I have always thought that the old saying “money doesn’t buy happiness” was a bit of a cliché, but recent events being reported in the media are causing me to have second thoughts. Record numbers of willing workers have flocked to the resource-rich areas in remote parts of the country chasing high wages. However, the toll this lifestyle is taking on them and their families have many of them questioning if the extra money is worth it.
There have been noticeable increases in the number of marriage break-downs in this group. Partners of the workers are expressing dissatisfaction with these new living arrangements and those with small children are lost without their usual support group of grandparents and friends. It seems that the reality of living in remote communities where they are surrounded by strangers has taken the gloss off the quest for a bigger income.
Absence of Routine a Major Stress Factor
The situation seems to be worse for the fly-in fly-out workers as opposed to those who have family accommodation in the nearest town. At least when the worker is coming home at the end of every shift, the family is able to establish some normal routines. The fly-in fly-out workers can be away for up to four weeks at a time, making the constant adjustment for their absence and then their presence very stressful.
I believe there is a solution that will suit some couples. Rather than abandoning the opportunity to get ahead financially, they should seek out advice before they head out to the mines. This would give them both the opportunity to discuss their concerns in a supportive environment. Knowing the difficulties in advance means that strategies can also be devised in advance.
My work with patients suffering from stress indicates to me that building resilience is one of the key factors that aid recovery. The importance of developing coping strategies, not only to manage a fly-in fly-out partner, but for any part of life that is challenging.
Partners at Home Left Bearing the Brunt
A big part of the problem is that the mine workers themselves are not the ones dissatisfied. They report that they are satisfied with their roles, although they feel undervalued by their employers, a perception the employers are working hard to change. It is the partners left at home to manage everything who are bearing the brunt of this new type of working arrangement.
This is where I see counselling having the most benefit. Working with the partners and giving them the skills and resilience they need while the miners are away would help break the stress cycle so they enjoy their time together.