At 24, Adib Abdul Rahman is well on track to completing his undergraduate degree by the end of the year, but while others in similar positions are looking forward to finishing and moving on to the next step in life – work – Adib is already there.
In addition to being a student, he is a full-time worker at a warehouse of a well-known e-commerce company. His work shift starts at night and ends early in the morning. After coming home from work, he must gear up for a day of online classes and assignments.
“If I don’t work, I won’t have money,” he told MalaysiaNow. “I need money to buy food. I don’t expect people to give me money at this age.”
But at “this age”, he is already experiencing burnout due to the constant juggling act he must perform. And the non-stop action is taking a toll on his health.
“I consume a lot of caffeine and nicotine to keep my body energised, but I still get tired and sleepy all the time,” he said.
“I’ve lost a lot of weight and it has become normal for me to fall asleep in the car.”
“With added working hours and working load, both mental and physical health are at risk.”
Sometimes, he even finds himself sleeping on highways.
Siti Inarah Hasim, a clinical psychologist from International Islamic University Malaysia, said many students choose to work full-time as they no longer want to be financially dependent on their parents, especially in the current economic situation.
She told MalaysiaNow that the two roles – student and worker – are equally demanding and that fulfilling both at the same time could eventually take a psychological toll on them.
“With added working hours and working load, both mental and physical health are at risk,” she said.
She spoke of a rising number of cases of young people suffering from mental disorders during the pandemic period. “Burnout and exhaustion from overwork could be risk factors,” she added.
Another problem is a culture that glorifies overworking. Among young people, the culture of overworking is known as hustle culture. Here, they normalise overworking and encourage their peers to take on two or three jobs at the same time in order to sustain a living.
Siti Inarah said the practice had reached new heights at the wrong time as people should be taking better care of their mental health during a pandemic.
She said society needs to be educated about the negative effects of this culture, even if overworking appears unavoidable due to the need to earn a living.
“Young people often glorify this, saying how cool it would be if we have the ability to stay up late due to work, or saying they are not getting enough sleep due to work,” she added.
But they could soon develop problems including burnout and physical exhaustion. They could also be at risk of contracting illnesses such as cardiovascular disease as well as mental disorders like anxiety and depression, she said.
“In the long run, it will affect not only their studies but also their future.”
Fauziah Mohd Saad, a psychologist from Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris, said students need to be aware of the long-term effects that could arise from such heavy commitments.
“They have to attend classes every day and complete their assignments while at the same time managing possible stress from their workplace.
“This will eventually lead to depression and severe stress.”
For students who hold jobs on the side, time management is crucial, she said.
“Their lifestyle is already considered unhealthy,” she told MalaysiaNow. “In the long run, it will affect not only their studies but also their future, when they step into the working world.”
Despite the difficulties he faces, Adib believes that working while being a student will help prepare him for the day when he transitions fully into this new world.
Even so, he is aware that he has been pushing himself too hard.
“It is a new norm these days for students to work full-time,” he said. “But if it reaches the point where you are burnt out, then I don’t think it should be normalised.”
His advice for his peers is to do things that are within their ability.
“I am sure employers understand why students like us choose to work full-time. But at the same time, we should not use the excuse of being a student to gain sympathy from our employers and our lecturers.
“We need to remind ourselves that this is our choice.”