Family and Global Mobility: Challenges of Split-Family Expatriation, Fly-in, Fly-out Assignments

When people hear fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) work, they think it’s for industries like mining, oil & gas, and construction. However, the concept is now finding its way into white-collar jobs. These days, FIFO roles include software developers, IT support technicians, accountants, HR specialists, teachers, and nurses. They fly to a central office or client site for a block of days, then return home for their off days. 

The pay for FIFO white-collar jobs is also usually higher than non-FIFO roles. But despite the advantages, they put a strain on family relationships due to extended absences, fatigue from long hours and travel, and isolation from being away for weeks at a time. Mental health support is crucial for FIFO workers in any industry.

This FIFO shift creates unique challenges and opportunities for both employees and employers, according to an article by Relocate Magazine

It may not be so good with single-status assignments, where they end up suffering from a lack of familial support that ultimately affects their productivity and adjustment period. Yes, there are cultural training, community networks, and employee resource groups, all aimed at helping assignees integrate and ease loneliness but it’s not often the solution.

Employers, on the other hand, find single-status assignments less costly — at the expense of assignees. This creates stress for both assignees and their families, often leading to poor work-life balance due to longer hours and frequent travel.

Organizations need to support both the assignee in the host country and the family back home.

Allow for flexibility

Companies should also introduce assignees to buddy partners and allow flexibility for attending local networking events. Providing access to counseling services and employee assistance programs can also support both the assignee and the family at home.

Family reunification is essential. Organizations should consider additional visits beyond the usual home-leave policy. Supporting family visits to the host location and allowing more home leave can strengthen relationships. While assignees get support, families back home often do not. Providing counseling and employee assistance programs to families can ease the burden of separation.

Specific attention should be given to FIFO workers. Frequent international travel disrupts family routines and can lead to fatigue and stress. Employers should consider more stable travel patterns to reduce disruption and exhaustion. Rotational patterns can be more compatible with family relationships due to their predictability.

Work-family spillover effects can occur during brief reunification periods when partners catch up on work and school updates. This can hinder other relationship-building activities. Longer reunification periods may be more effective, allowing families to focus on non-work-related matters.

Health risks 

Employers should also be aware of the health risks associated with single-status and FIFO assignments, such as fatigue, loneliness, and poor diet. Proper communication channels should be established, considering that some remote locations may lack reliable internet connectivity. Remote work could be a solution to extend home leave, but compliance issues like tax and immigration need careful consideration.

Employers should develop policies to support assignees and their families, ensuring a balance between operational needs and employee well-being. By addressing the unique challenges of split-family expatriation and FIFO work, organizations can better fulfill their duty of care and foster a healthier work environment.

Benefits of FIFO

Companies benefit from FIFO by accessing a broader talent pool, reducing real estate costs, and gaining flexibility in staffing projects. However, they must provide accommodations, flights, and manage the unique challenges of the FIFO lifestyle.

Here are a few other key points about FIFO work for white-collar workers:

  • The pay for FIFO tech and white-collar jobs is still very good, often significantly higher than non-FIFO roles in the same field. This helps compensate for the time away from home.
  • Challenges include the strain on family relationships from extended absences, fatigue from long work hours and travel, and potential isolation from being away from home for weeks at a time. Mental health support is important for FIFO workers in any industry.
  • Companies benefit from FIFO by being able to access a wider talent pool, reduce real estate costs, and have more flexibility in staffing projects. But they also have to provide accommodations, flights, and manage the unique challenges of the FIFO lifestyle.
  • For those looking to get into FIFO work with no experience, focus on entry-level positions that match your skills. Obtain required certifications, maintain good physical fitness, and network with recruiters and industry contacts.
  • So while FIFO is still most prevalent in traditional blue-collar industries, the model is starting to be applied to some white-collar roles as well, providing opportunities for workers and companies to benefit from the unique arrangement. But the lifestyle challenges remain.

Even with their FIFO status, the importance of assisting employees and their families in single-status roles is crucial.