WORK/SCHOOL BALANCE DURING THE PANDEMIC:
CHANGES TO BOTH EDUCATIONAL AND WORK
ENVIRONMENTS HAVE ALTERED THE ISSUES RELATED
TO WORK/SCHOOL BALANCE
Published June 4, 2020
This article is part of our “Determinants and the pandemic” series, which examines certain determinants of school perseverance in light of the current crisis and its attendant measures.
The reality of working students
Various studies have shown that a significant percentage of young people work while they go to school.
- In Québec, 41% of students aged 15 to 19 held a paid job during the school year in 2018 (55% among 20–24-year-olds) (Statistics Canada).
- In Montreal, 39% of secondary 4 students and 46% of secondary 5 students worked in 2016 (QHSHSS).
- For students in adult general education or vocational training, the employment rate is much higher (67% and 57% respectively, according to a recent survey conducted for the CCMM, RRM, and the RCM.
- The employment sectors in which most young Montrealers work are retail and wholesale (35%) and accommodation and food services (21%).
Several other observations can be made:
- Young Quebecers work more than other young Canadians (37% vs. 33%). 
- Young people enter the job market much earlier; in Québec, over the past 30 years, the percentage of 15–19-year-olds who work while going to school has nearly doubled. 
- Half of young people aged 15 to 24 who have jobs work 15 hours or more per week (49%). Nearly 10% work over 25 hours per week. 
BALANCING STUDIES AND PAID WORK
In studies of best practices regarding work/school balance, there has been a certain consensus around a maximum of 15 hours of work per week.
While balancing studies and work generally becomes more difficult as the number of hours of paid work increases, the results of these studies show above all that:
“…beyond the total number of hours worked, the cumulative effect of different activities (work, leisure, social, etc.) can cause young people to reducing the amount of time they spend on studies, which negatively affects their grades and engagement at school.” 
KNOWN EFFECTS OF WORK WHILE AT SCHOOL
Certain studies  have shown that having a part-time job can have beneficial effects for youth, including:
- Familiarity with the job market and its requirements
- Better knowledge of oneself and one’s aptitudes
- Acquisition of skills and knowledge
- Generating a sense of responsibility and autonomy
- Seeking approval and recognition
Conversely, other studies  stress that holding down a job while studying can have negative effects on educational achievement, health, and workplace safety, including:
- Increased stress and fatigue
- Lower grades
- Poorer eating habits or increased substance use (tobacco, alcohol, drugs)
A study of work/school balance among young Quebecers conducted by ÉCOBES showed that “greater difficulty balancing work and school goes hand in hand with increased risks related to education, health, and workplace safety.” 
Hence, young people who report having trouble balancing work and school are, compared to students who seem to have an easier time with work/school balance:
- 3 times more likely to frequently entertain thoughts about dropping out (21% vs. 8%);
- More frequently unengaged with school (21% vs. 14%);
- More frequently report having a higher level of psychological distress (55% vs. 18%) and a higher level of fatigue (57% vs. 18%). 
The pandemic changed both the educational and work environments, which has altered the issues related to work/school balance.
- The closure of schools and the resulting lack of physical attendance, along with the reorganization of academic supervision and educational obligations, has given high school students a great deal of autonomy in how they manage their time.
- A growing need for workers in certain sectors that require little experience or qualifications, such as disinfecting businesses.
- The withdrawal of certain workers with health vulnerabilities.
- Reduced appeal of the job market for CEGEP and university students eligible for the Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB).
- An increase in work-related constraints:
- A more stringent and stressful work environment due to extra health measures and longer hours.
- Because parents face their own challenges (work/family balance, unemployment, food insecurity, etc.) they may be less available to help guide children in balancing work and school.
The COVID-19 situation could lead to young people being less organized and altering their priorities as they are forced to adapt quickly to new dynamics and are required to be much more autonomous. For stakeholders promoting educational success, the potential implications of this imbalance are of concern.
How is work/school balance unfolding?
For some young people, the COVID-19 situation has made it possible to spend more time engaged in paid work when they would otherwise be in class. Indeed, partners in the field report that many young people are currently working full-time.
