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Adjustment, well-being and help-seeking among Australian FIFO mining employees.


The theme of fly-in fly-out (FIFO) employment arrangements has attracted considerable policy and media interest, yet there is limited knowledge about the impact of such employment on workers and how they might manage the various strains associated with FIFO work. To advance this line of research, this article examines the antecedent factors of and relationships between adjustment, well-being, and help-seeking among FIFO employees. Our primary contribution is to develop a model and a series of propositions which will assist researchers, the industry, and policy-makers to understand the complex circumstances and impacts of FIFO employment better.

1. Introduction

Employee well-being is inherent in all work environments, yet is arguably Of high importance inthe Australian mining industry due to the significant health and safety and financial implications. Australia derives substantial wealth from the extraction of minerals and resources: $45 billion in 2000, which increased to $157 billion in 2010 (Austrade 2011). The sector contributed 4.5 per cent of GDP in 2003, which doubled to 9 per cent by 2013 (Austrade 2013). Such growth has led to claims of a resources boom with long-term progress set to continue for the next 20 t 50 years, although there has been some suggestion of stagnation (Garnett 2012).0This pattern of growth has resulted in considerably increased employment opportunities in remote locations. The Australian resources sector employs approximately 276,300 workers (ABS 2013), 100,000 of whom are on what are referred to as FIFO employment arrangements (Henry et al. 2013). The majority of these FIFO employees work in Western Australia and Queensland, and it is predicted that 63,500 FIFO employees will work in Western Australia by 2015, predominantly in the Pilbara region and the goldfields (Henry et al. 2013).

The economic growth associated with the resources boom in Australia attracts large numbers of workers to high-paying jobs in the industry from within Australia and from overseas. Due to the regional and geographically isolated locations of many of these jobs, most employees operate on a rostered-shift basis. This requires employees engaged in consistent and regular non-residential employment to commute (typically by air) to work in a location far from their usual place of residence. Prolonged time away from home is inherent in the FIFO working arrangements, and while some FI FO employees appear to adjust well to the conditions, others do not (Behr 2012). This could be contributing to employee turnover in mining, which stands at approximately 21 per cent; this exceeds the rate preferred by mining employers (Beach et al. 2003, Funston 2012).

Previous research indicates a growing concern that FIFO employment conditions are having detrimental effects on employee well-being including depression, anxiety, stress, and sleep disorders (Henry et al. 2013, Kelly et al. 2012, Peetz et al. 2012). Further, there are indications that workers are inhibited from help-seeking, partly due to effects of the workplace culture, making it difficult for those who experience poor well-being to remedy the problem (Henry et al. 2013,Torkingtonetal.2011).The issue of FIFO employee well-being has strong social as well as economic consequences (Bluff 2011). This article focuses on the adjustment, well-being, and help-seeking of FIFO employees. It does so through employing the Job Demands-Resources (JD-R) (Demerouti et al. 2001) and Psychosocial Safety Climate (Dollard and Bakker 2010) theories to develop a model and a series of propositions. Together, our model and the propositions illuminate the possible impacts of FIFO employment arrangements on employees, with implications for individual health and organisational work outcomes.

2 Job Demands-Resources and Psychosocial Safety Climate: Theoretical Influences

We draw on the JD-R and Psychosocial Safety Climate theories because of their ability to be applied flexibly to a variety of employment contexts, including the Australian mining industry. JD-R is a meta-level theory which can be used to assess employee well-being and performance. Each job has particular stress-associated risk factors, yet a key feature is that it categorises these factors into either job demands, or job resources (Demerouti et al. 2001). The theory helps to account for the unique demands and resources which affect organisational outcomes through the dual relationship of strain and motivation for employees. Demands are defined as physical, psychological, social, or organisational job components. Job demands then contribute to strain. An example of a FIFO job demand could be the work schedule (shift roster), which can lead to an interrupted sleep-and-wake cycle, inducing employee strain. Similarly, resources are physical, psychological, social, or organisational job components that assist in achieving work goals, reduce demands and associated costs, and stimulate growth, and the learning and development of the employee (Bakker and Demerouti 2006). Job resources contribute to motivation. An example of a FIFO job resource could be high pay rates, which may result in increased engagement and thereby actions to increase employee motivation.

