FIFO Life Part 5: Return to Work Stress

FIFO Focus director Sandra Lam joins Big Al as part of the REDFM series FIFO Life.

In part 5, Sandra talks about return-to-work stress and how it can affect FIFO workers.

P.P.E. to de-stressing.

It’s the day before fly-out day. For some reason, you just seem to hate these days. You know you’re going to miss your family but for some unknown reason, you end up arguing about the stupidest, smallest of things. It’s a form of stress. Stress of having to leave the people you love so dearly for yet another swing.

Let’s go into a bit about what happens when you’re stressed. When you’re stressed, you release a hormone called cortisol and this cortisol triggers your fight or flight response. Sometimes we take that a little bit too literally in the FIFO environment – we fight, before our flight, right?

What you need to know is this is very common among FIFO workers. We have yet to come across someone who doesn’t experience this but it’s not the way we really want to deal with it. We need to come up with better ways to manage the cortisol situation.

So here’s our tip: we call it’s the PPE of de-stressing. We are not talking about getting into your hi-vis, hard hat, mono-goggles and your steel-capped boots the day before you fly out (unless that’s your ‘thing’, we don’t judge). We are talking about a different type PPE. Let me explain.


Remind yourself why you’re doing FIFO in the first place.  What are your goals for doing FIFO? A reminder of your goals will see you back on track and help you re-focus thus making the separation more bearable. If you’ve chosen the FIFO lifestyle with your partner, it’s a good idea to sit down and ask, “Okay, why are we doing this whole thing again? What are our goals?”

If you don’t have a purpose for why you’re doing FIFO it might be a really good time to think about it. Your experience will be so much more rewarding when you know why you have chosen to leave your network for weeks at a time.


It’s really important to plan things to do for your next R & R. Plan for something fun, something exciting to do because then you’ve always got something to look forward to. You can also plan things you can do while you’re on swing to might make it easier for when you come off, back to R&R. Maybe there is paperwork you can do when you’re away so when you’re back, you can spend quality time with family and friends instead.

We also recommend you planning your next R & R with you partner. You may want to have a couple of days of recuperation which is important for your overall health. If you don’t plan this with your partner, they may have you lined up for a number of activities instead! This can be a large source of arguments also, so remember, you are part of a team when you are home, you can’t make unilateral decisions like you can when you are on site.


We are referring to movement. We are not saying you should run a marathon. Movement keeps your cortisol levels at bay and keeps you generally healthier. You also know that when you go back home, the first thing you’re going to do is eat all the stuff that you can’t eat on site, right? A stack load of it. You’re probably also going to drink a lot more alcohol because – well, because you can.

I’m not going to tell you to eat less and not drink too much alcohol – because I’ll lose you so what I’d like you to do instead is to think about more exercise and movement because that will help you regulate your body’s chemicals a lot more effectively. Exercise could be as simple as going for a walk with your partner or your kids. It could even mean playing with the kids when you’re at home.

If there is a time when you do go back to site and you’re finding that you’re still feeling really down and not happy with the situation, it might be a good trigger to re-evaluate why you’re doing what you’re doing. It might be a time to consider an exit strategy, to seek financial advice, to search for another job or even to seek assistance you your EAP provider or counsellor for a talk.

The content in this post is for informational purposes only and should not be taken as medical advice. We recommend consulting with a registered health practitioner or contacting us for more tailored support.

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