every month craving family time as I crave bro time. But it’s different. On these nine days I am working. I am not on leave every month. My regular life that just keeps ticking over, it can’t be put on hold monthly.

When my brother comes back he is thrown straight back into family life, managing his non-work life that the rest of us get to do every other day of the month. I see him try to squeeze 1 month into 9 days.

We find ourselves making the best laid plans to catch up for coffee without the kids, a wine, or a trip to the park as many days as possible when he’s back. But no matter how well we plan, it ends up being once or twice for an hour here or there.

We don’t get the opportunity for extended chats about what he does, what life is like, who are his friends, who annoys him, who makes him laugh!

Like most people, my bro’s job makes him who he is; your job is part of your fabric, shapes who you are. Yet, I don’t really understand at the moment what his job is, how it is shaping him, which makes it hard for me to understand why he is doing it?

With the time difference, bad reception and non-regular access to his mobile, chats and even texting becomes challenging. I wake up to texts in the morning saying “are you awake?” And he gets texts from me saying….”so are you available?” I remember on Christmas Day I really wanted to get in contact with him, I rang his personal mobile – out of service, I emailed his personal account, no answer, I hunted down his work phone – not available, and I emailed his work account which bounced back.

It left me in a state of despair! It was Christmas Day and I couldn’t contact him to say Merry Christmas! So the usual means of communication that everybody else uses to stay in contact is rarely available where he is working.

So maybe we need a strategy or plan for regularly catching up via the phone… not sure that would work as we aren’t the “stick religiously to a schedule” kind of people.

So maybe we need to book 1 day a month as bro and sis day…this is tough as his days at home vary every month and I am constantly trying to remember his home days to coordinate with mine… and just when I think I have it nailed, he has to change shift roster or cover somebody going on leave!

Assistance please! I am open to ideas, suggestions, or strategies to help us ensure we make it through this life stage with an awesome relationship intact!!

As you can imagine, when I read this it was both a shock and realization that I had not communicated at all with my sister about these issues. I had failed to even consider the impact of me working away on her, yet openly recognize her and her young family’s importance in my life.

I’m sure if you are reading this, it speaks for itself. This is definitely a challenge for most people who work away and the opportunity is to take a lesson from my oversight (as I am) and work to close these gaps with communication and a little more effort and prioritisation.

Since receiving the above from my sister, we have planned a camping trip with her Husband, my nephews and my little ninjas. We have spoken openly about making a firm commitment to coffee, wines and chats EVERY time I am back. But most of all we have promised not to let our awesome relationship move forward in anyway but intact.

While fulfilling in many ways, choosing to travel away to work is a tough choice. Have you asked yourself and / or those close to you what they think….what they really think?

Until the next instalment, keep safe and stay connected!

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  1. […] times a week so I am back at camp to Skype or call at 5pm. To my sister, not as much as I should (see Blog 2 for my sob story) and again with time differences and her kids it’s hard to nail down some quality chat time. We […]

  2. […] experts in their field; women in technical roles, support services or trades; to the partners, sisters, daughters and mothers left behind – women are an integral […]

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