Importantly, the JD-R theory has been tested longitudinally and examined for the influence of home demands and resources. The results show that the motivational and health-impairment process was unchanged overtime (Hakanen et al. 2008).This increases our confidence in using this framework in a FIFO employment context, because it is not vulnerable to non-work (home) influences. A further important feature of the JD-R theory is that it can be used to indicate both positive and negative functions of well-being, providing a cohesive explanation of how organisational characteristics affect individual responses (Bakker and Demerouti 2006, Demerouti et al. 2001). The presence of job resources can alleviate some job-related strain. This means that organisations that provide resources to their employees may, to some extent, mitigate the impacts of working in an intense and stressful workplace.

The limitations of the JD-R theory first include a lack of standardisation regarding specific job demands and resources. For example autonomy is often used as a job resource (Bakker et al. 2005), whereas for some laboring related FIFO roles, autonomy might be considered isolating or unsafe, and therefore would be better categorised as a demand. A second limitation is that the organisational outcomes in JD-R are classed simply as either positive or negative, without consideration that the complex relationship between an employee and employer may have multifaceted outcomes; these might be simultaneously positive and negative. For example an employee with depression who takes 12 weeks leave and undertakes counselling to reduce their symptoms may cost their organisation money in the short term, but return to work in a more productive state. This could be considered negative for both the employee (because they are depressed), positive for the employee (because they are accessing support), negative for the employer (because they must find a replacement worker), and positive for the employer (because they will retain a more productive worker on resumption of employment). Finally, it is possible that some wider implications concerning workplace health and safety (such as workplace compensation claims) are possible in JD-R theory, but care must nonetheless be taken in assuming a causal link.

The concept of a workplace Psychosocial Safety Climate furthers the JD-R theory and offers a bridge between prior work stress and workplace health and safety research. While JD-R theory enables flexibility through its broad categories, Psychosocial Safety Climate theory allows for specificity through established benchmarks. Further, Psychosocial Safety Climate theory includes strategies (policies, practices, and procedures) and a list of established facets which aim to ensure the psychological health and safety of employees. It measures specific demands and resources, rather than positive or negative organisational outcomes, and the Psychosocial Safety Climate theory divides outcomes into both health and work outcomes using established measures (Dollard et al. 2009; Dollard et al. 2012). Psychosocial Safety Climate theory explores how specific job demands (including work pressure, work and family conflict, and emotional demands), and job resources (including supervisor and co-worker support) affect employee health and work outcomes. It identifies the job demands and resources within specific roles, and can therefore be used to predict and negate psychosocial hazards, as well as drawing specific links to workers' compensation claims for workplace mental stress (Dollard et al. 2009).

Key findings of the Australian Workplace Barometer Report (AWBR) by Dollard et al. (2009) indicate that the Psychosocial Safety Climate theory is significantly related to all demands, resources, health, and productivity outcomes, demonstrating its validity. Psychosocial Safety Climate theory is important because the strategies which promote good mental health are established prior to the working conditions. Therefore, there is a reduced likelihood that employees will be exposed to risk factors which may trigger psychosocial difficulties, such as workplace harassment.

Much of the recent FIFO research focuses on either the external organisational pressures such as the effects of the Ravensthorpe mine closure (McDonald et al. 2012), or individual factors such as help-seeking motivation (Torkington et al. 2011), or the work and family interface (Kaczmarek and Sibbel 2008). In comparison, our article is positioned to draw on the organisational, individual, and social factors to understand better how the impacts of FIFO employment either align with or diverge from individual health and organisational outcomes. JD-R and Psychosocial Safety Climate theories help to account for individual and organisational influences on various individual adjustment, well-being, and help-seeking behaviour. By drawing on these two theories, the conceptual framework presented links broad dispositional and situational antecedents to predict the impacts of FIFO employment.

