Are employed students prioritising their wellbeing?
To the average St Andrews goer the local wage is a thing of glory; it leaps above the national minimum salary, on par with the country’s capital. Hotels grasp for students to polish cutlery for eight hours on a Monday, and cafes may receive an abundance of applicants interested in coffee, yet, unfortunately, lacking in barista skills. In the town’s typical fashion there is an abundance of students and golfers, whilst the rest of the town is made up of those who work for the university and — just occasionally — those working full time in the region’s hospitality industry.
Students with a part-time job may find themselves caught between two worlds: the manager of their local pub, hotel, or cafe will be in a bind when creating rotas and training staff. Are hospitality professionals required to care if their employee cannot work on a Tuesday due to volleyball, an essay deadline 9am the next day, or an invitation to a pub quiz? And yet, it is unreasonable to expect students to prioritise their 10 hours a week for a manager’s convenience. Inasmuch as a job is a commitment for students, it is only part-time. If the university itself classifies students as full-time, by definition, an additional job may be overloading.
From an anecdotal level, it is far too easy for an employee to succumb to the pressures of covering others’ shifts. In businesses that rely primarily on university students, most working two times a week, a single call-in sick requires a cover from one of the other students on staff. This creates discomforting pressure to work more than they desire. In a precarious balance of coursework, working, and extracurriculars which never turns out quite right, this extra shift or so is an easy push off the edge of burnout.
With a limited number of employers in the town, and an ever-growing number of students, the ill-treating employer may always have possible staff to fill lost positions. Nearly all staff are part-time students, many of whom enter without knowledge of standard job policies: the new employees can come into a job contractless, without knowledge of tip policies, work breaks, or hospitality’s probation periods. Practices skirt on the edge of illegality but don’t quite cross boundaries; however, many students will regardless be unaware of their own mistreatment.
In comparison to full time employees, a part-time student may not feel they have the power to advocate for themselves for fear of losing their job: a 10-hour a week employee is far more replaceable than a 40-hour professional. Circumstantially, I know of far too many student workers without knowledge of their own authority in part-time jobs; without feeling a sense of control over their role they are more inclined to take up extra shifts and hold their tongue in the workplace. Students with little prior experience in hospitality are seen not advocating for themselves, and stretching their commitments further than necessary to accommodate a job.
Universities such as Oxford and Cambridge famously discourage their students from having term-time jobs: what does this mean for a university such as St Andrews, where students are also under fierce amounts of academic pressure? As the semester pushes closer to half term deadlines and then exams, a job adds extra stimulation to students’ already packed schedules. The culture clash of hospitality and academia can be entirely rewarding, introducing students to a demographic of St Andrews far from daily lectures; it also forces students to adapt in a way which is both intensely draining and provides a break from both worlds.
And with this clash between cleaning a hundred pint glasses and the rather gruelling work that is catching up on history readings, or exam preparation, or physics lectures, comes a sense of discontent: the overthinking St Andrews student feels estranged. There’s a disconnect between serving in the same pub you drank at the night before, and observing your fellow classmates from behind a till. Nevertheless, employed students will inevitably have decisions to make on how to spend their time; they should have the freedom and the courage to decide when to say no to a shift, and when to prioritise their social life over work in a university culture which already prioritises overwork.