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Surviving the service industry while in college

Ellie shares her tips for getting the work/life/study balance

Written by Eleanor Walsh | View this authors Twitter page and posted in opinion

This is an opinion of a young person and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of It is one person's experience and may be different for you. If you'd like to write something for please contact

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The hospitality sector in Ireland depends hugely on the working hours contributed by college students. Working evening, weekend and holiday shifts can make it difficult to find a work-study-life balance, but in some cases is essential to support your college career.

Shift work in the service industry, (restaurants, bars, cafes, hotels), can be brutal while studying. You can leave your house in the early AM to attend lectures all day and may not return home until the late AM after a night shift, only to do it all again the next day. Weekends become meaningless and it can feel like you never get a break. Shifts themselves can be fast-paced, stressful and physically exhausting. These long days and nights may make you neglect your physical and mental wellbeing.

During college I held various part-time positions and attended college full-time. Even though I was doing well in college and was managing a good work-study balance, I was constantly tired, coming down with colds and experiencing back/leg/neck pain. I soon realised that reasons for this were easily solved.

Here are a few things I wish I’d paid more attention to while working in the service industry during college:

  • Drink all of the water: It may seem like an obvious thing to do, but with all the running around throughout your shift, you might not realise just how little water you are drinking. Even mild dehydration can cause headaches, tiredness and affect your urinary system.
  • Take toilet breaks: I know this might seem like I'm babying you, but in reality ignoring the need to “go” can happen frequently during busy shifts. You may think you are saving yourself time during a hectic shift, but skipping toilet breaks can have dangerous consequences for you long term. Also, never let a superior refuse your request for a toilet break either. If you need to go then go!
  • Eat properly and frequently: Skipping meals between classes and a work shift is a recipe for disaster. No matter how much you feel you “don’t have time” to eat before your shift, make time. Try and eat wholesome foods, not easy takeaway options. The better the food, the more energy you will have during your shift. If your shift is longer than 4.5 hours, you are entitled to a 15-minute break. Try eating a small snack during the break. Avoiding energy drinks and sweets are best as you won’t have to deal with a “sugar comedown” during the rest of your shift.
  • Invest in good footwear: You will be spending an entire shift on your feet so your feet deserve the best support. This may not be the most stylish option but investing in a pair of supportive, comfortable and light shoes will save you from multiple ailments in the long term. Wearing bad footwear can lead to long-term pain in your feet, leg joints and back. Non-slip shoes are also a good idea.
  • Know your rights: Just because you are a part-time employee does not mean you should be treated differently when it comes to certain workplace rights. You are entitled to minimum rest-periods between shifts, minimum notice to any shift/rota changes and breaks during a shift just like full-time employees.

College can be hard enough without having your part-time job affect your physical and mental well-being. At a first glance, these things may seem trivial, but they can really make a difference to your physical health. Working in hospitality is tough and if you don’t take care of yourself physically, the knock on effects can make balancing your part-time job, college and personal life even more difficult.

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Published Sep­tem­ber 9th2015
Tags college work
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