Five-Phase Model Aims To Maintain Psychological Well-Being While Away From Home
Oil and gas industry workers are often tasked with spending extended durations away from home while working onsite. And these absences can have a significant effect on the workers’ psychological well-being. A paper presented at the 2015 SPE Health, Safety, Security, and Environmental Conference—Americas proposed a five-phase model for managing the psychological stress of extended stays away from home.
Paper SPE 173559, by Simon Seaton and Thomas Jelley of Sodexo, breaks the experience of being away into five phases: predeparture planning, being away, preparing to return, returning, and being back. The authors of the paper had three environments in mind when considering time away from home—the military, universities, and the oil and gas industry.
“We understand, quite well I think, somebody’s physical well-being. We’d like to think of psychological well-being in the same way,” Seaton said. “What we’re trying to do is make the psychological well-being a lot more stable, a lot more managed, a lot more predictable, and try and avoid bad days and bad outcomes … and, therefore, have a workforce that is much more engaged, motivated, and clearly focused on their job at hand, which is, at times, a very difficult and challenging job.”
Modern communication technology makes keeping in touch while away easier, but there are also potential drawbacks. Expecting that technology will mitigate separation, travelers may fail to
- Discuss expectations
- Say goodbye properly and acknowledge that the coming separation is real
- Set up support networks
- Agree on a main point of contact so the person away is not under pressure to allocate potentially little free time or communication resources to a large number of people for similar updates
The first three points can apply as easily to a parent away on a short business trip as to someone away for much longer. The last point applies especially to individuals in more difficult, longer-term absence, such as military personnel on deployment.
While away, technology offers only an artificial sense of connectedness. Seeing someone on a screen is not the same as being together. Daily experiences at different ends of a phone or video call may be so different that real-time connection is frustrating and counterproductive.
Also, sometimes less communication is better. News of something at home that an individual cannot manage remotely can immediately and gravely affect psychological well-being. The result can be distraction, disengagement, an inability to progress, and a threat to the performance of the organization.
Preparing To Return
The front-of-mind excitement associated with preparing to return home can mask the fact that it can have an adverse effect on psychological well-being. An individual or their perceptions may not be the same as when they left home. Family and friends may also have changed—even in a short period. Going home to continue as before may not be possible, and acknowledging this in advance is a way of managing expectations and the risk of disappointment.
A period of decompression or a staged return can facilitate a soft landing (e.g., soldiers returning home from a conflict zone via a peaceful base where they can wash, relax, and enjoy leisure time as a way of unwinding in a more normal environment before going home).
Getting home can involve little more than a flight, but it can take much longer to feel back at home psychologically. To mitigate this potential disconnection between being back and feeling back, time for adjustment is important. After a longer period away, a welcome home celebration can have a better effect on psychological well-being if it takes place after the traveler has had time to feel back home again.
The next step for the researchers is to analyze people in the three target environments—military, universities, and the oil and gas industry. The analyses will begin with researchers asking people how they assess their own psychological well-being and then asking them what they do to maintain that well-being while away from home.
“So, rather than present the model to them and ask them if they do it, we’re going to ask, ‘What are the things you do?’ We can then take those practices and inputs and apply them back to the model and refine it a little bit more,” Seaton said. That research is expected to be conducted by King’s College London and Cardiff University.