There are many different work styles. I only knew of a handful until the last few years. I knew people worked regular 5 day work weeks, traditional schedules that you could count on. People worked in rotating shifts, or worked out of town, doing things like flying planes or driving trucks. I knew of part time work. But living in Alaska has been an education in work style creativity.
The energy industry in Alaska seems to run in two week shifts…two on, two off, and people commute from other states, or great distances within Alaska, to accommodate this schedule. There are people who live here during the school year, then live in “America” (aka the lower 48) for summers. Some, like Rob and me, work in varying blocks of time. Full time when working, but working as temporary staff. I didn’t know, until Alaska, that many, maybe all, healthcare professionals can work this way. Physicians, nurses, lab, x-ray, allied health professionals…all can work from a few weeks to a few months, then move on to the next place. In a hospital setting, they’re called “travelers.” Travelers often rotate with a particular health care institution, cycling in and out. Even temporary faces become familiar after a while. Many other professions have a seasonal cycle here. Tourism, construction, even forest service jobs are full time and temporary, typically excluding winter months.
So what’s the benefit to working this way? The two week on, two week off workers and teachers are in their own category. These folks really are employees. They have employment with benefits and diversity of location. Those working in block time are typically contractors, and may or may not have some benefit structure in place. Rob and I do not have benefits. We pay our own health insurance, to the tune of about $1000 a month for the two of us. We make a better rate for unit of time, but there is no paid leave, no access to other employer benefits for us.
What we do get is freedom, and change of pace, scenery, and people. We are free to commit when and where we want. That doesn’t mean we don’t work, but it does mean we can decline to work if we want to be “off,” or we can choose which organization we will work for. Currently we have multiple options for work, so we have choice. Commitments are typically a week at a time, minimum, and we are able to plan weeks, even months, in advance.
What does all this mean? It means we are sometimes in Ketchikan, working in the clinic there, and at home. The rest of the time we’re working, we’re in small bush communities in SE Alaska, living in furnished apartments, not quite living out of a suitcase, but definitely not at home either.
If your family structure is flexible, if you can weather weeks when you are not working, and are thus without income; if you are not climbing a corporate ladder, or running your own business empire, you too could work like this. Maybe the question is: why would you want to?
This is our transition plan to our next stage. Not sure yet what that will look like, but in the interim, we need time to explore other geography, other ways of earning an income, and our own interests and desires. We also still need income. I describe it as being at that awkward age…too young to retire, but ready for change. Working in block time gives us ability to structure travel and time to think, which is essential when you’re planning a reconstruction of your life.
To live this way, and assuming you’re not just working for the fun of it, you’ll probably have to cut some expenses. And you have to have financial cushions. You have to think outside the box. And you have to plan. This takes a lot of planning.
At this point in my life, I’m relaxed enough to enjoy living this way. I have to be honest to say that Rob invented this lifestyle for us. I wouldn’t have done this on my own. I’m not inventive. I only go outside the box when I’m dragged out. But once I get out, I usually like it.
So, on with our year of transition. That’s what we’re calling it. It may or may not be a year by the calendar. But I can already tell: we’re definitely in transition. See you on the merry-go-round!