Living apart together – mobile workers

Living apart together: new report to better understand the needs of mobile workers and their families.

People working away from home face greater health and relationship challenges, but simple steps by workers, their families and employers can remedy this, according to new research.

Researchers at the University of Melbourne and Western Sydney University have conducted a study into the personal lives of mobile workers with aims to improve the wellbeing of this expanding group of people.

Mobile worker refers to types of work that include but go beyond FIFO or fly-in-fly-out workers to describe those who have to commute over 100 km for their work and spend time away from their families and friends.

The study used a combination of qualitative methods including semi-structured interviews and photo diaries to better understand the experiences of mobile workers and their partners.

The researchers found that family problems were significant both with the burden of household work and child rearing falling disproportionately on the non-mobile working member of the household.

They also found that mobile workers had poorer health outcomes with many unable to maintain a good diet through eating poorly and drinking more often.

While outcomes may be poorer for mobile workers, University of Melbourne lead author Associate Professor David Bissell  said it is possible that both employers and employees can implement strategies to improve wellbeing.

“It’s incredibly important for families to maintain regular communication and to share aspects of their work away from home,” said Associate Professor Bissell.

“Employers also have a duty of care to providing internet access and time for their employees to connect with family, and rostering that allows workers to be home just as much as they are at work, if not more.”

Researchers say employers should also facilitate ways for families to visit work sites, helping solidify connections particularly for workers with children.

The report recommends that employers provide access to fitness spaces and equipment, leisure activities and access to healthy, fresh food.

“It can be difficult for people working away from home to maintain a healthy diet. The facilities near mobile work sites and ease of access to spaces where food can be prepared are very important,” Associate Professor said.

The number of workers employed in mobile work increased by 37 per cent in the years between 2006-2011 and the most recent census in 2016 indicated that this had increased further to around 320,000 workers.

As part of the report, the researchers developed an education video for employees to help them navigate the travails of mobile work.

“It was important for us to create engaging resources to help mobile workers and their families as we believe that we will see an increase in the number of people undertaking this kind of work,” said co-author Professor Andrew Gorman-Murray from Western Sydney University.

Disclosure statement: this report was facilitated with funding from the Australian Research Council (DP160103771).

Find out more: https://www.workingaway.net.

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