When I mention that my department (Student Affairs IT) has more than 100 student employees working alongside our 60 career staff, campus colleagues usually remark, “Wow, that’s wonderful!” and then ask, “How on earth do you do that?” As a manager who is committed to student leadership and staff development, I am passionate about this subject, and happy to share with the Wisdom Café community some insights and best practices that I have learned and developed over the years.
In my view, good management is good management, regardless of the level of professional experience of one’s employees.
In my view, good management is good management, regardless of the level of professional experience of one’s employees. It requires a clear job description and set of responsibilities, on-the-job training, ongoing and consistent performance management (remember, feedback is a GIFT!), a healthy workplace culture, and a manager who is genuinely committed to the growth and development of her or his staff as they work toward successful outcomes. In this sense, managing students is no different than managing career employees.
What is required to effectively manage student staff is awareness of – and appreciation for – the student experience. What does that mean? Well, student employees are first and foremost students – they are here at Cal on a course of study to earn a degree, and working for us is just one part of that experience. Here are some things about student life that you should keep in mind to be an effective manager:
- Expect regular turnover. Most students will be at Cal for 2-4 years, which means they might work for you for just one semester, and if you are lucky, maybe 3 years. In SAIT we manage this by documenting training procedures and including up to two months of overlap (i.e., double staffing) so incoming student employees have the chance to work side-by-side with their outgoing counterparts.
- Conform to the academic calendar. Try to support flexible schedules so students can work shifts around their classes. When possible, consider what work they can do after business hours. Plan for lower workloads/productivity periods around mid-terms, final exams, and winter and spring breaks, and increased hours and project activities during the summer months when students may work up to full time.
- Be aware that students – not unlike your career staff, but perhaps more often – will be going through life changes that may affect their work. These are years of significant identity development; career, personal and academic life decisions; and everything from homesickness to finding an apartment to a family crisis may pose a challenge. You will be most effective if you familiarize yourself with available campus resources, and encourage your student staff to seek those as needed.
- Provide opportunities for students to do meaningful work. These are Berkeley students, after all! They want to make a difference, and they can tell you what students think. Offer them opportunities, support, and constructive feedback, and they will bring their best.
- Create a workplace that has room for fun and social interaction. In SAIT we have an open student work area that encourages collaboration and information-sharing among teams, and we host regular student staff development activities such as game nights and picnics. It isn’t all fun and games – we work hard, too – but getting to know workmates over pizza or through a scavenger hunt can really build camaraderie and commitment to the organization that lasts even after graduation. You can learn more about our particular SAIT student leadership program (and watch a great recruitment video directed, filmed, and produced by our student staff) on the Residential Computing program website: http://www.rescomp.berkeley.edu/about/jobs/
“I wouldn’t have felt so prepared to be working anywhere if it weren’t for the amount of professional development and growth I experienced while a student employee.”
For me, working with student staff is one of the highlights of my job. While it is not without its difficulties, the rewards truly outweigh the challenges. Our student staff exit surveys frequently include comments such as, “working in SAIT was one of the most formative experiences of my undergraduate career” and “I wouldn’t have felt so prepared to be working anywhere if it weren’t for the amount of professional development and growth I experienced while a student employee.” Now that is some positive feedback!
Please share your experiences in the comments section so we can continue the dialogue about best practices in managing student employees.
If you’d be interested in a workshop on this topic, email TOP to get on an interest list: firstname.lastname@example.org