So, is it currently reasonable to imagine that paid work might be competing with time spent on studies? Does distance learning increase the risks of students losing motivation and of job-related dropouts? Or, conversely, do the constraints and difficult working conditions of currently available jobs serve as motivation for pursuing an education that will lead to a better job?
In this regard, an Academos survey conducted in May 2020 speaks volumes about how hard it is for students to stay motivated while distance learning at home; 80% of young people reported being less motivated at school since the start of the pandemic.
Moreover, going to school and doing paid work are not incompatible as long as work-related constraints (schedule, work arrangements, physical or mental requirements) are limited. In general, as the number and significance of such constrains increase, the greater the possible negative effects on young people’s studies, health, or well-being.
« A young person who works 6 hours a week in stressful or physically dangerous situations will experience greater negative impacts than someone who works 15 hours a week in good conditions. »
Is it conceivable that COVID-19-related constraints in the workplace (physical constraints, stressful environment, elevated health standards, etc.) have negative repercussions on young people’s studies, health, and well-being?
Or, for some locked-down teens, can feeling useful and staying active with a job in essential services contribute somewhat to protecting their mental health?
what are the potential impacts for vulnerable students?
For more vulnerable students, there are a number of other concerns:
- Will students who were disengaged with school before the pandemic and who now find themselves working full-time be motivated to return to school in the fall?
- How will the interruption to school caused by the pandemic affect students who are failing academically?
- In 2014–2015, 27% of Montreal secondary 4 and 5 students who had paid jobs reported that they worked during the school year to assist the family financially.  Given that the current economic situation has made it difficult for many (lost employment for some, use of food banks for others), is it conceivable that some students will have to work more to offset reduced family income?
EMPLOYERS AND PARENTS: KEY PLAYERS
Balancing school with work requires the involvement of everyone in a young person’s life: the employer, educational workers, and parents. It is important to raise awareness of the risks of combining work with school, urge them to support a balanced approach, and watch for conditions that can lead to reduced motivation at school.
- Support perseverance at school and academic success.
- Offer flexible and adaptable hours:
- offer fewer than 20 hours/week during the school year, exclude shifts at night or during normal school hours, etc.,
- adapt hours to distance learning requirements and schedules,
- accommodate the school calendar by reducing the number of hours in the fall when school starts.
- Identify constraints inherent to jobs offered to young people and try to reduce them.
- Promote the value of education by encouraging working students and asking them how school is going.
- Stay abreast of best practices related to hiring students.
PARENTS and education workers
- Ask about the student’s job and the number of hours they work.
- Watch for signs and changes in the student’s personal life and health.
- Help the student be aware of the importance of setting limits.
- Support the student in making balanced life choices.
- Come to a decision quickly about how a return to the classroom will work.
- Offer young people training and awareness activities (management of priorities, time, stress, budget, etc.)
- The study (in French) Persévérance scolaire et conciliation études-travail: une piste de solution à la pénurie de main-d’œuvre
- Fact sheet School/work balance
- Québec-wide movement Employeurs engagés pour la réussite éducative
Our thanks to M. Michaël Gaudreault, professor and researcher at Cégep de Jonquière’s ÉCOBES – Recherche et transfert, for his assistance with the article on work/school balance.
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 Statistics Canada data cited in Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montréal, Réseau réussite Montréal, in partnership with the Regroupement des CÉGEPS de Montréal, 2019, “Persévérance scolaire et conciliation études-travail: une piste de solution à la rareté de la main-d’œuvre. Fait saillants de l’étude.” Available online: <https://www.ccmm.ca/en/publications/study/student-retention-and-work-study-balance–a-solution-to-the-labour-shortage/>.
 QHSHSS, 2016–2017. Available online:<https://www.eqsjs.stat.gouv.qc.ca/index_an.htm>.
 Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montréal, Réseau réussite Montréal, in partnership with the Regroupement des CÉGEPS de Montréal, 2019, “Persévérance scolaire et conciliation études-travail: une piste de solution à la rareté de la main-d’œuvre. Fait saillants de l’étude.” Available online: <https://www.ccmm.ca/en/publications/study/student-retention-and-work-study-balance–a-solution-to-the-labour-shortage/>.
