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your life at work

Welcome to The Globe and Mail's Quality of Student Life Survey, presented in conjunction with Howatt HR Consulting. Click here to take our survey, measure the degree of stress you are reporting as a student, find out your Quality of Student Life (QSL) score and determine how well you are coping.

Students in high school, college and university: How much stress do you have today?

While most people think about stress in a workplace environment, students also face their own stresses: to choose the right pathway for their future career, to do well at their courses, to deal with peer pressure, financial pressures, and taking care of everything by themselves, often for the first time far from home and their usual support systems.

It can be daunting, and some students just find it too hard to cope with everything life is throwing at them all at once.

One line of research suggests that young adults' risk for chronic disease and mental health issues continues to rise. The World Health Organization has reported chronic disease and disability is a growing concern in adolescents. What some may not know is that 70 per cent of young adults living with mental health problems can trace them back to childhood.

One of the most tragic byproducts of stress or mental health disease in adolescents is the prevalence of suicide. It is estimated that suicide accounts for 24 per cent of all deaths among 15 to 24 year olds, compared to 16 per cent among those 25 to 44 years old. .

Reducing risks associated with chronic stress starts with self-awareness. The Quality of Student Life survey (QSL) helps students to self-evaluate their levels of stress, coping, engagement and health and provides real-time feedback. If a student's score is far higher than desired, then that student has the option to take action, such as asking for coaching, counselling, mentoring or support to help manage the stresses if their current situation.

The QSL was first launched and tested with students at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S. The stress and engagement scales were developed with the support of senior students Ginny Anderson, Stewart Barclay, Erin Ford, Marissa MacNeil and Jillian Marchand. This group oversaw the promotion and launch of the QSL, analysis and reporting of results as part of a project for Dr. Mark Fuller, an associate professor in strategic management at the Schwartz School of Business at St. Francis Xavier University.

The QSL adopted the same methodology used in both the Your Life at Work survey and Quality of Life survey, both done in conjuction with The Globe and HR Consulting. Before launching, the students had to have the survey and methodology approved by the university's internal review board.

Group leader Stewart Barclay shared his view of the importance of tools like the QSL survey to engage students and help them become aware of how their choices and behaviours impact them both positively and negatively. He explained that when his group presented the results they were well received and senior leaders were open to discover what students are thinking and doing.

Senior leaders now have useful information for planning and action. Mr. Barclay explains, "Many students, unfortunately, perhaps through helicopter parenting have not been prepared to deal with life stress or failure. If you have never been trained to cope with stress, you will never learn how to cope appropriately. Students who have been overly sheltered and do not know how to fail often end up adapting negative coping strategies; or worse. We learned through the QSL firsthand how important coping skills are for students' success."

The QSL also captured how some students were abusing alcohol and that information was relayed to senior leadership at the university. Universities involved in QSL studies have the ability to not only capture data about the harmful actions some students are taking, but also to evaluate the relationships between coping skills and at-risk behaviour such as excessive drinking or drugs. The St. Francis Xavier University study revealed that coping skills are a lead indicator that can help predict which students may be at risk for poor health and lack of engagement and therefore may need additional help.

One key competency that the study found was the value for inserting coping skills such as resiliency and problem solving into students' developmental learning journey.

Students can take the QSL survey by clicking here. Once you've completed the survey, there is a free e-book with ideas to help students develop and improve their coping skills.

Bill Howat Bill Howatt (@billhowatt) is president of Howatt HR Consulting in Kentville, N.S.

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