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Some Personal Observations About Managing and Surviving Working Away From Home and Keeping The Home Fires Burning
Quick insight to my worklife.
Personally, working away from home has latterly become a normal part of life. My job as a contract Loss Adjuster has kept me away from home on average 6 days out of 10 for the last 4 years due to the earthquakes in Christchurch New Zealand.
Prior to this I have also had many other stints away both in New Zealand and overseas but my focus is on the last 4 years as this has been a near continual stream of away from home work and is quite different from previous short tours.
The day to day work in Christchurch differs from normal Adjusting work mostly due to the scale and longevity of the event and the fact that the claimants have often been previously "shagged around" by all and sundry leading to quite justifiable frustration.
My work involves direct contact with these people and day after day this can be very draining, even though I do temper this with the knowledge I live in a house unaffected by earthquakes over 500 kms away. This direct and continuous contact requires patience, understanding, empathy, the ability to actively listen and a sense of humour on top of the need to carry out my work managing the various entities involved in the claim process. The phrase 'herding cats" springs to mind and for an introvert like me this can be exhausting.
However I have made the choice to do this work and have made adjustments in my life to do so.
How often are you away.
How many nights do you spend away from home due to work commitments ?. Just select the closest example to your situation
The decision to work away from home, things to consider.
I should point out that i am writing this within the context and safety of a very stable marriage and partnership with my wife Annette which has allowed me to pursue this work with little overall effect on our relationship.
Sometimes we have a choice as to whether we work away from home, sometimes it is just the nature of the work that takes us away, sometimes it's financially advantageous, or necessary for career advancement, sometimes there is simply no work close to home. Whatever the reason it is no small decision, especially if it is for long periods of time.
While pondering your decision and, e.g. ,you are single or unattached, the main consideration may be friends and family. If you are in a committed relationship your main consideration may be your partner and children, if any. Most people consider family to be of some importance and working away means the ability to go face to face with significant people will be less frequent.
There are social considerations, it may affect club and sports memberships which may lead to a disconnect from people with whom you share your local leisure interests, sports activities, community services. Your ability to carry out your share of household duties or maintenance is definitely reduced
I know in my case I have been renovating our home doing most of the work myself,when I can, and while my wife and stepdaughter have been very patient it has dragged on far longer than it would have if I was home working normal hours. Well, I guess I can always say that anyway..:-).
Suggestions for managing the separation
While separation sounds a bit final it does actually describe what is occurring, especially if you are away often for long periods of time. Even If the trips are less often or long the word still really applies and care should be taken to manage this. It would be a mistake to ignore the importance of good communication and some planing to reduce the impact of working away from home.
In my opinion, if you have significant people who will be affected by your absence then it is imperative to openly and honestly discuss the issue and to make some plans and agreements on how it is to be managed.
In my case, while I'm away, we make sure we touch base at least once a day, whether it is a quick phone call, or even a text message to say good morning, or goodnight ,or just hi there hows your day going. All of my 5 daughters are adults now and have lives of their own so contact is less frequent but no less meaningful.
We often initiate a quick WOF (warrant of fitness) on our marriage to make sure there are no problems brewing. This is just communication 101 designed to keep the doors open to prevent any issues festering. Always actively participate in the resolution of any disagreements and try to get them sorted before you sign off for the night.
We have been together for 11 years (married for 3), this is my second marriage and Annette's first. We have 2 differing backgrounds, Annette was single and independent and had never married or been in a long term live in relationship before we met. Annette was quite used to being self sufficient and getting on with things on her own. Whereas I came out of 25 years of marriage and was used to joint this, that, and the other thing, so working away was more of an issue for me and has less impact on her.
I do understand it will be different for different people/couples/families but the basics are pretty much the same. Keep the communication flowing, try to nip any problems in the bud because dealing with issues remotely is not easy. Respect the relationships you have and keep your boundaries where other people and temptations are concerned.
Things I miss while away.
You can't underestimate the importance of the simple things like being at home, or together at least. The ability or time to have a meandering conversation that evolves in stages during the day about important or unimportant "stuff". You simply can't achieve this on the phone or Skype or face time as you give those devices your attention for a finite time,, whereas, you can carry on gardening, painting doing the dishes or just sitting around reading as book or a newspaper and can pick up or expand your earlier conversation any old time.
