You are considering a new job or position requiring you to work long stretches away from home.
On the one hand, the position brings exciting possibilities: exploring a new place, learning job skills and expertise, and financial security for you and your family. On the other hand, there are challenges: extensive travel, distance from friends and family, and the potential toll on physical and mental health due to the demanding work schedule, rigorous job demands, and the potential for isolation.
Whether you’re considering a new career offshore, in the oilfield, or even a military position, there are several things to consider.
Understanding the Assignment
The initial step in evaluating a distant job position is what exactly the job will entail.
First, how long is the assignment? Will you be working two- or three-week “hitches” away from home, as oilfield and Jones Act mariners (including some dredge workers) often do, or will the job require some degree of permanent relocation?
Rotational or “hitch” work is appealing to many. While the weeks you are “on rotation” can be difficult, the pay is usually good. More importantly, when you are off work (usually for a week or two, at least), you are totally off work. You can enjoy your family and hobbies during your “days off” without interruption.
Meanwhile, a permanent relocation brings challenges. You will be asked to uproot and move away from friends and family. You will have to rent or buy a place to live. In such cases, important questions to ask include whether there is an ultimate end date or opportunity to move home, and if not, is the new location somewhere you can envision yourself living indefinitely?
Second, what does the position entail? Many rotation-based jobs involve heavy manual labor, which can take its toll. Many jobs also involve safety risks like fires, explosions, and mechanical equipment failures. You should feel comfortable when the company or employer provides proper training and the equipment to keep you safe. For example, you can research a company’s safety record through government websites such as the OSHA or (in the case of offshore and maritime work) the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.
Finally, what costs are associated with the job? While it is likely that the job you are considering will involve a bump in pay, are there costs that will offset that? Many positions require you to pay for your own travel, and in some cases, you may even need to rent or buy a second place to live while you are getting ready for your hitch.
Researching The Location
The next issue to consider is the location itself. If you have trouble working in extreme heat, offshore or oilfield work in Texas, Louisiana, or New Mexico may not be right for you. Similarly, maritime workers in the Gulf of Mexico have to deal with the dangers of hurricane season. On the other hand, if you are taking a military position in San Diego, you will likely have little concern about the weather.
If you are being asked to work at a remote location, like an offshore platform, oceangoing vessel, or even a remote military base, the loneliness of being away from home may be more pronounced. Some private employers (and even some government entities) provide specific recreation and entertainment opportunities to counteract this issue. Many offshore rigs have televisions in the rooms and gyms on-rig to keep you busy.
If your assignment is international, there may be exciting cultural opportunities. Things like new food, sightseeing opportunities, and even learning a new language can provide one-of-a-kind experiences. Of course, if you are going to be on a vessel during your entire hitch and never have shore-based leave, you may not get to experience these benefits. It is important to inquire about and consider these possibilities and factor them into your analysis.
If your job involves safety risks, you should consider the legal framework that will protect you in case of injury or illness. For example, many U.S.-based workers working on mobile oil rigs or oceangoing vessels enjoy the protections of the Jones Act or similar laws even when working abroad. These provide valuable benefits and rights in the event of an illness or injury. In the case of oilfield workers, various workers’ compensations provide some level of protection, along with the right to compensation from other companies when workers’ compensation proves to be inadequate. Other positions may not provide the same level of protection.
One way to evaluate your new job location is to visit before you take the job. If you are considering a Jones Act job in the Gulf, you may not be able to visit the rig, but you might be able to visit the nearest shore base (and perhaps spend the night in New Orleans!). For a more traditional position, you may have the opportunity to visit the actual job site and meet some of your potential coworkers.
Preparing For The Emotional Impact
If you have made it this far and have decided to take an international or far-away job position, you should prepare for the emotional stress of being away from your family. For your family, make sure that they have a good support network – places like church, school, and sports can keep people busy while a family member is away.
Communication is also key. This may seem obvious, but make sure you have a good cell phone or other means of communication. Nowadays, a good phone can allow you to see your friends and family via FaceTime or Zoom even when you are thousands of miles away. Without question, the prevalence of modern communication has made it easier to tolerate long-term job remote job assignments.
Building A Support Network & Preparing Friends and Family
If you have a family, before leaving for a far-away job, it is essential to spend time reinforcing the relationships you have back home. Host a barbecue cookout to remind friends and family that your immediate family will be alone in the near future. Try to go if you haven’t been to church in a while. Enroll your kids in as many sports as you can. Make sure your childcare situation is sorted out, keeping in mind that your spouse or partner will have more on their plate than they used to.
For the worker, remember that the folks you will be working with are facing similar challenges. Many oilfield and offshore workers have decades of experience. While this can provide an invaluable learning opportunity for your job skillset, it also can provide coping mechanisms and ways to avoid loneliness. Many people talk decades later about the permanent friendships they make working offshore or in the military. These relationships are forged through shared experience and challenges only workers can truly appreciate.
Anytime you are considering a new job, money is a factor. As mentioned above, many remote positions have job costs, which you need to consider even if the salary or day rate is higher than you are currently being paid.
You should also consider talking to an accountant. You may be able to write off certain expenses for tax purposes, but to do so, you may need to keep certain records or even set up an LLC.
If you are working internationally, you need to account for a different currency. Access to cash and exchange rates (even on credit cards) are things to consider.
Create a packing list a few weeks before you leave to give yourself time to track down any items you do not have. If you are taking an international position, you will need a passport. Suppose you are taking a maritime position. In that case, you may need a Basic Offshore Safety Induction and Emergency Training (BOSIET), Merchant Mariner Certificate, or other credentials that require you to take some classes before leaving. Oilfield jobs have similar safety training requirements.
If you are taking a job that carries personal injury risk, such as a refinery turnaround worker, make sure you have the proper personal protective equipment (PPE). Goggles, gloves, and steel-toed boots are standard issues.
Adjusting To A New Work Environment
When you get to the job site, there are things you can do to help you get acclimated. In addition to making an effort to get to know all your new colleagues, many people find it helpful to set goals. Write down how much money you plan to save each hitch, a list of books you want to read, the days or times you plan to call each family member and friend, and even things you hope to learn about the job.
Pay attention to the work culture of your new job. Figure out which people are the best resources to answer questions. If there are certain people who like to start their rotation early or work late, try to follow suit to make it clear that you are part of the team.
Managing Health And Well Being
The single most important aspect of working away from home is staying in touch with loved ones. Again, make sure you have a good means of communication and a specific plan for how often you are going to call each one of the people who are important to you. Then follow the plan. Don’t get busy and forget to call. Staying in touch is critical.
Make sure you exercise and eat well. When you have a tough oilfield job, or even if you are working in an office overseas, the workday itself can tire you out. You may be tempted to eat junk food and watch TV whenever you are not on the watch. But try to avoid these temptations. Poor diet and physical condition can, in and of itself, make you feel lonely and depressed. Once again, have a plan (for example, I’m going to work out or exercise for at least one hour 3 days a week and only eat salads for dinner on Tuesdays and Thursdays). Then follow the plan.