The Uncommitted Workforce: Development of Organisational
Committment in Fly-In Fly-Out (FIFO) Workforces Through Organisational and Supervisor
Researcher Matthew Walford
Supervisors Mrs Libby Brook and
Dr Graeme Ditchburn
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
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.
• 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
• 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
• As expected, a strong positive relationship was observed between POS
and normative commitment;
• As expected, a strong positive relationship was observed between PSS
• Continuance commitment mediated a relationship between PSS and turnover
• 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
• 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.