Savvy employers know they can gain significant advantages by employing high school and college-age students.
Students can be enthusiastic workers, willing to learn and able to adapt quickly. Moreover, they’re usually not as expensive to hire, train, and maintain as older and more experienced workers tend to be.
So it’s no surprise that almost 30% of high school students and 72% of undergraduate college students works at least part-time, according to 2011 figures from the U.S. Census Bureau.
However, managers often struggle to create equitable work schedules that take a student worker’s academic needs into consideration.
With a little bit of foresight, planning, and flexibility, you can easily overcome those challenges. Consider implementing the following tips to make your scheduling tasks easier.
Identify your needs before hiring/scheduling
In order to successfully work with student schedules, you should first figure out exactly what you need.
Additionally, experts advise employers and managers to identify any restrictions that may limit or impact the scheduling of student employees:
“Most students are interested in working 12-20 hours a week. Working more hours may be financially attractive to the student but may affect the student’s ability to meet academic challenges. In some cases, a restriction may exist on the number of hours a student may work relating to his or her age, the time of year, or the type of work authorization.”
So, whether you’re just beginning the hiring process or are starting to add seasonal workers to your schedule, pinpoint your staffing needs, in terms of job functions and employee work hours, and take into consideration any applicable legal or regulatory guidelines.
Communicate your expectations clearly and in writing
Managers learn early the importance of clearly communicating job expectations to employees – but it’s even more crucial to do this with young student workers, since this might be their first job.
As one expert says,
“Even with more experienced student workers, it’s vital to establish expectations, both as to what the job entails and as to what good performance looks like.”
Managers should give each worker a written job description as well as a copy of any policies and procedures that applies to the workplace. Preferably right when you hire the employee. For student employees, you might want to go a little further to include regular in-person meetings or check-ins to help clarify your expectations.
The University of Minnesota also suggests communicating your expectations for employee behavior.
Many student workers lack the experience to know that schedules aren’t a matter of employee preference, for instance. Explain to them that, while you’ll attempt to accommodate their preferences, the workplace needs must be met.
Ask workers for advance notice
Forewarned is forearmed, as the saying goes, and this is especially true where scheduling is concerned.
Ask your student workers to provide a copy of their school schedules for each semester, as soon as possible after the class schedule is finalized.
Portland State University also suggests creating a formal, specific policy for requesting time off or schedule accommodations.
Your policy doesn’t have to be elaborate. In fact, it could be as simple as the employee emailing a request to the manager in advance of a finalized schedule.
Once you have the policy established, sit down with your student workers and go over it together. That way you can make sure they understand the procedures you’ll expect them to follow.
Give them what they need to succeed
While on-the-job training is usually beneficial for inexperienced student workers, they can also benefit greatly from a little guidance on being a good employee.
For example, UT-Austin offers something called the Student Employee Excellence Development (SEED) program. In a series of free, hour-long workshops, student workers learn more about business etiquette, the basics of being a reliable employee, time management, and work/life balance.
Even a short informal workshop on the basics of employment can help create an environment more conducive to their success, which in turn makes it easier for you to manage both their expectations and your requirements as the employer or manager.
The important thing is to create a supportive environment for your student workers. That can help them understand that they’re now a part of a team that’s invested in their success.
Provide feedback and incentives
Humans generally thrive on feedback. We’re inspired to do more when we’re recognized for our achievements.
Good managers know how to provide meaningful feedback about an employee’s work performance. One expert mentions that “this generation thrives on feedback – the earlier and the more frequent, the better.”
Providing feedback helps keep your workers on task and motivated. In turn, that makes scheduling more efficient and helps prevent the turmoil that results when apathetic workers don’t take the schedule seriously.
If issues with attendance or scheduling occur, it’s always best to address them promptly and in person. This is especially true if you begin to suspect that the employee’s current work load may just be too much for them.
Of course, any employee can encounter a last-minute emergency that makes them late for work or prevents them from reporting for a shift at all. But if this is happening regularly with a specific employee, then it’s time for a firm but kind intervention.
Student workers can bring energy and new ideas to any workplace. Creating work schedules with student employees can be more challenging, but that shouldn’t stop you from hiring an otherwise qualified applicant.
Just remember to take the time to clearly communicate your expectations, preferably in writing. As part of those expectations, let student workers know you’ll need plenty of advance notice to accommodate any special scheduling requests.
Finally, give them the training and tools they need to succeed, and hold them accountable as you would any employee.
If you follow these tips, you can help create a positive and rewarding work experience for your student workers as well as the rest of your staff – and for you, too.