3. FIFO Employment: Towards a Model

The FIFO employment arrangement appears to be the dominant means of accessing regular work in the extraction side of the Australian resources sector (Peetz et al. 2012).This is because of the remote location of mine sites and the lack of general infrastructure in regional towns and centres which would attract the relocation of employees (Beach et al. 2003, McDonald et al. 2012). Consequently, FIFO employees work on rostered schedules of varying durations and in typically difficult conditions. A representative roster is 14 days on-site and 7 days rest and recreation (off-site). The majority of FIFO workers tend to be relatively young, on average age of 40 years, male (over 80 percent), and predominantly of Caucasian background working in a trade role, such as an electrician or boilermaker (Kelly et al. 2012, KPMG 2013, Pryce et al. 2013). FIFO workers have sometimes been referred to as 'cashed up bogans' in academic and popular media articles, due to their having significantly high incomes yet retaining working-class characteristics (Pini et al. 2012, p.150).

The conceptual framework focuses on FIFO mining-sector employees for the purpose of mapping four key areas: (1) FIFO employment conditions; (2) FIFO cultural adjustment; (3) FIFO employee well-being; and (4) FIFO employee help-seeking. These areas are considered in turn, leading to the development of the model presented in Figure 1. A series of propositions are explained.

FIFO Employment Conditions-Demands and Resources

Bentley et al. (2009) discuss the implementation of the Healthy Work framework to manage and reduce workplace stress, and they partition work into risk categories based on demands and resources. Work that is 'intrinsically stressful because it is emotionally challenging, draining, repugnant, requires prolonged concentration or has high consequences of error' (Bentley et al. 2009, p. 37) forms the highest risk category, and could describe a number of FIFO roles. While job demands and resources vary between roles, we look towards common characteristics within the FIFO employment context.

Demands of FIFO employment include detachment from typical support structures (for example family and friends), social disconnection and isolation (Barclay et al. 2013, Watts 2004), and work that is intense, with long hours and frequent shift work (Henry et al. 2013, Peetz and Murray 2011). Temporary skilled migration by overseas workers (typically on 457 visas) contributes to the current FIFO workforce and helps meet the demands of the mining industry's sustained growth, although there are debates on this between key stakeholders (Bahn et al. 2012). Migrant workers may experience additional demands compared to local workers, including cultural differences which may affect their social adjustment, and possible resentment from local workers.

The Australian mining industry continues to be underlined by a male-dominated workplace culture (Pini et al. 2012) which may add to the strain experienced by female FIFO employees. Roster patterns are typically long, arduous, and there is considerable unevenness in roste ring arrangements. While some employees may prefer shorter rotation lengths to increase time spent at home, contracting companies are more likely to require their employees to work longer rotation periods (Watts 2004). Travel ling to remote sites also has its disadvantages, with workers often spending considerable time commuting from major cities and private airfields to their places of employment, adding to overall fatigue.

FIFO employees' stress levels reportedly increase in the days leading up to the start of shift rotation--the 'leave-to-work transition period' (Clifford 2009, Diamond et al. 2008)--aggravated by compressed rosters, poor social support, and poor-quality relationships. From an employer perspective, stress may be better managed by adjusting rosters to accommodate workers' needs and giving tailored assistance to employees who are vulnerable to experiencing the working arrangements as stressful (Clifford 2009). Mental-health studies advise that the demands of working in an intensive and pressured work environment can contribute to psychosocial problems, including stress, depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders (Love et al. 2010, Reichenberg and MacCabe 2007). A considerable list of job demands appears to be inherent in the FIFO working arrangement, consistent with the 'high risk' Healthy Framework category (Bentley et al. 2012).

