My Thoughts On… Work Rotation Systems

I wanted to talk a little bit about what’s it like to work on a rotation cycle.

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When I talk to people about what I do, I inevitably get people curious about what my rotation cycle is like, because it’s not a normal way to work. I work as a Chemical Engineer at a gas plant in the Abu Dhabi, in the Process Control Engineering section, and I work on a 30/28 cycle. That is, I work for 30 days and then get 28 days off. The company pays me during both, the 30 works days and the 28 leaves days.

At first glance, this may sound like a sweet deal, but you have to realize a couple of things:
1. We do not get weekends or public holidays off. In fact, we work everyday for 9.5 hours per day. During public holidays, work a little less, at 5 hours. On Fridays, we get a 5 hour work shift. The company also does not compensate us for those public holidays.
2. During plant shutdown, some people work full 12-hour shifts. Plant shutdown happens usually once a year for the duration of a month.

It seems a little bit less appealing now, but there are some advantages to working on a rotation system. For one, the system is a little flexible. Every day you work adds to your rotation balance. So if you like, you can work a little bit more than 30 days and then take a little bit more than 28 days off. This is, as long as you can coordinate with the person that is replacing you while you are away.

However, there are some big disadvantages to the rotation system too. I basically live two lives. My standard rotation, work life, and then the holiday life. While a rotation system does allow you to travel for the month you are away, and leave your work problems behind, the constant switching causes a lot of problems for me.

For one, I am a night person. I go to sleep at about 5AM and wake up at around 1PM. This is extremely problematic, because when I’m on rotation, work starts at 6:30AM and finishes at 4PM. You can see how this can cause problems with your circadian rhythm.

Additionally, I’m a person that likes to engage in many hobbies, one of them being photography. Photography is strictly prohibited on site (no cameras allowed, including those on laptops and cell phones, which is an entire story on its own). This means that I can only practice my hobbies while I am off rotation, which can be a little annoying, as the large breaks and interruptions in my leave schedules cause me to end up procrastinating on larger projects I’d like to undergo.

The long work timings also means that you get back from work physically and mentally exhausted. This can further reduce your will to practice your other hobbies right after work. For me, my magic has taken a huge hit as a result of working on rotation. I always wanted to put in at least a few hours a day to practice my sleight of hand to keep in shape, but this hasn’t happened in a while because most of the time, I’d come back from work, too exhausted and unmotivated to do anything but sit in front of my webcamless laptop and watch a TV show.

The company pays me very well for working on site. Especially during a rotation, you basically have zero expenditures which makes such a package quite attractive to some people. But it does come at huge personal costs too. I guess at the end of the day, it depends on the person. For me, I was short of money, single, and didn’t have any real commitments to the city. This made the rotation cycle a perfect choice for me until I could put my life together. But for others, especially those that are married, a rotation cycle might just be the worst thing that could happen to them.

At the end of the day, it’s all a matter of perspective. For me, I worked the rotation cycle for five years and have been fairly content. But ever since I picked up photography as a hobby, my willingness to stay on a rotation was dwindled.

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