Non-essential essentials: COVID-19 sparking new conversations about mental health in hospitality

These unprecedented times have ushered in a renewed (and much-needed) conversation about mental health in hospitality. ...


Source: Happy Mag

Key topics: hospitality, customer, abuse, mental health.

The shutter doors were mostly closed, and the lights were just about to be switched off. A group of three suddenly appeared by the gap in the door.

“Sorry we’re closed for the day,” I said. Ignored as if I hadn’t said a word, they continue to step inside. After one more seemingly futile attempt, I repeat, “Sorry, we … are … closed …” speaking louder and clearer this time. Before finally walking out, I was met with a look of confusion at the fact that a café with most of the lights turned off, and the roller doors nearly shut could ever be … closed.

Imagine for a moment, that you could stare a person in the face, and mouth a phrase three times with their attention entirely on you – and yet continue to be ignored by them.

This is the reality of many hospitality workers in Australia. From those more invested in their phone conversation rather than ordering, to the occasional customer who threatens to stab you for failing to refund them 70 cents for the extra coffee shot that “you didn’t give them.” All in all, the experience of hospitality workers across this great land is filled with examples of encounters with morally repugnant human beings.

As humans, we tend to internalise and remember threatening or personally negative events and occurrences. This is an evolutionary adaptation designed to help us remember and learn from and respond to these experiences should they come again. In saying this, the good and honest folk who make up the bulk of café clientele are overlooked all too often.

Often in hospitality, young and inexperienced individuals are thrown into the deep end and expected to absorb bad customer behaviour naturally and without complaint. This often does not end well – mostly for the worker.

 Supportive cafés and management are needed

My experience, in a supportive, stable café environment, has helped me personally stave off the worst side-effects of continued customer abuse. Part of this has come from recurrently good experiences with my regular clientele – who are some of the most incredible people I have ever met. Another source of strength comes from family.

The mental health ramifications of customer abuse and the mental wellbeing of hospitality workers is a conversation that is desperately needed right now. It’s a dialogue that has remained suppressed for too long.

Anyone who has ever worked in a customer-facing role knows all too well that the customer is often wrong. That does not mean to say workers should provide poor service, indeed it amplifies the need for more effective communication and tailored service provision.

But what most customers fail to appreciate is that workers in hospitality (often poorly paid, over-worked, stressed and physically exhausted) experience abuse frequently. Sydney is notorious for its fast-paced lifestyle, this same lifestyle has fuelled a “rush-economy” that prioritises speed above all else. This includes our daily interactions with baristas, waiters and other hospitality professionals. We expect fast service, low prices and good food and drinks.

Only, quality takes time. The only options available to you, from our point of view, are:

  1. Good food, service and quality = expensive and time-consuming, expect to wait a little while, and you will get service with a smile.
  2. Bad food, service and shite quality = cheap, and quick, expect at least three hairs and a used Band-Aid as an added extra, absolutely free!
  3. Atrocious food, non-existent service, infinitesimally bad quality = very, very cheap, lots of abuse hurled AT you by staff, long wait times, a couple of pubes in your soup and coffee that literally tastes like ground dirt.

Realistically, of course, cafés will do their absolute best to provide you with a memorable experience.

A discussion that is sorely needed

COVID-19 has refreshed our national conversation about mental health. The state of mental health will likely deteriorate further for hospitality workers given the uncertainties regarding their employment. Our customers also face uncertain times as jobs are shed by the cart-load, and hundreds of thousands of Australians face the very real threat of unemployment.

During these times, I have noticed an upsurge in positive customer behaviour over the past two months. On a positive note, people have gone above and beyond to help their local. Small, yet meaningful changes, that extra smile, that little tip, the “how have you guys been” all make a change in our lives as workers in this field. Perhaps naively, I hope these dramatic circumstances will influence changes sustainable enough to affect permanent relational adjustment between workers and customers.

Maybe then some bad eggs will learn to listen to the narratives of the people they consider “beneath them”. You know, the very same people sustaining the economy right now. The non-important, under-appreciated non-essential, essential hospitality workers.


Is WSU forcing students to install software that invades their privacy?

Surveillance in the wake of coronavirus is forcing students to decide between privacy and their grades....
Surveillance camera peering into laptop computer. Source: Thomas Jackson

A wave of surveillance in the wake of coronavirus is forcing students to decide between privacy or their grades with online exams to be monitored with a software called ProctorU. In a time where people want to protect their online privacy and security more than ever – it’s no wonder that students are concerned.

One can argue that the testing service protects exams and ensures academic integrity – but at what cost? It’s a system where students are cheaters until proven innocent – selling a narrative that students can’t be trusted. The outcry of the student’s voice has been seen in both email correspondences to staff and student leaders. Western SRC Representatives have already sent emails to the VC and Vice President Academic on behalf of students to voice these concerns.

There are two ways your exam may take place: Live+ means a real person will supervise your exam in real time via your webcam and Review+ means you and your screen will be recorded and reviewed by Proctor U after the exam session.

Read more: Online Exam Proctoring – FAQ

Third-year ICT student Daniel Grech said that he and other students would prefer if WSU were conducting the remote exam rather than a third party. The main issues with ProctorU being data gathering, such as geo-location data, biometrical data, IP address’ and the troubling possibility of data retention.

