Need satisfaction, work–school interference and school dropout: An application of self-determination theory


  • Hugo Gagnon is now a psychologist working in private practice in Montréal, Canada. Lisa Kwan is now at Harvard Business School.

Geneviève Taylor, Department of Psychology, McGill University, 1205 Dr-Penfield ave., Montréal, Québec H3A 1B1, Canada (e-mail:


Background. In many parts of the world, it is common for secondary school students to be involved in part-time employment. Research shows that working can have a negative impact on school engagement. However, the majority of studies have focused on the amount of time that students spend working rather than on the quality of work experience and its influence on school engagement.

Aims. This study explored the relation of part-time work and school experiences to dropout intentions among secondary school and junior college students. The study was conceptualized from a self-determination theory perspective (Deci & Ryan, 2000).

Sample. Participants were 3,248 students from rural and suburban schools in the greater region of Montreal, Canada.

Method. Questionnaires were used to assess the number of hours worked, the extent to which work interfered with or facilitated school functioning, autonomy, competence, and relatedness experienced in the work and school domains. School performance and school dropout intentions were also assessed.

Results. A curvilinear relation between work hours and dropout intentions was found, reflecting that part-time work began to be associated with higher dropout intentions only when students worked more than 7 hr per week. Analyses also showed that work–school interference was related to dropout intentions, and that this variable served to mediate the relation of employer autonomy support to dropout intentions.

Conclusions. These results suggest that both the quantity and the quality of students’ part-time work experiences need to be considered when examining the relation of work to school engagement.