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“Most of my midterms and assignments are happening and I can’t be more available than I have been”
With Black Friday quickly approaching, Ryerson students working in retail find it difficult to balance demanding work hours and the busy end of their fall semesters.
Black Friday is often looked at as a kickstarter to the holiday shopping season, where the foot traffic is high and the prices are low. Due to high-volume shopping, retailers are asking for more hours from their part-time employees — many of whom are students — which can impact their performance at school and commitments outside of work.
Abbey Humphreys-Morris, a third-year arts and contemporary studies student at Ryerson, said that her work doesn’t allow their associates to book off any time during the holiday shopping season.
“Throughout the months of November and December, they’re called blackout months,” said Humphreys-Morris, an associate at Lush Cosmetics in Newmarket. “You can’t book off time. Most of my midterms and assignments are happening and I can’t be more available than I have been.”
Humphreys-Morris generally works between 15 and 20 hours a week as a full-time student with other commitments, but her work expects staff to commit to over 30 hours during the holidays. This can be hard to manage with the stress of final assignments and exams in the mix.
“When it’s time to book time off for an exam, you’re not given the leniency,” Humphreys-Morris said.
The rate of students working part-time jobs in Canada while studying at a post-secondary institution has climbed in the last 40 years. In 1977, approximately 25 per cent of university students worked part-time jobs while still in school, but that number has since grown to over 50 per cent, according to Statistics Canada.
Eduardo Rodriguez, a fourth-year business student at Ryerson, worked at the Adidas store located at Yonge and Dundas streets for over 10 years.
“I remember my managers would deny me time off because they needed me for Black Friday,” said Rodriguez, who studied at York University before coming to Ryerson as a mature student. “You just have to bite your lip, you have to put up with it – sometimes you have to compromise.”
Working long hours can impact a student’s mental health and ability to function in high gear during the school year. Corinne Hart, an associate professor at the Daphne Cockwell School of Nursing, said that financial pressure is a primary reason for students taking on more demanding hours at work during the holidays.
“When (students) have the option to work days like Black Friday, they know that these jobs are important,” Hart said. “The tension is higher, the stakes are higher, the potential for students to be more stressed during this time is higher, and that’s problematic.”
The holiday shopping season simultaneously occurs during university exam periods, which causes conflict between students’ work life and studies.
“When the opportunity to take a long shift comes along, they’ll choose to take the shift and not go to school,” Hart said. “Then they come home, emotionally exhausted from dealing with people trying to get the best deals and need a day to recover, and won’t get work done.”
Black Friday is traditionally an American event that stems from the high volume of traffic at shopping centres the day after their Thanksgiving holiday. The extreme sale slowly crept its way into Canadian retailers as an attempt to keep Canadian shoppers from taking their money across the border.
Many Canadians consider Boxing Day, the post-Christmas shopping event, to be the best time to purchase items at a discounted price. But with more focus on gift shopping, Black Friday is beginning to garner more attention and retailers are taking notice.
More than 54 per cent of Canadians participated in Black Friday shopping in 2018, according to the Leger Canadian Holiday Shopping Report. It also showed that a majority of shoppers chose to do their shopping in stores.
With the high influx of hours needed to operate retail stores during the holidays, students are looking to find better ways to stay resilient and try their best to balance work and school.
Hart said that sleep and food are the two most important ways to stay healthy during a high-stress time, and that they go a long way.
“Students often feel that they just have to keep pushing through and working, pulling all-nighters,,” said Hart. “I think students need to plan and look at the hours, and set their deadlines early.”