The Macho World of Work
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The Macho World of Work

Making good money in the oil and gas industry is alluring, but can come at a high cost

By Jayson Bueckert, CLAC Regional Director 

The allure of making good money in the oil and gas industry is impossible to deny. Within a few years of apprenticing in a trade, you can make a six figure salary before you hit your mid-twenties. However, making good money can come at a high cost, especially if you have to travel for that job.

The CBC documentary, Digging in the Dirt, takes a look at how high that cost can be and what we can do to flip the story.

There is no doubt that the oil industry has been a boon to many in our country. And what was once a culture of “give ‘er, get ‘er done,” has steadily become a culture of physical safety. But what has also become evident is the need to talk about psychological safety. The macho attitude of work hard, play hard has convinced so many workers that being tough and ignoring the emotional side of life is the only way to survive.

I recall a conversation with one of our members when he was a young man. He told me all about his escapades while on days off. The energy of youth was brimming in him and his bank account was there to match. Along with his hard living lifestyle came a girlfriend, then a kid, then another, then a mortgage and two nice trucks. And a lot of debt.

Feeling trapped, he worked even harder and longer hours. Drugs and alcohol were accessible and, being physically isolated from his family, these became his new friends. Add in some marital infidelity, a lonely and depressed wife at home with two kids, and his desire to fit into a macho culture at work, and before long the divorce papers were being served.

This is not to say his life spiraled out of control because of remote work in the oilpatch. But the story is repeated so many times in this industry that you can’t help but wonder if we’re missing something. It has nearly become a rite of passage to chock up at least one failed marriage while working away from home.

But things are changing. The macho culture that pervades the industry has made it hard in the past for people to admit that they were hurting. Many still bottle it up and stuff it down deep. But more and more, I have seen workers reach out for help before it’s too late. There is still a stigma attached to this, but it is receding.

Perhaps the most heartening piece in this is the willingness for people to talk to coworkers about their struggles openly. In a remote job, the people you work alongside are often the only counsellor available to you. Empathy and compassion are now acceptable words to use in these environments. Yet we can do more. We must do more.

If we want our society to flourish, we need to continue to push the door open for those who feel trapped. We need to keep talking with influencers in industry who report to shareholders about profit and loss. The narrative for them should start to include reports on the psychological well-being of their workforce.

We need to create a culture that flips the story on what “macho” really is. It does not have to be hard. It can start with as little as a conversation.

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