We Won’t Be Home for Christmas

We Won't Be Home for Christmas - Offshore Oil Rig
The loneliness of an offshore oil rig at Christmas

"After a nightmare quarantine, positive with Covid, in a government facility, in a foreign country, I was so excited to tell my wife and daughters that daddy would be home for Christmas… I could hear and feel their joy and my own; it was the light that kept me focused and not losing my mind… then that hope was gone when I got the message that they couldn't get me home. I'd be going straight back offshore. I didn't realise how the whole experience traumatised me until months later when I started showing signs of anxiety and PTSD."

This is Ian's* story. December 2020

It is one of many stories friends, colleagues, and my new 'offshore work family' have shared with me about the life of being an ex-pat worker and the trials, tribulations, freedom and joy it brings.

It has been some time since I had an extended work trip, truth be told, quite a while. Pre-Covid, I was travelling a few days, at most a few weeks at a time, not a few months. I had forgotten what it is like to miss special occasions. I have had to mentally readjust to accept the many things I've had to give up to make other dreams come true. Birthdays, my own, friends and families. Celebrations, engagements and achievements. Festivities, Christmas and New Year by the time I get home, I'll have a lot of 'catching up to do!

Words fall short when those who travel for work try to explain the sacrifice to those who have never experienced it. I've had many discussions with colleagues offshore, and their stories are similar.

Friends see the times you are home and can do the things they wish they could. But, they don't see the 12-16 hours, 7-days a week when you are away. They don't experience the lonely, tearful, angry moments you or your loved ones have.

It is different spending weeks in one place, with mostly the same people, generally with many blokes (most of my world is a male-oriented working environment). The camaraderie and way of being can be more challenging, the conversations more adventure and task-oriented than gentle or family-oriented. There is a sense of bravado used for survival. Each person reacts differently, and you don't know what they are dealing with on the day, which will impact their mood and coping mechanisms.

Then there are the cultural nuances. These teams are generally multi-cultural. Depending on how you see the world, your lenses on others' way of being may match or clash with your norms providing a sense of togetherness or conflict.

I have learned that people are mostly not trying to be complicated. They are just different. Putting your feet up on a chair with shoes on for some is okay; for others, it is highly offensive and downright rude. For some, spitting phlegm on the ground is acceptable; for others, the opposite is true. The list is endless - eye contact, shaking hands, accents, terminology and jargon, language, humour, dress code and style, food, alcohol, religious or other holidays celebrated, and of course, my view (whoever we are) is the 'right view'!

Or is it? Can I be open to understanding others, accepting that their way is right for them, can they accept that my way is right for me, and can we adapt to meet somewhere comfortable for both of us?

Etiquette is the customary code of polite behaviour in society or among members of a profession or group. Understanding each other's etiquette's can be a conversation starter to accepting the varying norms and lenses of the world amongst the team. These discussions can be a start to building a joint team culture and the foundation of an organisations safety culture.

What does all of the above have to do with 'not being home for Christmas?'

How we accept others, build the team and our' away from home' 'work family' can directly impact how we cope with not being home for Christmas or any other special occasion. For example, I have already told the team that they will have to sing Christmas carols with me; the look of horror was priceless! I hope to find a few who will be willing to be brave or vulnerable enough to join me if they feel psychologically safe.

Psychological safety impacts more than joining in a sing-a-long; it impacts all we do at work, positively or negatively—more on that in future posts.

Today we are talking about Not being home for Christmas, and the impact on one's loved ones and our own mental and emotional well-being.

The excitement of telling your children, loved ones and friends you'll be home for Christmas and the disappointment when plans change and you won't is heartbreaking, and it often happens when working offshore.

However, this can be more challenging or gentler depending on how psychologically safe we are within the work-family with whom we will spend a large part of our time and special occasions. Will my vulnerability and mood swings be seen and heard, and accepted?

I may not be going home for Christmas this year, but I intend to bring some cheer over Christmas and New Year with my offshore work family. Watch this space for an update on how that works out.

*The real name has been changed for privacy

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