I miss sleeping and waking up with someone next to me,(that's you love) I miss my own bed which is invariably much more comfortable than any motel bed. I miss the ability to be involved in the basic day to day running of the household and the familiarity of the things around me at home (even though our house is a partly renovated work zone)
I miss my family and grandkids, we currently have my wife's adult daughter and grandson living with us and I miss the daily interactions with them. None of these things are life threatening and by and large are just part of the deal you sign up for while working away, but it would be sad to lose the importance of them in my life.
Traps and temptations
While working in Christchurch with many and varied different people I have seen the odd relationship fall over. While this is sad to see, it did inspire me to be more vigilant regarding the temptations that arise when away from home with a little spare time on your hands.
Probably the most obvious temptation is hitting the drink. I have certainly had a couple of nights out as I do enjoy a nice cold beer but have kept it in check. The incomes for my kind of contract work are good and it's a bit of a temptation to "give it a lash" as they say especially when the normal restrictions around this at home are non existent. My advice would be to behave roughly as you would at home, there's nothing wrong with letting off a bit of steam from a stressful day but it's easy to make a habit of it.
Then there was eating, my job had me on the road 8-10 hours per day, 6 days a week, self catering was infrequent and eating out in the evenings has limited appeal. During the day cafe's and bakeries were well patronised as were various takeaways in the evenings, I gradually managed to pile on 10-12 kilos in weight, which I have since lost, thankfully.
The temptation to pursue extra marital activities is also a temptation while away from home. It can get quite lonely sitting in your motel room with nothing but the work, eat, sleep, wake up, eat, work, sleep routine going on. Personally I'm one of the lucky ones who has a good home life, whether I'm there or not , so not an issue here ( not just saying that because my wife will read this either !) but it is out there and there's no need for me to mention the likely consequences of heading down that path.
Distractions helped, In my case there was a lot of golf played mostly during the daylight savings time and whenever we could really. Some colleagues took on study, some went to the gym or took up jogging, this kind of distraction diverted us away from other temptations.
Basically being away from home often leaves you in rarified surroundings and if your home life is important it is wise to not be complacent. Plan to implement appropriate strategies that compensate for home and aim to keep the semblance of a normal balance in your day to day life while away.
One interesting thing I have found, especially as my stints away are 1 week minimum, is that you can't just stroll in the door and expect to take up your former role straight away. What happens when you are away is that the house carries on without you and those at home adjust and sort their own routines to fill in the gap you leave.
I know particularly after say, a 3 week stint, I find I just have to be patient and ease myself back into the house routines, if I attempt to push too hard it can create a bit of tension. In our case this is a well known occurrence and we take it into consideration on both sides so it's not so bad, but it did take some time to achieve this, so patience and awareness and goodwill go a long way towards the integration back into the home life.
Also while working away I settle into my own routine of work and living in a motel so coming home is a time of adjustment for me as well. Once again it's the C word that will win the day if the lines are kept open.
It's important, no matter how tired or pushed for time you are when home, to give your significant relationship the time it deserves. Plan to have some time together, make a date, see a movie, go out for a coffee or go for a walk somewhere, or simply claim some space at home and just hang out together.
How is it for you when you come home ?
So I've been pushing what are, and how to avoid, the pitfalls of working away from home a wee bit so I just wanted to finish on a positive note.
Work wise there have been many positive outcomes from my experiences in Christchurch. I have greatly enhanced my knowledge of Loss Adjusting, dealing with people under stress and also hopefully improved my standing within the company I contract to. I have met and worked with some excellent people down here and made some very good friends. This experience has taught me to be comfortable with change and how to quickly adapt to varying stressful situations.
Relationship wise there are also many positives, I've learned not to get stressed about "separation anxiety" as my wife so eloquently puts it. It has given me the opportunity to be more independent in general and broaden my horizons. We have a strong marriage, because of the separations I have learned how to up the ante, not take it for granted and to be grateful for what I have.
Thank you for taking the time to read this and I hope there is something in it you can relate to and maybe help spark some thoughts to make the work away from home thing a little easier.