Mining People Matters

Steve Heather

Steve Heather, Managing Director and Co-founder of Mining People International (MPi).

Should every CEO have worked FIFO first?

Man in front of sunset

Should every CEO have worked fly-in fly-out, or lived in a residential mining town, to ensure they understand what life is like for their employees and why they prefer one over the other?

The short answer is: probably not.

Firstly, it’s probably not very practical. Secondly, it’s just not necessary.

However, if you truly believe your people are your most important asset, demonstrating that senior people in the hierarchy do actually understand what your employees are experiencing is essential to creating a strong bond between the workforce and management and the senior executive. 

Understanding and empathy in senior management

Let’s take the example of employees having a preference between residential and FIFO mining jobs. It’s a fundamental choice in our industry for our onsite employees ­ – and one some senior executives have never had to face.

Now, I come at this problem as someone who has spent decades “at the coalface”. I lived and worked in residential mining communities in the early part of my career, and then I worked FIFO (briefly) in the latter part. So, I understand the benefits and drawbacks of both lifestyles.


READ MORE: Do I move my family to take up a residential mining job?


For a mining industry employee, deciding whether to work FIFO or residential often takes time, research and reflection. It comes down to the stage of life they’re at, their individual circumstances, and their commitments and obligations. Why an employee prefers one type of mining role over the other isn’t really a matter that should be open to critique or questioning.

Being dismissive is counterproductive

Fully understanding and appreciating the challenges employees face in either residential or FIFO roles is difficult if you have never done either. What I can say is that it is categorically unhelpful to dismiss those challenges. We sometimes hear comments like “that’s why they earn the big money” or “they could always leave if they want”.

This lack of understanding and empathy is not what any person needs to hear and it’s hugely counterproductive (especially in a skills shortage, when employees can find it relatively easy to switch to a more empathetic and accommodating employer).

What the most effective executives are doing

On the other hand, senior executives who understand the difficulties of such a big decision are far better at finding effective ways to help make that decision easier for employees.

For example, many companies offer great support and incentives to employees to work residential, including free housing, utility bill support and salary sacrifice options. Those employees still face challenges, but the decision (and lifestyle) is made easier for them by effective management decisions.


READ MORE: The pros and cons of living in a residential mining community


Likewise, the FIFO lifestyle can be very challenging for some people. Some companies have made improvements to site facilities, rosters and shift rotations to ease the stresses of that lifestyle. The challenges of working FIFO will never go away entirely, but at least the company can make things easier.

Engender employee empathy at a senior level

It’s not vital that someone at the senior executive level has experienced the realities of life in a residential mining town or working FIFO. But, it is essential that there are some people in the ranks of general managers, right up to the CEO, who are able to relate to the bulk of the company’s workforce.

That’s the case whether your operation:

  1. Engages people living in a major regional city
  2. Is near a remote town
  3. Offers FIFO mining jobs, or
  4. Is operating overseas in a developing country.

Whatever the unique circumstances of your company and the roles you’re trying to fill, and all the unique challenges these differences bring, when you are selecting senior staff it would seem self-evident that at least some of them (and ones who have some influence) should have walked in the same footsteps as your employees.

But, sadly, too often we see it does not happen. When  recruiting for experience, also consider recruiting for empathy to get a great result, not just a good one.

Mining People International has more than 25 years’ specialist experience helping mining companies uncover the best candidates for their executive and leadership roles. Find out more
here about our executive search service or get in touch directly.

Steve Heather signature
Steve Heather – BAppSc (Mining Engineering) WASM, FRCSA

Managing Director & Principal Executive Search - Mining People International (MPi)

Fellow/National Board Member – Recruitment, Consulting & Staffing Association Aust. & N.Z. (RCSA)