Note: Updated November, 2021
Fly-in-fly-out (FIFO) and drive-in-drive-out (DIDO) are two types of long-distance commuting work that have become increasingly common among Australians and expat workers over the last decade.
Due to the nature of the mining and energy sectors, the geographic locations of these working environments can be vast and remote, which means that workers cannot return home after their shift is finished. Instead they reside in purpose-built villages throughout their time on shift before returning home for their time off.
The FIFO/DIDO life isn’t for everyone, but the financial benefits are vast. As a leading migration agent in Perth and Melbourne, True Blue works with a lot of people who have immersed themselves in the FIFO lifestyle, so we’re well placed to offer advice to newcomers who are considering this type of work.
Workers stay in accommodation close to their work site, although FIFOs have also been known to be housed in rented accommodation in local towns, hotels and motels. These communities have been developed so they cater for the workers’ needs, with recreational spaces, medical facilities and most of them include a cleaning service.
To that end, here are 12 tips for living life as a FIFO or DIDO worker in Australia.
1. Do your research
Make sure you do your research before you become a FIFO worker, search the internet and try and find out about the location where you will be working. It’s useful to learn about the climate, local communities and nearby attractions to help you build a greater picture of where you will be working and if it is suitable for you. It’s not a lifestyle that suits everyone. Consider how you’ll feel being away from friends and family members for long periods of time.
2. Get used to long hours
Expect to work long hours as a FIFO worker. It is not uncommon to work a 12-hour shift or longer on most days. A typical “swing”, as they say in the industry, can be 14 days on and 7 days off. When they’re off, most workers return to their real homes in major metropolitan areas. However, this varies between sectors and some employers offer 7/7 shift patterns to boost career satisfaction or recruit people to niche roles.
3. Stick to a routine
Shift workers can often suffer from fatigue due to the long working hours and obscure shift patterns that the job entails. Shift work can play havoc with your body’s natural sleeping cycle which is why it is crucial to develop a routine and stick to it whilst working, as well as during periods of leave.
While it is tempting to sleep until late on your days off, if you are used to getting up at the crack of dawn every day, suddenly switching your sleep pattern can seriously affect your health and your job performance. Try not to sleep more than two hours over the usual time you wake up to keep the same sleep pattern.
4. Get involved in the community
One of the benefits of being a FIFO worker is being invited into a rich community of other workers sharing the same shift patterns. Get involved with the sociable activities after work, create long-lasting friendships with your colleagues and enjoy the time you have with each other.
The type of projects that industries, such as minerals and energy, work on provide people with the opportunity to visit unique and diverse parts of Australia which have vibrant local communities. Some companies are actively encouraging their staff to become involved with these communities by supporting local charities and events. This can also provide workers with a connection to the places they are working in when they are away from home, making them feel less lonely.
5. Stay healthy
Catered meals, buffet-style treats and a sociable dining atmosphere can make the temptation to pile your plate high hard to resist.
It is common for FIFO workers to gain weight during their time away, which can lead to health problems and hinder job performance. While it is vital to properly fuel your body for the hard work ahead, you might regret overdoing it when the weight piles on.
Try to also avoid consuming high levels of caffeine and alcohol, as stimulants like these are known to have a negative effect on the physical and mental well being. In short, just because you are away from home, that doesn’t mean you have to eat unhealthily.
6. Learn how to balance family and friends
Trying to juggle family commitments with friends and other activities during your time at home can be challenging. While seeing your family and partner may seem like the most important thing to you when you come home, try to make the effort to see your friends when you can to allow yourself a balance.
Remember that this is your time to relax, so don’t try to push yourself too hard to see everyone at the same time or else you will return to work feeling more exhausted than when you left.
7. Plan your long-term financial goals
Whilst life as a FIFO worker can be incredibly financially rewarding, the salaries are often higher than the salary you might command in a metropolitan area.
Consider what you could do with your savings, especially when it comes to thinking about retirement. Even though it might be a long way off, it is always worth focusing on future goals and planning what to do with your salary can encourage you to work through the tough times that not seeing your family may bring.
You need to think about what might happen if you were to lose your job. Could you afford to sustain your lifestyle on a lower salary in a non-FIFO role?
8. Stay connected
Advancements in technology have made it possible to stay connected to people when they are thousands of miles away from us. Staying in touch with family and friends via Skype, Zoom, Facetime, phone calls, texts and yes, even letters (!), will help you be there for your family emotionally when you’re not there physically.
9. Find ways to manage stress
Like every job, being a FIFO worker comes with its own stresses. A lot of people find that the remote location combined with the time spent away from family can be difficult to deal with, so finding what helps you to manage stress is essential for any FIFO worker.
Exercising may be the last thing on your mind after a hard day’s work but it’s still important to get regular exercise while you are working. Exercise can strengthen muscles, boost cardiovascular activity and more importantly help to reduce the levels of stress than can occur from working long shifts. When you exercise your body releases feel-good hormones called endorphins, so you should feel more relaxed and content after a workout.
There are many ways you could manage stress, watching your favourite TV show, playing a game of pool with your buddies or going for a run are just a few of the many ways to blow off steam post shift.
It’s always important to look after your mental health, but this is especially the case as a FIFO worker. When things happen at home that you can’t participate in, you might feel down and isolated. Help is available from several Australia-based support providers.
10. Understand that your partner may need a break too
Most partners and families will understand that your week off is a time for you to get some well-deserved rest, but looking after a family is a full-time job too and you should consider that your partner may also need some downtime.
A lot of families find that it works well to let their FIFO partner sleep for the first day that they return home. Once they are adjusted they can assign themselves responsibilities like picking the kids up from school and giving their partner some time off too.
If your partner has been on his or her own – juggling the demands of a household – for a week or two, they’ll no doubt appreciate a break too.
11. Consider changing locations
FIFO work gives you greater freedom to change jobs and experience a variety of amazing locations across Australia. Due to the nature of the mining and construction industries, it is easy to switch job roles without uprooting your family or moving house. If you aren’t happy with your current location, but want to stick with the FIFO lifestyle, then do your research about other projects you can move to and see if there is anything better suited to your needs. The skills, qualifications and tickets you gain whilst working FIFO are often transferrable to other FIFO roles.
12. Make the most of your time in the city
As we’ve stated, you don’t want to be over-exerting yourself on your week off, but by the same token you shouldn’t waste this time. Many FIFO workers live in growing cities like Perth, and there is no shortage of things to do in these places.
Partly due to the rising number of wealthy people living in the city, Perth is quickly becoming one of the most advanced, cosmopolitan urban sprawls in the Southern Hemisphere. Visit Kings Park & Botanic Garden, go and watch the cricket at the world-famous Optus Stadium or take in a soccer, AFL or rugby league match. Additionally, there are plenty of museums, shops, bars and restaurants for you to peruse.
One thing’s for sure, you’ll never feel bored in Perth!
If the fly-in-fly-out lifestyle sounds like the perfect balance to you then contact one of our migration agents today and see how we can assist you with your visa application.