College students make excellent employees for a number of reasons. Besides their up-to-date knowledge and curiosity for cutting edge technology and digital trends, they have a huge potential for growth (any working opportunity helps them start a career post-graduation and prepares them for life beyond school) and they are - seemingly - easier to manage when it comes to schedules and time, since they have limited external distractions (they usually don’t have to manage childcare or other external duties, so they can take on after-hours assignments or weekend tasks more easily).
Because of the varying positions that the process can offer, the Admissions Office has the most attractive job offers for entry-level opportunities on campus. Students can start as receptionists, data-entry assistants, tour guides or even admissions counselors. And while some students are ready to run full-force into their chosen work environment, many are unaware of the challenges they’ll face upon arriving in the workplace.
So, many times, colleges and universities face the issue of high turnover, usually because of the transient nature of the student employees and their age-old struggle to balance work with academic demands.
We believe that adopting employee engagement techniques will not only keep college students focused, passionate, and motivated, but will also prepare them for the next roles in their future career and relationships with other employers after graduating.
We put together 6 strong ways to help you keep your student employees engaged.
- Show appreciation, make them feel important. This generation positively thrives on praise. Make sure you're communicating your appreciation of good work when you see it. When you see a student "going the extra mile" or "persevering through difficult situations," acknowledge this in front of other staff and peers. People in general need to feel appreciated. Make note when longevity milestones are reached (one semester, two semesters, etc.). Also, promoting students to higher-level positions or giving them special projects shows them you appreciate their efforts.
- Share the vision, help them see the larger purpose. Another hallmark of this generation is their desire for meaningful work, so make sure they understand the important role they have and how their work fits into a larger purpose of the department and institution. Starting their first day of employment, you should begin with the precedence that the goals of your office are also the goals of your student employees. As a supervisor, it’s great to remind your students of this as a way to help them take ownership in their role and give their position a bit of meaning. Keep your students informed of upcoming events, staffing changes, and procedure updates through weekly emails, monthly meetings, or writing updates on a whiteboard in a high traffic area of student employees. Let them feel they are part of a team, working together on the same goals.
- Help them grow and develop their skills with frequent training opportunities. Training is another way you can demonstrate real commitment and interest in your employees. If students can see their skills are improving, it can prevent feelings of being trapped in a boring or static job. Consider starting a mentoring program where new hires are paired with experienced hires who can answer questions and lend an ear when issues arise. Also, these opportunities work well as great incentives. With budgets constantly tightening, increasing student employee wages to meet competition may not be a possibility, so when pay rate can’t be adjusted, look for other ways to contribute to their future. For example, consider bringing in your college’s career services to discuss resumes and teach students how to leverage their current positions to help fine tune their soft skills for future employment opportunities.
- Maintain an ongoing two-way communication with students. Occasional touch-base conversations can answer questions, resolve concerns, clear up misunderstandings, uncover suggestions, find additional ways to connect the work to the student's deep interests and career goals, and strengthen student-supervisor rapport.
- Give feedback frequently. Provide consistent and appropriate feedback to your student employees. Feedback is an essential element for everyone in an organization's workforce. Giving feedback is a task you perform again and again as a manager or supervisor, letting people know where they are and where to go next in terms of expectations and goals - yours, their own, and the organizations. Feedback is a useful tool for indicating when things are going in the right direction or for redirecting problem performance. Your objective in giving feedback is to provide guidance by supplying information in a useful manner, either to support effective behavior, or to guide someone back on track toward successful performance. Also, using this on-going exchange of information is a good way to get to know your people, besides the valuable guidance in their work. It will make your job and theirs easier.
- Encourage a fun workplace culture. They are students, after all. Jokes, music, contests, these are all things that make work more enjoyable. And when employees are enjoying themselves, they tend to stick around longer. Consider launching challenges wherein they get a mark for example, every week that they submit their timesheet on time or remember to complete all of their shift logs. Highest marks at the end of the month can win gift cards to local restaurants or coffee shops or cinemas, etc. You can also think of scheduling parties or lunches for your department periodically to give everyone something to look forward to. Anything fun and social will do the trick!
Above all, keep in mind what your student employees are taking on. They're often the first in their families to attend college and the academic workload and stress they're managing can be overwhelming at times. And while our recommendations can help, there is no surefire method to keep every student employee actively engaged. Maintain an operation where they feel valued and supported and they'll keep coming back until they graduate, that is.