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Trott shines a light on an important issue for FIFO men [Blog]

Jonathan_Trott3Over the last few days we have seen significant press space given to the story of English cricketer Jonathan Trott and his decision to leave the Ashes tour and return to England due to a stress-related illness. This would most certainly have been a difficult decision for Trott, knowing that even in the 21st century we still hold the attitude that at elite sports levels, athletes need to “harden up” and should be resistant to the pressures that operating at this level brings.

It is important to remember at this time that the cricket ground is Trott’s workplace. What we have seen in the past week is a lot of criticism towards Trott regarding his performance and fragility during the first Ashes test – there are few workplaces in the world that face this much scrutiny from the public. What Trott’s critics failed to realise at the time of their comments is that his performance was significantly impacted by mental health concerns; but how could they have known?

This scenario raises many questions for the average workplace and draws some significant parallels with Australian mining’s FIFO workforces. Sports teams are often travelling, frequently away from their homes and their support networks. Their jobs involve a high degree of both physical and mental effort, and the implications of not performing well are significant. FIFO workers are also frequently away from home and their support networks, work long hours, many perform roles that require physical effort as well as high degrees of concentration, and poor performance can result in failure to meet deadlines as well as significant safety breaches.

Intense pressure at work can result in workplace stress, which is the response experienced by workers when the demands and challenges of their role exceed their capability, hindering their ability to cope on the job. It is generally associated with feelings of tension, anxiety and strain that are brought about by factors related to their work tasks or work environment (as distinct from general stress not caused by workplace factors). Examples of these factors include excessive working hours, organisational change and lack of autonomy, interpersonal factors such as bullying and harassment, and environmental factors such as noise and overcrowding.

Interestingly, a report released by Medibank Private in 2008 revealed that workplace stress is costing the Australian economy nearly $15b a year. In fact, work-related stress is quickly becoming an important health issue at the global level. It is predicted that by 2020, stress-related illness will be the leading cause of the global disease burden (Safe Work Australia, 2011).

The challenge for many organisations, and what is becoming a significant concern to FIFO workforces, is an attitude among workers that admitting to experiences of stress will result in perceptions of weakness and incompetence.  This means that many individuals will continue to work whilst suffering the effects of a stress-related illness.  Indeed, an article recently published in Australian Mining suggested that stress, anxiety and helplessness are prevalent amongst mining workforces, with stigma the main barrier to seeking support. The research referenced in this article indicates that, what needs to change is the “suck it up, princess” culture that is preventing many organisations from moving forward on the issue of mental health at work.

Jonathan Trott should be commended for his courage in admitting that he is suffering a stress-related illness, and particularly so in this month where masses of men around the world – not to mention members of the Australian Cricket Team – are sporting moustaches for this very cause. Trott sets a positive example for all men, normalising this topic and demonstrating that even high achievers can succumb to the impacts of work-related stress.

Is your organisation taking all necessary actions to prevent and managing stress in the workplace? If not, it’s time to take action. Workplace stress poses a significant risk the health and safety of workers. It can’t be ignored any longer.


Medibank Private (2008). The Cost of Workplace Stress in Australia. Sighted at

Safe Work Australia (2011). The Australian Workplace Barometer: Report on Psychosocial Safety Climate and Worker Health in Australia. Sighted at

Validakis, V. (2013). ‘Harden up’ culture affecting mental health of FIFO Workers. Australian Mining, June 13. Sighted at

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TMS Consulting