Hollie Moir explores the pressures faced by university students juggling part-time jobs and full-time university loads through the pandemic.
Alexa, play Surface Pressure from the Encanto Soundtrack. Now, this article will not tackle the pressures of being the middle sister of a magical Colombian family, but it will discuss something that most students can relate to instead: the pressure to work. Even pre-pandemic, trying to juggle the student-work-life balance was difficult to maintain, giving us little free time as we were constantly thinking about the next assignment or seminar prep we needed to do. But now, it’s upsetting to say that this fight for balance is becoming a losing battle.
The hospitality sector is arguably one of the go-to sectors for students in need of a part time job, with flexible hours and local access. The transition period from our first lockdown saw bars, clubs and restaurants being shut for many months, to a sudden influx of consumer spending, despite remaining less than what it was pre-pandemic. The change was overwhelming enough, but the addition of online classes, that are now part in-person, made focusing on self-care nothing short of impossible.
The staff shortages have only contributed to this added pressure to balance it all. Covid-19 (and notably Brexit) have impacted all work sectors creating staff shortages, whether it is due to isolating periods or letting staff go, with the Office for National Statistics reporting vacancies increasing in April to June 2021 above pre-pandemic levels. Interviews conducted by the BBC have revealed many reasons why people left their jobs in hospitality; notably, the consistent long hours and low wages, and also job security after the furlough scheme ended pushed people to quit their jobs.
How may a company keep afloat with these staff shortages? By asking their kind and willing part-time student employees in need for some extra cash. Students may feel pressured to work these extra hours to ensure they are comfortable in the ever-increasing rent prices, even if this means giving up valuable time usually spent on assignments or social hours. The simple pressure of not wanting to let your employer down or upset them is unfortunately a mindset many of us students have. Plus, when a student cannot commit to an extra shift due to the amount of university work, the reason is not taken seriously, but looked down upon as a privileged university student who doesn’t need to work overtime. This is ironic because many of us are working overtime, just in a different way.
“When a student cannot commit to an extra shift due to the amount of university work, the reason is not taken seriously… This is ironic because many of us are working overtime, just in a different way.”
Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with those working full-time in hospitality positions; for many people, the routine and steady income make this an ideal job choice. However, too often other members of full-time staff do not understand the dedication that part-time working students must have to their uni work, too, which can be frustrating. For many students, their part-time job is not their main priority. It has become the norm to receive odd stares when your response to “What are you up to after work? Going out or chilling?” is a broken record of, “neither, I’ve got uni work to do”. Even if we do take the evening to relax or socialize, the feeling that perhaps we should not be enjoying our free time lingers and gives judgemental coworkers their “A-Ha!” moment of being “right”.
I can contribute with my own experiences of juggling a part time job, whilst studying full time both pre- and mid-pandemic – unfortunately, post-pandemic is not the stage we are finally at. I was in a strange predicament wherein I had my year abroad in 2020/2021, and came back to an even more drastic change of not working and studying at all, to suddenly having no time to spare. When I was abroad, I still received messages asking when my return to work would be, and what hours I could do. And the disappointment towards me taking further time off to reunite with friends and family when I returned was evident – how dare I? Now, as a manager who only works weekends, I have more responsibilities to juggle and expectations to meet yet never enough time to do so.
My experience is not an exception unfortunately. I have many friends who feel the guilt after asking for a single weekend off or, even worse, phoning in sick, even if they have been working consistently through juggling university work. The dependency on part-time student employees is unfair and crushing. On the other hand, I have friends who don’t have this guilt at all, as their workplace has made it clear that wellbeing and understanding in these difficult times are at the forefront. From this fact, I can see there is a way to make student employees feel heard and encouraged to help, without overloading them with even more pressure than they are under. So, I ask, will this pressure to work ever change? Probably not. There will always be rent to pay, extra work we could be doing, and a general yearning to just have a break, but from all experiences noted, hopefully businesses will listen and become more understanding towards their university students. At the end of the day, it is in their best interest to keep their staff turnover low and their customers satisfied from enthusiastic young employees, rather than the opposite.