 Gauthier, Marc-André and Marie-Pier Labrie, 2013, “Conciliation études-travail: les étudiants Québécois s’investissent davantage dans un emploi rémunéré pendant leurs études que l’ensemble de leurs homologues canadiens,” Données sociodémographiques en bref, Volume 17, numéro 2, Février 2013. Available online: <http://www.stat.gouv.qc.ca/statistiques/conditions-vie-societe/bulletins/sociodemo-vol17-no2.pdf. >.
 Berthelot, Mikaël and Issouf Traoré, 2016, Le travail rémunéré pendant les études et la santé mentale des jeunes: le nombre d’heures travaillées compte,” Zoom Santé, issue 59, June. Available online: <http://www.stat.gouv.qc.ca/statistiques/sante/bulletins/zoom-sante-201606.pdf>
 Gauthier, Marc-André and Marie-Pier Labrie, 2013, “Conciliation études-travail: les étudiants Québécois s’investissent davantage dans un emploi rémunéré pendant leurs études que l’ensemble de leurs homologues canadiens,” Données sociodémographiques en bref, 17/2, February 2013. Available online: <http://www.stat.gouv.qc.ca/statistiques/conditions-vie-societe/bulletins/sociodemo-vol17-no2.pdf. >.
 Translated excerpt from L. Laberge et al., 2011, “Santé et sécurité des étudiants qui occupent un emploi durant l’année scolaire Les effets du cumul d’activités et de contraintes de travail,” Rapport R-705, Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail. Available online: <https://www.irsst.qc.ca/media/documents/PubIRSST/R-705.pdf?v=2020-06-01>.
 Ministère de l’Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport, Bulletin Objectif et Persévérance et réussite, 2010, 2/2, Winter 2010. Available online: <http://www.education.gouv.qc.ca/fileadmin/site_web/documents/PSG/recherche_evaluation/BulletinObjectifPersReussite_Vol2N2Hiver2010.pdf>.
Réunir Réussir, Fact Sheets, 2013. Available online: <http://reunirreussir.org/pdf/doc_fiches_pratiques_determinants_eng.pdf>.
Gaudreault, M. M., Tardif, S., and L. Laberge. 2019. Renforcer le soutien aux étudiants et aux entreprises en matière de conciliation études-travail-famille. Jonquière, ÉCOBES – Recherche et transfert. Available online: <https://ecobes.cegepjonquiere.ca/media/tinymce/Rapport_SoutienCETF_Avril2019.pdf>.
Laberge, L. et al., 2011, “Santé et sécurité des étudiants qui occupent un emploi durant l’année scolaire Les effets du cumul d’activités et de contraintes de travail,” Rapport R-705, Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail. Available online: <https://www.irsst.qc.ca/media/documents/PubIRSST/R-705.pdf?v=2020-06-01>.
 Translated excerpt from Gaudreault, M. M., Tardif, S., and L. Laberge. 2019. Renforcer le soutien aux étudiants et aux entreprises en matière de conciliation études-travail-famille. Jonquière, ÉCOBES – Recherche et transfert. Available online: <https://ecobes.cegepjonquiere.ca/media/tinymce/Rapport_SoutienCETF_Avril2019.pdf>.
 Ibid., p. 5.
Montambeault, C., “80% des jeunes québécois démotivés à l’école depuis le début de la pandémie de COVID-19,” <https://academos.qc.ca/blogue-corporatif/80-jeunes-quebecois-demotives-ecole-pandemie-covid-19/>, May 2020.
 Translated excerpt from Instance régionales de concertation sur la persévérance scolaire et la réussite éducative du Québec, “Savoir concilier études et travail,” <https://www.reseaureussitemontreal.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/CET-Savoir-concilier-IRC.pdf>, p. 3.
 Gaudreault, M., L. Laberge, N. Arbour, and M. M. Gaudreault (2015). “La conciliation études-travail chez les élèves francophones montréalais de 4e et de 5e années du secondaire.” Jonquière, ÉCOBES – Recherche et transfert.