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School of Psychology

The Uncommitted Workforce: Development of Organisational Committment in Fly-In Fly-Out (FIFO) Workforces Through Organisational and Supervisor Support

Researcher     Matthew Walford

Supervisors     Mrs Libby Brook and Dr Graeme Ditchburn

Date:                November, 2012
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Research Summary

Within Australia, Fly-in Fly-out (FIFO) workforces have become an increasing part of the mining and resources sector since the 1980’s. The nature of FIFO sees individuals in remote and isolated environments, reliant on the organisation to transport them to and from work-sites, and provide food and housing. However, a high level of voluntary employee turnover is observed in this workforce.


Stereotypically, FIFO workers are seen as “get rich fly by nighters”. However, the view taken for the current research was that the high rates of employee turnover are reflective of low organisational commitment, caused in a large part by employers not adequately addressing the higher needs of their workers such as a sense of belonging, recognition, self-esteem, privacy, and respect. Indeed, the nature of FIFO sees workers away from sources of support that could address these higher level needs. Under these conditions, it is likely that they would strongly look towards the organisation to address these. If found lacking they are likely to leave.


Organisational commitment has typically been associated with reduced turnover intent and actual turnover rates. Research suggests there are three components of organisational commitment: affective, normative, and continuance. Affective commitment refers to the degree to which a person forms an emotional attachment to, and identifies with, their organisation. It also reflects the degree of organisational involvement. Normative commitment refers to the employee’s feelings of obligation towards staying with the organisation. Continuance commitment refers to the assessment of the costs in leaving an organisation. Affective commitment typically demonstrates the strongest relationships with employee turnover.


The development of affective commitment is, in a large part, through the degree (or not) to which an organisation shows they value and care for their employees. Employees look towards their organisation to meet their tangible and higher order needs. Therefore, employees are very interested in the social-exchanges which occur between them and the organisation and develop beliefs around how much their input is valued and the degree to which their wellbeing is cared for. This belief is called Perceived Organisational Support (POS). When employees feel their needs are being met, the norm of reciprocity states that individuals should reciprocate this support. This occurs through increased affective commitment.


Employees develop beliefs around the degree to which their supervisor values their contribution and cares about their wellbeing. This belief is referred to as Perceived Supervisor Support (PSS). PSS is one of the main antecedents to POS as supervisors have the ability to provide or deny access to organisational resources (tangible or non-tangible), offer advice, and provide emotional support. Therefore, supervisors’ actions are seen as reflective of the intention of the organisation itself.

Method

• 223 FIFO workers completed either an online or paper based survey.
• Males made up about 80% of the sample.
• Average age was 38 years.
• Average length of time continuously employed in a FIFO role was about 65 months.

Results

Key Findings

• As expected, a strong negative relationship was observed between affective commitment and turnover intent (i.e. increased affective commitment was associated with lower turnover intent);
• As expected, a negative relationship was observed between continuance commitment and turnover intent although this relationship was weak;
• As expected, a strong positive relationship was observed between POS and affective commitment (i.e. increased POS was associated with increased affective commitment);
• As expected, a strong positive relationship was observed between POS and normative commitment;
• As expected, a strong positive relationship was observed between PSS and POS;
• Continuance commitment mediated a relationship between PSS and turnover intent;
• Contrary to expectations, a significant negative relationship between normative commitment and turnover was not found;
• Contrary to expectations, no support for a significant negative relationship between POS and continuance commitment was found.
• On a scale of 1 (Strongly Disagree) to 7 (Strongly Agree), with 4 (Neither Agree or Disagree) being the mid-point, the mean affective commitment score was 3.79 indicating that, at a group level, individuals did not feel a sense of belonging or attachment to their organisation.
• On the same scale, mean POS score was 4.14 indicating that, at a group level, individuals had a general feeling of ambiguity around the level of support they felt they received from their organisation

Exploratory Findings

• POS trended towards being different at a statistically significant level between general workers and managers with the former demonstrating lower POS than the latter.
• PSS were different at a statistically significant level between general workers and managers with the former demonstrating lower PSS than the latter.

Discussion and Implications

• Increased affective and continuance commitment are associated with reduced turnover intent in the FIFO population. This is in line with research findings conducted on more traditional workforces. This suggests that, in general, these FIFO workers demonstrate no major differences in terms of how they relate to their organisation compared to other types of workers. This further suggests that the stereotypes surrounding FIFO workers appear, in general, to be inaccurate.
• FIFO workers who felt their organisation supported them and addressed their higher order needs as human beings demonstrated higher levels of affective commitment which, in turn, resulted in decreased intentions to leave. This finding occurred despite the FIFO workers, at a group level, appearing to perceive significant job opportunities and/or that the high wages were not a significant barrier to exit.
• The degree to which supervisors were found to support and care for their subordinates resulted in similar inferences being made to how the organisation, in general, was seen to support the worker.
• At a group level, these FIFO workers did not feel a sense of belonging or attachment to their organisation. In addition, there was a general feeling of ambiguity around how well they felt their organisation supported them. On the whole, therefore, FIFO workers, at least in this sample, did not feel their needs were being met. This perception was lower for general workers than managers. Reasons underpinning these findings may be (a) organisations do not offer effective support structures for their FIFO employees, (b) supportive policies and strategies are in place but are not visible or being utilised effectively or, (c) supportive policies are in place but are ineffective.
• From a practical perspective, the current research suggests opportunities exist for organisations to reduce employee turnover in their FIFO workforces. Specifically, strategies, policies, and programs which are designed to support FIFO workers and provide avenues to address their social and emotional needs should be implemented, communicated, and actively supported by organisations at all levels. In addition, a culture or climate should be fostered which addresses the higher needs of FIFO workers and provides avenues for workers to feel they can discuss FIFO related issues in an open manner.
• Training supervisors to support FIFO workers deal with the practical implications and emotional impacts of the FIFO lifestyle may be beneficial. This includes training supervisors in the “soft” skills required to support their FIFO worker subordinates and ensuring they have the knowledge of what resources there are both internally and externally to support them and their families. An important aspect to note is that organisations would need to support and reinforce this training at an organisational level for this to be most effective.