FIFO employment arrangements are not without controversy in both the academic and public policy arenas, and there is empirical evidence that FIFO has both positive and negative effects on work and home life. Some findings show families to be highly resilient (Kaczmarek and Sibbel 2008, Meredith et al. 2014, Sibbel 2010), while others have reported high levels of stress on relationships and families (Costa et al. 2006, Funston 2012, Henry et al. 2013). The ability to communicate effectively, regularly, and privately has been identified as a mitigating factor on FIFO impacts on families (Meredith et al. 2014). Therefore, communication may be viewed as a job resource in the FIFO employment context. Conversely, any lack of ability to communicate--such as a mine location which does not receive internet and telephone coverage-would be viewed as a job demand, likely to add to employee strain. The impact of FIFO on work and home relationships appears to depend on variations in the length of shift rotations, marital status, and family composition (for example workers' age and ages of dependents); a key conclusion from a recent report into FIFO family effects is that 'A FIFO lifestyle does not suit everyone' (Meredith et al. 2014, p. 2). Consequently, employee attraction and retention in the Australian mining sector may be improved with better consideration of work-life balance issues (Hutchings et al. 2011).

With the high number of intrinsic job demands in the FIFO working arrangement, job resources are especially important to mitigate employee strain, and subsequently health and organisational outcomes. In fact, job resources were the sole predictors of organisational commitment in a study which investigated the JD-R model (Bakker et al. 2003). Analysis demonstrated that job demands predicted burnout, while resources predicted levels of organisational commitment (Bakker and Demerouti 2006). Job resources in the mining industry, including a degree of job control, organisational justice, organisational rewards, and supervisor and co-worker support were found to contribute to positive health and organisational outcomes (Dollard et al. 2009).

Characteristics of the mine and camp site form the background of the FIFO workplace environment, and offer resources which may lessen the impacts of FIFO strain. For example a camp that facilitates social activities, internet access, and relatively private accommodation may have fewer psychological risk factors than a camp with poor communication and shared-room accommodation. Likewise, an organisation with an established Psychosocial Safety Climate may be characterised by sound strategies and managerial support regarding well-being, and therefore be more likely to achieve better employee health and organisational outcomes.

Psychosocial Safety Climate has been explored in Australia in a study which interviewed 5743 individuals from a cross-section of occupations, matched to a representative sample of the population of the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). Benchmarks were based on clinical cut-off points for depression, and were related to the level of job strain experienced in each occupation. This allowed categories to be established including low, moderate, and high Psychosocial Safety Climate to be compared by industry, although no industry scored in the low category. Overall, the Australian mining industry was awarded a high Psychosocial Safety Climate rating by the AWBR (Dollard et al. 2009). This discussion leads to the following propositions:

Proposition 1: FIFO mining employees in firms with a favourable Psychosocial Safety Climate will report better employee health and work outcomes.

Proposition 2a: FIFO mining employees in firms with a favourable Psychosocial Safety Climate will report better employee well-being.

Proposition 2b: FIFO mining employees in firms with a favourable Psychosocial Safety Climate will report better employee adjustment.

Proposition 2c: FIFO mining employees in firms with a favourable Psychosocial Safety Climate will report more employee help-seeking.

FIFO Cultural Adjustment

Cultural adjustment is defined as the level of psychological comfort an individual experiences when faced with a new environment comprised of work, social, and general adjustment (Black and Stephens 1989). The importance of adjusting to a new work role and fitting in socially is particularly crucial in the FIFO context, where employees live and work together for extended periods. An inability to adjust to a new work role or the FIFO employment arrangement may lead to cessation of employment, either by the individual or the organisation (Watts 2004); failing to adjust socially leads to deliberate attempts by coworkers to encourage voluntary exit (Carter and Kaczmarek 2009). Isolation, loneliness, and aspects of the FIFO employment conditions have been identified in this article as integral job demands, and positive adjustment is framed as a job resource. In fact, the job resource of social support has been demonstrated as being one of the principal predictors of extra-role engagement, where voluntary employee behaviour promotes organisational benefits, such as helping a colleague (Bakker et al. 2004). We turn to an exploration of how FI FO employee adjustment affects well-being and help-seeking, as well as health and organisational outcomes.

