According to the most recent data made available by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 40 percent of full-time students and 76 percent of part-time students held a job while attending college. Not surprisingly, many of these working students are actively employed on university campuses in a variety of roles -- from the campus bookstore, to the cafeteria, to computer labs, to research assistants.
And with only 32 percent of employees in the general workforce feeling actively engaged in their jobs, it should come as no surprise that keeping student workers motivated and on task can prove to be particularly challenging.
According to one survey of current college students regarding their first post-graduation job, career growth was their most commonly identified concern -- representing 36 percent of respondents. With so many students focused on long-term career development, use this opportunity to reinforce how their current role can help establish a solid foundation for the future, particularly if their job responsibilities correspond to their field of study. Of course, even a completely unrelated job can teach a number of valuable skills regarding hard work, consistency, and multitasking.
If possible, accommodate their desire for growth by presenting students with the opportunity to mature in their existing position and take on newer responsibilities.
With so many potential distractions -- both scholastic and otherwise -- on today's campus, student employees rarely have the time or energy to figure out how tasks should be completed and instead prefer direct instruction on what to do.
Clearly document job responsibilities and processes, which students can review as needed. Also, outline what good a job performance looks like. With these details readily defined, students will have a better understanding of what is expected of them.
Research suggests that most students in the current generation are more likely to be motivated by face-to-face encouragement. In fact, one study found that 53 percent of the Generation Z cohort preferred in person discussions with supervisors far over email or text.
The same study also found that students in this age range prefer higher levels of managerial feedback than their millennial predecessors. By engaging in meaningful discussions regarding job performance more quickly and frequently, your managers can keep student employees better engaged.
For many student employees, this position will be their first job, and they will likely need additional training and support to succeed. To help students employed on its campus, the University of Texas established its Student Employee Excellence Development (SEED) program, a series of free, one-hour workshops covering a number of topics, such as employment basics, time management, and maintaining a healthy work/life balance.
While student employees take on additional responsibilities in their new job roles, at their core, they are still primarily students. Coordinate with them to plan shifts and schedules as far in advance as possible to help them map out sufficient study times for peak course periods and the dreaded finals week. If possible, offer flexible scheduling, and make it easier for students to swap shifts when they are overwhelmed.
Given their youth and naivete, your student employees are going to make frequent and sometimes surprisingly innovative mistakes. By addressing any issues that arise both promptly and objectively, you can help convert these mistakes into additional learning experiences that will better prepare them for their future careers outside of the halls of academia. And by turning these negative experiences into a net positive, you can discourage job-related apathy or resentment from forming.
While these recommendations can help, there is no surefire method to keep every student employee actively engaged. However, by treating these workers as individuals and connecting with them on a personal level, managers can help convert even the most mundane, repetitive task into a valuable learning and growth experience.