“I think the university should ditch the use of ProctorU and use their own software such as vUWS (which they are using for my other units). And possibly the use of zoom if deemed necessary,” says Grech.

Nearly 3,500 WSU students have signed the petition created by third-year honours civil engineering student Mark Ibrahim opposing the use of ProctorU. Other petitions, include the University of Queensland with nearly 7,000 signatures, UNSW with almost 2,500, and uSYD with nearly 4,500.


Samantha Pamplin is a second-year student at WSU studying her first year of Bachelor of Social Science and recently sat an exam using the proctoring software – and assures it isn’t as bad as everyone makes it out to be.

“Sure, there are privacy concerns, but I looked away plenty of times and spoke to myself to collect my thoughts, and I was fine. And all the permissions it requires, such as having control of your screen are reversed at the end of the exam,” Pamplin said.

Students with a disability using their AT will render them liable for misconduct with this software. For a student to receive accommodations for a proctored exam, they will need to register with an exam facilitator so that they can provide a form to disclose a request before the exam. ProctorU does not require any information about your disability. If you have questions about accommodations, please email support@proctoru.com.


Actions and behaviours that will be flagged during an exam. Source: ProctorU Website.


However, some students have reported that the software is buggy and crashes their computers. There are also concerns about not having access to webcams and stable internet now some students have moved back home due to COVID-19.

Macquarie University who have chosen not to use ProctorU has handled their exams by offering alternate assessments such as essays, carving the path for other universities to follow their lead. However, students of WSU may be forced to approach the media or seek legal representation, as those affected at USyd have done.

“The proposed alternatives to using ProctorU include alternate assessments; options for browser locks, using Zoom (if all you’re doing is recording people to be sure they’re not looking at other devices to search answers). Some options are less invasive but still maintain a reasonable level of academic integrity without students having their privacy invaded,” says Hollie Hammond, Academic Senate Representative.

Pamplin wasn’t sure what students expect to do instead of sitting a monitored exam. However, she would’ve preferred the test to be changed to an assessment she could complete and then submit.

“I truly believe the student experience with ProctorU will vary depending on the person watching you, and I did get lucky, but if students have any issues, they can contact the exam board. I did, as I was using my mum’s workspace, which has extra monitors. And stuff like bathroom breaks, I was told by my disability advisor at the university that I would be allowed those and on the day the guy watching told me the same thing before I even asked,” she said.


Read more: UQ students raise privacy concerns over third-party exam platform


NSW Education Vice-President James Newbold from the National Union of Students shared a template for students to use for those who’d like to express their concerns to university executives, deans of schools and unit coordinators.

Currently, the university will be going ahead with ProctorU to provide this service to students for exams scheduled to be held in this year.

Read more: How to Prepare for your Online Exams

If you feel you need further support, please contact the services below:

Technical problems (vUWS) itservicedesk@westernsydney.edu.au

Examinations team examinations@westernsydney.edu.au




Student Parent Union: It’s never been more important for student parents to connect

Hollie Hammond discusses the unique experiences and anecdotes of student parents, and how you can join the Student Parent Union. ...

Students with parenting and caring responsibilities have always faced a unique set of competing responsibilities. With the relentless demands from study, housework, paid work and extracurriculars, to attending to the time and attention of their children – these are just the tip of the iceberg. While the juggling act of all of the above is already intense and challenging, this had only intensified during COVID-19.

Student parents once relied on family support or day-care facilities to better manage their studies or paid employment. Now, they must decide between falling behind in their studies, or potentially risking the health of their children and family by exposing them outside of the household during a pandemic.

Therefore, many parents are facing difficult decisions around whether to keep their children home from school. More importantly, they have to consider their own work and studies, as well as supporting their children’s studies and education – all with very limited support. While the struggle pre-pandemic was already difficult, the current situation has become near-impossible.

According to data from the Australian Department of Education, Skills and Employment in 2018, one third of higher education students are 25 and over. This suggests the one-dimensional stereotype of university students as school leavers doesn’t always apply – to say nothing of parents and carers under 25. Students of 2020 have circumstances as unique as themselves, and for many this includes parenting and caring responsibilities.

Western Sydney University has gone to some lengths to ensure its campuses and policies are more parent-friendly. The university has developed a breastfeeding policy and provides paid on-campus child-care. Additionally, WSU has responded to feedback from students by allowing a level of flexibility in changing tutorials that clashed with parenting responsibilities.

With 55.5 per cent of higher-education students in Australia being female, it’s worth noting the gendered nature of care and the pressure experienced by student mothers. As parenting responsibilities can present a barrier to education for women in particular, the university’s work towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals on gender equality is ongoing. Despite these efforts, there are still some gaps in the support offered for student parents.

Currently, WSU staff have the option of joining the Engaged Parent Network (EPN), in addition to existing flexible work policies. Historically, nothing like this has existed for students. For this reason, Western Sydney University’s first Student Parent Union was conceptualised and birthed as a labour of love.

The Student Parent Union (SPU) is a brand-new student-led club that has been built by parents, for parents – and anyone who would like to support them. SPU is an inclusive club that is open to all parents and carers, not just those who are biological parents. It’s also open to non-parents who are willing to help the club achieve its stated aims. It is intended to be a space for parents and carers to support, collaborate and advocate for one another during this incredibly unique phase of life. Never has the need for such connection been more apparent than during the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you’d like any further information, please look for us on WesternLife, or join our Facebook group