Fostering a Culture of Student Self-Care in the Workplace

By Julia Dunn on March 13, 2017

Many employees whose businesses are located in “college towns” can expect to have many student employees. College students are amazing workers — they’re typically very diligent and ambitious — but they’re also busy. Look at a student’s schedule and you would be blown away by the number of commitments they manage every day between classes, internships, and of course, working for you!

It’s honorable and impressive that students these days are able to handle so much, but it’s also noteworthy to remember that students often forget to balance their stressful schedules with self-care. As an employer, you can help to promote  self-care in the workplace in numerous ways that communicate the message “I care about your well-being, and your well-being makes for a healthier workplace.”

1. Remind students to take their breaks

According to California Labor and Employment Law, employees should be given the following breaks (assuming they work in California):

1. If you work at least 3.5 hours in a day, you are entitled to a rest break.

2. Your boss must give you a rest break of at least 10 consecutive minutes for each 4 hours worked.

3. Rest breaks must to the extent possible be in the middle of each work period.

4. Rest breaks must be paid.

5. Your boss may require you to remain on work premises during your rest break.

6. You cannot be required to work during any required rest break. [Cal. Lab. C. 226.7]. BUT, you are free to skip your rest break provided your boss isn’t encouraging or forcing you to.

7. If you work over 5 hours in a day, you are entitled to a meal break of at least 30 minutes. BUT, you can agree with your boss to waive this meal period provided you do not work more than 6 hours in the workday. You can also agree with your boss to an on-duty meal break which counts as time worked and is paid.

8. If you work over 10 hours in a day, you are entitled to a second meal break of at least 30 minutes. You can agree with your boss to waive the second meal break if you do not work more than 12 hours and you did not waive your first meal break.

9. Your boss has an affirmative obligation to ensure you are free to take your meal break off work premises.

10. You cannot be required to work during any required rest break. [Cal. Lab. C. 226.7]. Your boss has an affirmative obligation to ensure you are actually relieved of all duty and are not performing any work during meal breaks.

Failure to observe these laws is illegal — make sure your student workers take their breaks!

2. Be understanding when your student workers are sick/struggling with mental health

If your student employee calls you last minute to let you know they’re sick, respect this and encourage them to rest, drink some vitamin C and take care of themselves. Let them know that health comes first.

Encourage your student workers to be honest with you about how they’re doing each day; occasionally, students call in sick when they simply need a day to rest, catch up on homework, study for a big exam, or to take care of their mental health. It’s important to recognize that students stretch themselves thin sometimes and they deserve to recharge every once in awhile.

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For students with mental health issues like depression and anxiety, calling in sick sometimes feels easier than admitting they’re struggling on a given day with mental health challenges. Students frequently encounter issues with professors and employers failing to consider mental health issues as important as physical health issues. This is a serious problem, as it dismisses the realities of students with mental health issues — students’ don’t want to feel shamed for their mental state.

One way you can promote a sense of self-care in the workplace is to clarify that you care about your employees’ mental health and won’t tell employees to just “snap out of it” when they’re feeling especially depressed (especially when employees are still working their shifts as they’re feeling low).

3. Don’t shame workers for mistakes

It’s best to remain patient with student workers, especially those who are new to their positions. Students often fear making mistakes at work, even though these are prime learning opportunities. Part of practicing self-care is forgiving yourself for missteps, so do not shame your student workers if they do something wrong at work.

Making an error can be a positive or negative experience for your student employees depending on how you frame the situation, so pay close attention to the way you address conflicts between employees at work and the way you resolve or amend a mistake your employee may have made — knowingly or unknowingly.

Student workers will remember your reaction to the things they do, so keep your reactions constructive and positive so that students won’t feel like they need to hide mistakes from you.

4. Let students know when they’re performing exceptionally well

Anyone — not just students — produces better work when they feel valued, seen and recognized for their contributions. If your student workers have been on a roll today with their productivity, thank them outwardly for their efficiency. This is one of the easiest ways to promote self-care in your workplace. It doesn’t take much energy or time to simply pay a bit more attention to the great work your student employees may be doing, and it will surely make your staff feel more important and appreciated.

A culture of self-care in the workplace makes for a happier and more efficient environment. For even more strategies to take care of your staff, click here.

By Julia Dunn

Uloop Writer
UC Santa Cruz
A writer, editor and educator based in Northern California.

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