Each year, energy-sector companies suffer lost revenue, safety incidents, customer dissatisfaction and untold operating inconvenience, much of which is attributable to employee personal problems— specifically, the “oil patch marriage.” When the marital side effects of an energy career take their toll, they can spill over into the workplace to compromise a company’s performance.
Since the Alberta oil boom of the 1970s, many Canadian wives have called themselves “oil-patch widows.” Overseas and offshore postings lead to the same issues. A wife feels overwhelmed, lonely and abandoned, which makes her husband—already stressed at a distant work location—even more distracted. The marital problems are similar whether he works in Alberta, Texas, the United Arab Emirates, Africa or on the Atlantic Ocean.
To effectively combat the business cost, inconvenience and safety risks associated with the oil- patch marriage, a company must provide employees with the basic skills necessary to navigate the oil-patch lifestyle before it becomes problematic. Nowhere is an ounce of prevention more profitable.
A smart business solution is to proactively provide skills-based relationship help to all employees and their spouses. These include communication, collaboration and conflict resolution skills, as well as practical tools to avoid the common pitfalls of an oil-patch marriage (i.e., competing priorities, mounting debt, infidelity, excessive alcohol use, etc.). Green-hands equipped with such skills have a better chance of succeeding in the industry. Veteran workers benefit by learning to end recurring conflicts, both at home and at work, that have plagued them throughout their careers.
My focus is on sustaining partnerships between husband and wife, and between employee and employer. The oil-patch marriage doesn’t have to be bad for business. With minimal cost, proactive companies can ensure their employees are assets, not liabilities. After all, an energy company’s workforce is the most accessible resource it can tap into.
1. Acknowledge the issue of oil-patch marriages. Every worker in the industry knows about them, and employers who openly acknowledge the problem appear progressive and supportive. This creates employee loyalty.
2. Provide proactive, skills-based relationship help to employees and their spouses.
3. Institute “family appreciation” employee programs (i.e., spa certificates for spouses, family movie passes, etc.). This encourages spouses to regard the company as a family-conscious entity.
4. Create “rituals” to stay connected to spouse and children during days-on, and keep communication positive and low stress.
5. Appreciate your spouse’s role while you’re away at work. Work as a team.
6. Learn to effectively plan and prioritize your time during days-off.
7. Be interested and realistic about your spouse’s job duties and demands in the oil patch.
8. Have a marriage plan that addresses spending, socializing, drinking, parenting and so on. This provides people with a sense of accomplishment, partnership and progress.
9. Nourish intimacy and friendship in your marriage.
Debra Macleod, B.A., LL.B., Cert. ICR, is a conflict resolution specialist for the energy sector, offering employee packages and seminars on the Oil-Patch Marriage. She is also a leading relationship expert in Canada and the USA. Visit her website at MarriageSOS.com
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