The Carter and Kaczmarek (2009) FIFO study found that the mining workplace culture has high levels of aggression, violence, competitiveness, and risk taking. In this regard, as well as extended work-related absences, FIFO employees may have similar experiences to military personnel, where strong leadership, engagement in meaningful work, and positive group functioning promote high morale which acts to mitigate mental-health issues (Britt et al. 2007). A positive relationship with supervisors and supportive relationships with co-workers are recognised as resources (Dollard et al. 2009), which lead to higher levels of engagement and thereby improve employee motivation (Bakker and Demerouti 2006). Further, it is established in the literature that social work groups strongly affect behaviour (Firing et al. 2009). Social isolation and uncertain situations elicit stress and anxiety, which increase the act of seeking social support (Reeve 2005). Therefore, there may be an increased emphasis on the importance of a supportive workplace culture for FIFO workers who, reportedly, have high dependence on their colleagues (Henry et al. 2013, Torkington et al. 2011). Organisational methods of managing adjustment include employee inductions, often referred to as 'on-boarding', as one way to present new employees with realistic expectations of the demands of the FIFO lifestyle.

Factors which assist and (or) damage adjustment may include previous work experiences, the ease with which a worker socialises, and communication issues (Behr 2012). Problems associated with poor social adjustment include workplace bullying and harassment by co-workers and supervisors. Increasingly recognised by Australian law, bullying and harassment were identified in the AWBR as being linked to high work demands and poor work resources. Dollard et al., (2009) note that a 10 percent increase in Psychosocial Safety Climate by an organisation would decrease bullying by 4.5 percent, with upstream positive impacts on well-being levels. Bullying and harassment are recognised contributors to workplace stress and poor well-being (Bentley et al. 2009), negatively affecting employee engagement (Dollard et al. 2009), which may in turn be expected to affect employee adjustment.

The Behr (2012) study of 229 FIFO employees explicitly explored cultural adjustment in the mining industry. The results demonstrate that while social and general adjustment were related to commitment to FIFO employment, work adjustment was not. Social adjustment affected the ease of adjustment to work, which has important consequences for turnover rates. This is supported by Beach et al. (2003, p. 43) who reported that a key factor in mining-employee turnover is management success in establishing and sustaining a 'positive workplace culture'. This discussion leads to the following propositions:

Proposition 3: FIFO mining employees' adjustment is positively related to well-being at work.

Proposition 4: FIFO mining employees' adjustment is positively related to help-seeking.

Employee Well-being

Well-being is a multifaceted and complex construct of subjective life satisfaction (Vaughan and Hogg 2008, p. 516). Research into well-being predominantly has a focus on the domains of physical and psychological health, independence, social relationships, the environment, and beliefs and is typically measured using subjective accounts (Heun et al. 1998). Increasingly, the issue of well-being in a work context is receiving much academic interest (Bushnell 2007). Well-being is often measured as an outcome using the JD-R theory, and is specified by the Psychosocial Safety Climate model outcomes as levels of psychological distress, emotional exhaustion, and depression (Dollard et al. 2009; Dollard et al. 2012).

As indicated earlier, previous empirical studies have investigated FIFO wellbeing with mixed results. Empirical research has identified negative FIFO effects on well-being for some individuals, including: stress (Clifford 2009), substance abuse, grief and loss, depression, anxiety, and high suicide rates (Kelly et al. 2012). Conversely, another study (Sibbel 2010) which examined 90 FIFO employees reported well-being levels at equivalent rates to the those in the general population.

