In a new report, researchers from the University of Melbourne and Western Sydney University have found complex social and economic factors are impacting on the wellbeing of mobile workers — those who commute over 100 km for their jobs, and more support is needed for this expanding group of employees.
According to co-author Professor Andrew Gorman-Murray from Western Sydney University’s School of Social Sciences, the Living Apart Together: How Working Away Affects Individuals, Households and Wellbeing report acknowledges an increase in long-distance travel for work, particularly in the business, finance, health and technology sectors, and focuses on assessing participants’ wellbeing.
“In the past relationship and parenting challenges in the mining sector have been the focus. As the number of Australians who are considered mobile workers increases, it’s important to assess the lived experiences of workers across different industry sectors,” said Professor Gorman-Murray.
“The report explores the participants’ feelings of wellbeing by identifying common challenge areas. It makes recommendations to better the working away from home experience — vital steps to increase the sustainability of this expanding type of work.”
The qualitative study, which included interviews with organisations who employ, recruit or support mobile workers, alongside surveys, interviews and photo diaries with workers and their partners, identified five challenge areas for mobile workers: relationships, health, homemaking, parenting and employment.
“As expected, participants cited a number of relationship and communication challenges with their partners and families. Notably, many also felt insecure financially and in their career progression, and struggled with unhealthy eating habits, fitness, alcohol consumption and work or travel-related fatigue. Some partners of mobile workers also experienced a heightened burden of domestic responsibilities when home alone,” said Professor Gorman-Murray.
While outcomes may be poorer for mobile workers, University of Melbourne lead author Associate Professor David Bissell said it is possible that both employers and employees can implement strategies to improve wellbeing.
“It’s incredibly important for families to maintain regular communication and to share aspects of their work away from home,” said Associate Professor Bissell.
“Employers also have a duty of care to providing internet access and time for their employees to connect with family, and rostering that allows workers to be home just as much as they are at work, if not more.”
The report notes the number of workers employed in mobile work increased by 37 per cent in the years between 2006-2011, and the most recent census in 2016 indicated that this had increased further to around 320,000 workers.