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Addressing student employee performance, whether it meets or does not meet your expectations, can be one of the more challenging aspects of supervising student employees. It can also be one of the most developmental and fundamental aspects for a student employee’s overall performance and engagement in the position. How performance is addressed can help a student employee connect work to their academics as well as understand how the position serves as a launching pad for their career. As a supervisor, you have the opportunity to serve as the role model for your student employees by exemplifying strong communication skills when it comes to addressing performance.        

Quick Tips for Addressing Performance

  • Explain the process to your student employees. Your student employees may have never had performance feedback communicated to them before or been involved in a performance management cycle. Meet students where they’re at when it comes to understanding how performance feedback will be communicated to them and in what formats. One simple way to do this is to ask them if they have been through a performance management cycle before and how they best learn from performance feedback.
  • Make it personal, when it comes to feedback. Every student employee is experiencing unique challenges when it comes to balancing life, work, and school. They will also appreciate feedback being given in a personalized way, which acknowledges their challenges and strengths. 
  • Connect your feedback to professionalism, their academics, and career. By framing your role as a coach AND supervisor, you can help them understand the impact of their behavior and performance, as well as what it means to their futures. You have full-time work experience, may have struggled with similar situations, and may have been exposed to a variety of different work environments; share those experiences with your students and connect it to how you want them to be successful in their roles now and for whatever is next in their careers.    
  • Provide feedback on all types of performance as soon as you can. If you notice students doing something great, let them know right when it happens. If you notice they could have done something better, offer your observations, suggestions, and how it could have resulted in a different outcome. 
  • Be specific and use examples when it comes to performance feedback. When they do something well, go above and beyond a simple “you did great” to include concrete information, which will help reinforce expectations. An example is: “I was really impressed by the way you remained calm while assisting that student and being creative in asking them questions to best serve them.” 
  • Allow your student employees to reflect and provide feedback on themselves. Rather than immediately offering your observations and feedback, consider asking the student: “What worked and didn’t work during that situation you just encountered?” or “That seemed to be a challenging situation. Why do you think it was challenging? Would you do anything different in the future?”
  • Consider the best format for addressing performance and providing feedback. You may want to provide feedback immediately when something comes up, and an e-mail would allow you to do that, but is that the best way to communicate the information with the student employee? Would the feedback be more impactful through an individual conversation or demonstration? Could you prepare the student employee by sending an e-mail to let him or her know you’d like to address something with him or her in the next shift to eliminate surprise? 

Progressive Discipline and Corrective Action

Ensuring student employees understand the process by which unsatisfactory job performance and similar minor workplace issues are addressed is important to uphold the performance standards of the position and the department. Departments on campus may have customized and informal or formalized processes to address and to document performance. The below steps outline a general process for progressive discipline, designed to set the student employee up for success and to allow improvement through specific interventions. The student employee performance documentation form, or a similar tool customized internally, should be utilized to document these interventions. Some performance issues and workplace issues may require skipping steps below or immediately terminating a student employee. View the Separation and Transition page for more details.

  • Preventative Action: If possible, preventative action by the supervisor is a proactive way to catch performance issues before they arise through an intentional new employee orientation program, regular check-ins, and ongoing training and professional development.

  • Verbal Warning: Generally the first step in addressing a performance issue, a verbal or oral warning delivered by the supervisor acknowledges the issue with a student employee, details why it is an issue, and discusses how to address it so it doesn't happen again. Verbal warnings can be documented using the student employee performance documentation form.

  • First Written Warning: Following a verbal warning, a first written warning documents the performance issue, identifies actions to prevent the issue from happening again, and lists consequences if the issue occurs again.

  • Final Written Warning: Following the first written warning, a final written warning generally is the last opportunity given to a student employee before more serious consequences result, such as suspension or termination.

  • Decision-Making Day: Supervisors may choose to provide student employees at this stage with a day to make a final decision on whether the student wishes to maintain employment by the department, placing the onus on the student.

  • Suspension: Supervisors may also choose to suspend the student employee for a specific time period as a form of corrective action by which the student loses work hours.

  • Termination of Employment: Once the above stages have occurred and have been documented, the last step if no or little improvement has occurred is to terminate. At this step, the supervisor should have given the student employee ample opportunity to improve his or her performance and deemed the best course of action is to end the student's employment. View the Separation and Transition page for additional details.

Additional Resources

  • IU Human Resource Services provides suggestions on holding performance discussions, as well as recommendations for preparing and conducting a discussion with employees. In addition, there may be unique considerations for student employees throughout these discussions, including after the discussion. For example, if a student employee has never had a performance conversation before, what could you do before a conversation to prepare the student to put him or her at ease on the process? What could you do after a conversation to ensure the student’s questions have truly been answered and to encourage him or her to reflect on the process to be more successful in the future, both in his or her current role and in a future career?