Well-being appears to be somewhat linked to family composition, as observed by Henry et al. (2013) whose study of 924 FIFO employees found that higher levels of psychological distress were reported by employees with children, compared to those without. This study further noted that higher levels of psychological distress were reported by employees on more compressed roster rotations. In comparison to data collected by the ABS (2007) on national levels of mental well-being where 67.3 per cent fell in the 'likely to be well' category, slightly fewer (64 percent) FIFO employees fell in this category. This result (tentatively) indicates that FIFO employees have slightly higher rates of psychological distress than the national population has; further, they appear to be at greater risk of developing a psychological disorder (Henry et al. 2013). The 11 per cent of FIFO employees who scored in the highest risk category--likely to have a severe disorder--were more often on high compression rosters than were employees who scored in the lower risk categories (Henry et al. 2013). There seems to be a relatively clear relationship between the job demand of high roster compression and the health outcomes of psychological distress.

While the majority of FIFO research has been conducted across job roles within the mining industry, the Barclay et al. (2013) study used 286 (predominantly) FIFO professional employees (for example engineers, geologists, senior managers) to investigate emotional well-being and levels of depression, anxiety, and stress. The results showed that 54 per cent felt lonely or isolated, and 70 per cent experienced sleep problems. Yet the rates of depression, anxiety, and stress were lower for this group than for the general population. These findings indicate that interventions around well-being and support may be best aimed at non-professional employees. This leads to the following propositions:

Proposition 5: FIFO mining employees' roster compression is positively related to psychological distress.

Proposition 6: FIFO mining employees in professional roles are less likely to experience depression, anxiety, and stress.

Employee Help-seeking

We follow the Rickwood et al. (2005, p. 4) definition of help-seeking as a term which denotes 'the behaviour of actively seeking help from other people'. Within an organisational context, help-seeking for psychosocial difficulties has implications for both the employee and the organisation. Further, in a team environment such as that occurring in many mining roles, the team risks potential safety concerns (Henry et al. 2013, Bahn 2013). Typically, goals of workplace supports are to promote well-being and health, and the control, understanding, and prevention of workplace injury and illness (Zankoand Dawson 2012).The source of help is relevant; both formal (general practitioner, psychologist, supervisor) and informal (intimate partner, friend, parent) supports are important and have their uses in different situations (Wilson et al. 2005). Formal supports offered to FIFO employees--such as Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) and various workplace health programs--may be considered job resources to mediate the strain caused by FIFO job demands. Other identified available supports to FIFO employees are courses in managing lifestyle and fatigue, peer support programs, personal trainers, on-site chaplains, men's groups and on-line FIFO family groups (Henry et al. 2013).

Positive EAP outcomes are to increase well-being, business outcomes, and aspects of engagement (Bowen et al. 2011, Pronk and Kottke 2009). Yet employers have been criticised for sometimes using EAPs as a punitive measure and to justify the dismissal of employees (Weiss 2005). Workplace health programs have been demonstrated to affect well-being positively, yet are often little-known within organisations and have associated consequences of stigma for workers (Bowen et al. 2011, Pronk and Kottke 2009). EAP programs are provided by many Australian mining companies, but it appears that there have been low rates of usage, possibly due to low awareness of services, and the stigma of help-seeking within the mining industry (Gammie 1997, Henry et al. 2013), a low awareness of stress recognition, an indication that employees prefer alternate, or even no assistance (Torkington et al. 2011), and fear of job loss (Henry et al. 2013). The factors which influence help-seeking require further exploration.

