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Stress among Hospitality Students: Towards Building a Support System in Higher Education

Yun Ying (Susan) Zhong, Director of Education, West Federation

It was 3:30 p.m. Paul was chewing a granola bar during a break of his afternoon class. “Snack time!” the professor commented casually. Paul smiled, looking very tired, “it is my breakfast and lunch. I worked graveyard shift last night, and have been having classes since this morning.”

Paul is one of the many students in hospitality-related programs who have to juggle work, life and academic commitments in college. Students in university and college are often exposed to various stressors. Many of them are away from home for the first time and transitioning to a new environment. The rigorous demands of academic life, the need to make new friends, peer pressure to conform, and the need to work and pay for their own education expenses can all add stress to their university life. Previous study reported that 80% of college students were moderately stressed and 12% severely stressed.

Hospitality-related programs often include a large portion of practical training in their curricula such as lab classes, internships, education cooperative programs, and service learning.  While these activities provide valuable experience to student’s learning, they can become competing demands for student’s time. In addition, students in this discipline often work as front-line employees in the hospitality industry, which is well known for its relatively high turnover rate due to high physical demands, long and irregular work hours, and frequent customer contact. In their study examining stressors among hospitality students who were currently employed, Jogaratnam and Buchanan (2004) found that time pressure, social mistreatment, friendship problem, developmental challenge (e.g. decision on career or education), academic alienation (e.g. dislike school), and romantic problems were student’s major stress sources. The study results also showed that females, freshmen, and full-time (versus part-time) students were more prone to stress.

While a moderate level of stress is healthy, excessive and continuous stress can adversely affect student’s health and academic performance. Past studies showed that intense stress was associated with attention and concentration difficulty, increased rate of mental problems (e.g. depression and anxiety), and decreased life satisfaction. High level of stress could also weaken the immune system, cause illness, and induce unhealthy behaviors such as eating more junk food, sleeping less and exercising less. In addition, students who reported a high level of stress experienced more difficulty in learning and were more likely to drop out.

As graduation and retention rates are two important indicators for higher education administrators in evaluating program quality, it is beneficial for hospitality programs to consider and seek ways to help students to manage stress and build a support system whereby students can avoid unhealthy stress as much as possible. For example, hospitality programs can work with related support services on campus (e.g. advising center and university counseling center) to prepare freshmen for stress management. “Stress Coping Strategies” and “Time Management” seminars can be added to the program’s first-year-experience class or career-development class to enhance student’s stress-handling skills. Students’ thoughts on class scheduling and their stress levels in the program can be evaluated in the exit surveys for the graduating students. There are many other ways for hospitality programs to address the stress-related issues faced by our students, and I hope this piece will serve as a beginning for more forthcoming innovative thoughts on this topic.

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