2017: Towards equal tourism participation and inclusive working environments: access, security and wellbeing  >  Tourism as work: Exploring the worker perspective


Young, studying and working part-time. Sounds like you?

Written by: Y, Cao

University: Lincoln

The youth (especially university students) have increasingly occupied most of entry-level jobs under part-time commitment in tourism and hospitality industry, a trend which has sparked critical debates around their vulnerability in the workplace. This paper seeks to unveil the working experience of students and the youth in hospitality industry, presenting narrations of abuse, exploitation and age discrimination.

Key words
Students, youth, part-time employment, hospitality labour market, age discrimination, vulnerability, abusive behavior.

Discussion paper - Student and young workers' perspectives on hospitality work

University students have long been a significant workforce in hospitality industry. Their participation is mainly part-time, driven by the flexibility of working hours and financial funding for higher education. While student and young workers do enjoy the social aspects of working in service jobs, it is alarmingly more evident that they are not valued because of their age (Mooney, 2016) and that their limited capacity to participate in the industry entrenches their vulnerability to exploitation (McDonald et al., 2007).

The hospitality industry has been characterized by a remarkably young workforce, across varied level of management. However, surprisingly, the overrepresentation of young people in hospitality industry has not seemed to gain them equivalent status quo in power relations in the workplace. On the contrary, their age puts them at a disadvantage when interacting with older co-workers and customers. Organizational practices in the sector penalize younger workers and discrimination experienced by younger workers are concealed by the norm of high turnover in hospitality industry. In Mooney’s findings, young people are faced with a devastating age stereotype as being unreliable. Older workers are thus preferred when it comes to back-of-the-house responsibilities. Correspondingly, the interview data in this study suggests that young age entails being submissive and belittled. Respondents reported feelings of being “pushed down by old (people)” and being obliged to “listen to what they have to say”. Taken for their age, young people found themselves in the disposition to show respect to older co-workers, which they much disagreed with. Young and student workers were also not given as much accountability as they wanted to. Even when they proved they could deliver the same responsibility as of their older counterparts, they are not given the credits for it. One student pointed out little responsibilities and unrecognition as something she wanted to be changed. Another penalty often mentioned by the respondents is that they receive no appreciation from older customers for their service, which would never be the case for older co-workers.

Age-related issues also concern the relationship between employee age and being a target of abusive behavior. Customers are less likely to ‘hold back’ when faced with someone who is their junior (Walmsley, 2015), as young people may appear less confident in their role, something which a customer could well pick up on and exploit. Another explanation is that an aggressive customer or supervisor may see less risk in displaying abusive behavior to a youth than to a mature adult. This study found students and young workers experienced employer’s abusive behaviour, one of which manifests in raging violence. On recollecting her early years of working in hospitality industry as an eighteen-year-old, one interviewee told in horrifying flashback the occasion when the head chef threw a knife at her when he thought she was not peeling the potatoes fast enough.
Age may not be the lone agent that puts students and young workers at higher level of vulnerability. Part-time commitment in the hospitality labour deprives the youth and university students of their entitlements and rights which might not be infringed upon in the case of a full-time employee. This explains why exploitation is often reported as a common form of young and student labour abuse, which is also revealed in this study’s findings. While students and the youth knew they were not required to work overtime so, their weak part-time commitment effectively mitigates their grounds to rebel, dissent or negotiate. One participant recalled being forced to work two hours more until midnight when according to UK law then, she as a teenager was not supposed to work after 10pm. Disturbingly, the exploitative practice in many service jobs have been tolerated for so long that students and young workers have come to terms with being forced to work overtime. The respondents considered the practice of working over contracted hours as normal, putting it down to one of the industry’s characteristics.

The buoyant labour market in hospitality industry also puts student and young workers under great pressure and vulnerability. Feared of being replaced is what one respondent reported: “I think it’s a, if you don’t kind of put yourself out there then they’re not gonna want to continue employing you”. Consequently, there is minimal need for and presence of support network and abusive behaviour often went under-reported.

McDonald, P., Bailey, J., Oliver D. and Pini B. (2007) Compounding vulnerability? Young workers’ employment concerns and the anticipated impact of the WorkChoices Act. Australian Bulletin of Labour, 33(1), 60-88.
Mooney, S. (2016) Wasted youth in the hospitality industry: older workers’ perceptions and misperceptions about younger workers. Hospitality and Society, 6(1), 9-25.
Walmsley, A. (2015) Youth Employment in Tourism and Hospitality: A Critical Review. Goodfellow Publishers Limited.

Student and young workers' perspectives on hospitality work

Written by: Uusitalo, Saana

University: Lincoln

I decided to comment this specific conference paper due to my background within the tourism industry and in general customer service industry. I have been working part-time or full-time since I turned 18, which is seven years ago so I felt that this conference paper had some interesting facts and comments about youth workers. What I also found interesting in the conference paper was the fact that youth workers do not seem to be valued within the industry, but this doesn't relate to my past.

According to the author of the conference paper, the older hospitality workers give no respect or appreciation to the young workers. I would see the perception of hospitality not being the best career as a reson for the non-appreciation. Hospitality industry tends to have people working for short periods only during their studies or whilst deciding on what to next in life (Mooney, 2016). Something that I feel that shouldn't be done is generalisation, not everything has to do with age. Even though, Mooney presented with researches done to see the distrust towards young workers, I feel that these can be changed. I think it is crucial for the employee, no matter their age, to earn the trust of the co-workers in addition to the managers.

In contrast to young people not getting the appreciation they deserve, there are also contradicting studies when it comes to the age of employees. In Taiwan, it is easier to get hired and appreciated at work if you are young and beautiful (Luoh and Tsaur, 2011). In my opinion, this is something that sounds extremely odd, one should not be hired or fired due to the fact that you are too old or not pretty enough. While creating one's CV, not having the age of the applicant and neither the picture puts everyone in the same level. Career experts have written that age, sex, religion, sexual orientation, or disabilities should not have any effect on whether you get the job or not (Asghar, 2013). You should let your accomplishments speak for themselves.

Even though younger people are seen to be easier to approach in service situations, they are also easier to distrust (Walmsley, 2015). It is understandable that one does not have the same confidence on their first day in comparison to someone who has been working in the company for years, but this can be changed by working hard and doing ones best.


Asghar, R. (2013). 'No photo on your cv' and other career advice you should question. Forbes. 22 July.

Luoh, H-F. and Tsaur, S-H. (2011). Customer perception of service quality: Does servers age stereotypes matter? International Journal of Hospitality Management. 30. 283-289.

Mooney, S. (2016) Wasted youth in the hospitality industry: older workers’ perceptions and misperceptions about younger workers. Hospitality and Society, 6(1), 9-25.

Walmsley, A. (2015) Youth Employment in Tourism and Hospitality: A Critical Review. Goodfellow Publishers Limited.