Barriers to accessing support include a preference to talk to friends or family, confidence in one's own coping and health status, dislike or scepticism about counselling services, time constraints, and a belief that it would be 'unmanly' (Henry et al. 2013 p. 87). Men are generally more reluctant to access support due to concerns regarding stigma, masculinity, self-reliance, and stoicism (Corby et al. 2011, Pini et al. 2012). Social representations theory suggests that individuals' attitudes are strongly influenced by those of their peer group (Reeve 2005), and the role of help-seeking may consequently be affected negatively by FIFO colleagues. This premise is supported by Henry et al. (2013) who partly attributed low help-seeking to workplace culture, as FIFO employees reported being reluctant to access supports due to perceptions of weakness and emasculation by their colleagues. The results showed that males were more likely to use informal supports, whereas females were more likely to use formal supports; young employees were more likely to access formal and informal supports; those over 50yearsofage were less likely to use any supports; and trade and professional employees preferred to access supports at home, whereas labourers did not. The literature demonstrates that one's self-concept, willingness, intent (Wilson et al. 2005), and poor well-being itself (Seligman and Peterson 2001) reduce the likelihood of individuals seeking help. A low level of help-seeking behaviour means that early intervention for psychosocial difficulties is unlikely. This leads to more severe health problems (Henry et al. 2013), a greater effect on family life (Torkington et al. 2011), and negative influences on work performance through turnover, absenteeism, low productivity, and compensation claims for mental stress (Dollard et al. 2009). The discussion leads to the following propositions:

Proposition 7: Male FIFO mining employees are less likely to access formal supports than are female FIFO mining employees.

Proposition 8: FIFO mining employees' low help-seeking action is related to increased levels of depression, anxiety and stress.

4. Discussion and Conclusion

The conceptual framework outlined in this article presents a model which could be usefully employed to inform further the impact of FIFO employment conditions on employee adjustment, well-being, and help-seeking. We drew on the JD-R and Psychosocial Safety Climate theories to frame aspects of the FIFO employment context as either demands--leading to strain and negative outcomes--or resources used to mediate against strain and achieve positive health and organisational outcomes. This article proposes that mining companies with well-developed psychosocial safety climates will have enhanced employee health and work outcomes through relationships with employee adjustment, well-being, and help-seeking.

Adjustment is positively related to well-being at work, and social adjustment is positively related to work adjustment. The current macho workplace culture that is prevalent in the Australian mining industry is not necessarily a problem in itself, yet it may create barriers to female employees, overseas workers, and members of minority groups in terms of social adjustment. In a critical review of FIFO well-being, we found that roster compression is linked to psychological distress. Feeling lonely or isolated and experiencing sleep problems were reported widely in the FI FO research that we reviewed. This was irrespective of gender, job, or education level. This appears to be an intrinsic job demand of FIFO employment, which indicates that job resources in these areas should be maximised to alleviate these particular demands. Further, employees in professional roles appear to have lower levels of depression, anxiety, and stress. It appears that male FIFO employees are less likely to access formal supports than female FIFO employees are, and that a low level of FIFO employee help-seeking behaviour is positively related to levels of depression, anxiety, and stress. These findings indicate that interventions around well-being and support may be best aimed at non-professional employees. This understanding subsequently allowed us to develop a series of related propositions.

The significant growth of the Australian resources sector has created a large demand for FIFO employees. The evidence suggests that FIFO employment arrangements will remain firmly entrenched in the Australian labour market (Garnett 2012). Despite the social and economic significance of this topic, relatively little empirical research has been conducted on the nature of employee adjustment, well-being, and help-seeking in the FIFO context, and the impacts on health and organisational outcomes. Pini and Mayes (2012) advise that the majority of the existing FIFO literature is decidedly circumscribed and lacks critical evaluation. This is attributed to the research being largely sponsored by the mining industry which has focused on its own needs.

Exploring these areas may assist in developing informed strategies to manage low levels of well-being among FI FO workers, in capitalising on the positive elements of their work environment which enhance well-being, and in implementing initiatives which encourage workers to seek support when needed. Future research on empirically testing and further developing our model will help to fill the apparent void in current research, and also provide some practical solutions for critical employment issues within the Australian mining industry.

