It’s hard to relate to someone unless you have walked a mile in their shoes, or so the saying goes.
Recently, I met with one of our members who works in construction, and the conversation came around to work-life balance and working out of town.
For the mobile construction worker, the have-journeyperson-ticket, will-travel life on the road is the way it is if you want to work on diverse construction projects in remote places across this country. Being sustainable means taking work wherever it is and always being ready to get onto the next project as soon as the one you’re on is complete. Because being out of work for even a few weeks can be devastating to the budget and cash flow. Mortgage due dates don’t flex that easily.
As a CLAC representative for the past 18 years, my mind has often turned to the challenges that come from a career choice of being on the road and away from home for long periods. As a rep, I’m often away from home 40-plus nights per year visiting members on site and attending meetings of one sort or another—labour-management, negotiations, grievance, pension board, to name a few. But I have not experienced what many of our members in construction experience—being away from home for regular extended periods of time.
That is until recently when my situation changed. I relocated back to Alberta, where I began my CLAC career, from BC this past summer so that my wife and I could be closer to our family. Most of our children and grandchildren live here, but our home is over 200 kilometres away from the nearest CLAC member centre in Calgary—too far to commute to daily.
Every Monday morning, I get up early and drive to Calgary for the week, where I stay in a small apartment. Friday after work, I make my way home.
There are many trade-offs to this arrangement. I get to see my kids and grandkids much more then when I lived and worked in BC. I get to stay with a great organization. I get to do what I love, serving our members. And, lets face it, I’m a few years away from retirement and don’t want to change gears at this point in my career.
So I have elected to follow in the footsteps of many of our construction members. Somewhat. My five days on, two days off, cycle is not as challenging as the ten days on, four days off—and even longer—shift cycles that many construction workers routinely do.
But now that I’m away from home regularly for extended periods of time, I do know first hand what they’re experiencing. I know what it’s like to live out of a suitcase. I know what it’s like to miss family and friends. I know what it’s like to not be able to attend to things happening at home easily. If my wife and children need help with something, it has to wait until I’m home.
And I know what it’s like to feel the loneliness of going back to a temporary residence every night.
Some members are really good at making new friends every six months or so as they travel from project to project. Some not so much.
Some have work colleagues who they stay together with over extended periods of time and over several projects. Others never really get a chance to develop close friendships before they’re off to a new site with people they don’t know.
We are by nature social creatures. Even introverts, like me, need human interaction, although we generally prefer the familiar faces of our loved ones.
Loneliness in today’s world has become become more pronounced. More and more of us suffer from loneliness despite being hyper-connected via technology and social media.
If you’re one of those who, like me and many members in construction, works far from home regularly, here are four things you can do to help you get through times when you’re away from family and friends for long stretches.
1. If you have a smartphone and access to WiFi coverage, use it to connect with your loved ones on a regular basis. Talking once a day seems to work for me.
2. Make sure you have something meaningful to do during off-work times when on site. Sure, you may have access to TV or the Internet, but exercise, social time with coworkers, or doing a hobby that is easily portable to bring to and from your remote work location helps take away the loneliness edge.
3. When you talk with family and friends, make plans, both short and long term, for when you’re back home on your days off. Where will we spend our vacation? Should we renovate the house? What should we do for our daughter’s birthday party? What parts do I need to order to continue work restoring my ’68 Mustang?
4. Try to make the most of your time by making it about hoping for and planning a great future. Doing so will give meaning to the hard work you do when you’re away earning a living to support your family. It will help you find what your happy place looks like for the future, and make today’s sacrifice worthwhile.