Our model and propositions contain a number of implications. In terms of testing the model, we recommend that qualitative interviews are first conducted on a sample population. This may ensure that role and situation-specific factors are identified and included in a second, larger, quantitative sample using established measures, such as the FIFO Cultural Adjustment Scale adapted by Behr (2012) from Black and Stephens (1989), and the Depression, Anxiety, and Stress Scale (DASS-21) to examine levels of psychological distress. Using these instruments may be beneficial, as they have already been applied in the FIFO population, and therefore results can be measured against previous findings, as well as diagnostic measures within the instruments which compares levels of mental health symptoms to the general population. Use of the measures utilised by Dollard et al. (2009), which established Psychosocial Safety Climate benchmarks across different Australian industries would be beneficial to capitalise on these standards and to fit results to current knowledge. Use of existing instruments is preferred to measure other factors of the model--including help-seeking and organisational outcomes--although we recognise these may need to be adapted to the FIFO context, as occurred with Behr (2012). Additionally, multiple and longitudinal data collections would be helpful to investigate the effects of strain overtime, and to investigate mitigating resources. Through successful testing of the model and its propositions, subsequent refinements and the identification of additional factors of interest may be possible.

The model was developed to examine employment factors and relevant personal and social aspects said to be influenced by workplace conditions. A possible limitation is that we did not include individual differences. Previous research has found that individual differences, such as age, affect helpseeking. Family composition--such as whether or not an individual has children--has been shown to affect well-being levels in the FIFO context. Other individual differences, such as the amount of time spent in the industry, specific job role, and marital status could be examined in future research. Further, the finding of Barclay et al. (201B) that having a professional role is related to lower levels of depression, anxiety, and stress could be further researched, as this may elucidate additional resources which could be used to mitigate strain in other FIFO employees.

Neither the JD-R model nor the Psychosocial Safety Climate model include personal resources. Henry et al. (2013) examined self-efficacy and coping and found that self-efficacy increased with income, and that avoidant coping strategies used by some employees reduced help-seeking. The implication of this is that some personal resources affect well-being and help-seeking. Our model does not extend to predicting personal resources, such as self-efficacy, coping, self-esteem, and optimism. Based on previous research findings, they are not likely to protect employees from job-related strain, yet may improve engagement (Xanthopoulou et al. 2007). It is possible that future research can capitaliseon employee personal resources through training new employees in induction seminars to improve levels of self-efficacy, or be used in employee-selection screening. Findings in this article are consistent with the recommendations of Henry et al. (2013, p. 25) regarding help-seeking, that new research should identify costs and benefits of FIFO employment, which would enable support-service providers and resource organisations to implement strategic and necessary initiatives that minimise costs and maximise benefits. This may better assist FIFO employees who have low well-being to access support services, while providing value to the mining industry through improved workplace health and safety.

Further contributions of this article are that it helps to inform employee relations and human resource practice in the mining industry regarding their design of targeted mental-health interventions through the roles of the employees' preferred help source, reduction of stigma concerns and the likelihood of employee attendance at support programs. Targeted intervention may reduce the cost of underused EAP services and advise ways that health-promotion programs can be better tailored to suit FIFO employees. It is anticipated that this would increase EAP engagement and improve organisational and employee outcomes. Effective induction prior to employment may assist employees to develop realistic expectations concerning the demands of the FIFO lifestyle. Similarly, introducing education of mental-health issues at the commencement of employment--particularly tailored to include and target men's help-seeking styles--may assist in reducing the stigma associated with mental health issues and accessing support. On-going and significant change to stigma and the fear of job loss associated with disclosing psychological distress might not decrease until mining supervisors and management promote positive view of accessing support for mental health issues and provide reassurance that doing so will not affect employees 'future job prospects. Finally, it is contended that positive approaches towards mental health by the mining industry would benefit all key stakeholders and reduce associated costs of mental-health problems.


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Philippa Vojnovic, Grant Michelson, Denise Jackson, and Susanne Bahn *

* Centre for Innovative Practice, Edith Cowan University, Perth, Australia
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Title Annotation:Contributed Article
Author:Vojnovic, Philippa; Michelson, Grant; Jackson, Denise; Bahn, Susanne
Publication:Australian Bulletin of Labour
Article Type:Report
Date:Jun 1, 2014
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