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One of the most significant factors in creating an environment and experience to foster high-performing student employees is engagement. Engaged student employees are more productive, appear more satisfied, require little if any supervision, and serve as ambassadors for your department.   

Student employee engagement, which may seem to rest solely upon the student themselves to become and stay motivated in their position, falls in large part to the supervisor, who has the potential to create the largest impact. At the core of engaging your student employees is your relationship with your student employees and understanding of how best to support their work-life-school balance. No matter the appreciation or engagement tactic, it begins with you as the supervisor and your true belief that student employees support the mission of your department and IUPUI as a whole. It also includes the belief that student employee engagement is essential to performance. Those beliefs will translate throughout your work to your student employees.

Supervisors of student employees have an opportunity to be a teacher, coach, mentor, advocate, and guide. With these hats and the others supervisors must wear, a genuine concern for the development of the student as an employee and for the employee as a student serves as the foundation for creating an engaging work environment in which student employees can thrive.

Characteristics of an Engaged Student Employee

Much research on employee engagement exists and can be applied to understanding and leveraging student employee engagement. Student employee engagement consists of three components:
  • Cognitive: A student employee demonstrates the cognitive component when they are interested in their position, the department, and how their role contributes to the mission; they ask questions that may be directly related to their role or simply out of curiosity; they create ideas and make recommendations to better the department.
  • Emotional: A student employee demonstrates the emotional component when they feel connected and committed to their position and department; they feel motivated to be successful and create quality work products.
  • Behavioral: A student employee demonstrates the behavioral component when they don't just put minimal effort into their work, but use discretionary effort in their work (e.g., staying 15 minutes later than scheduled to complete a project, offering to fill in a gap); overall they strive for excellence and it comes out in their actual work.

Source: http://changeworks.com.au/employee-engagement/

Satisfaction versus Engagement: Employing Engagement

While an engaged student employee may be satisfied in his or her position, a satisfied student employee may not necessarily be engaged. For example, a student employee may be completely satisfied in his or her role, but makes mistakes, shows up late for shifts, or fails to strive for excellence in his or her work. It is important to understand this differentiation to maximize engagement opportunities. 

As a supervisor of student employees, opportunities exist throughout a student employee’s experience to engage him or her and to show appreciation; you may already be leveraging creative strategies. No matter the tactic or strategy, it is important to be specific and personalized when it comes to engaging and appreciating your student employees. For example, some student employees may prefer individual recognition while others may prefer public recognition.    

Use this action planning worksheet to 1) reflect on the ways in which you currently engage your student employees and 2) commit to new methods of appreciation and engagement as you review the strategies below.

Departmental Engagement Strategies: Opportunities You Create

  • Reframe your supervisory role as mentor and see what you might be able to guide or help your student employees with related to activities other than work.
  • Establish weekly or bi-weekly check-ins with your student employees to simply have a venue to strengthen your relationship and communicate updates.
  • Create opportunities for your student employees to shadow you in your day-to-day work or at meetings.
  • Deliver a training to your student employees on a topic of interest to them or an area of expertise you possess outside of direct work responsibilities.
  • Allow your student employees to provide feedback on what their goals are for the upcoming semester and how they envision their role could be enhanced.
  • Create stretch assignments to allow your student employees to test out skill sets in a new area or project.
  • Allow your student employees to represent your department at a meeting, on a committee, or at a campus event.
  • Discuss future job opportunities with your student employees, such as pursuing or creating a position with more responsibility.

Campus Professional Development Opportunities for Students

  • Experience in Professionalism Program: An increasing number of on- and off-campus employers are requiring or encouraging their student employees to attend one or more sessions in the IUPUI Excellence in Professionalism program or to complete all the requirements to receive the certificate. Many supervisors are allowing students to remain on the clock for attending the sessions as professional development for their roles. 
  • Leadership Programs at IUPUI: Sponsored by the IUPUI Division of Student Affairs, numerous leadership development programs and seminars can be leveraged as professional development opportunities to engage student employees in their roles and on campus. 
  • Career Services Offices at IUPUI: Career services offices across campus offer a variety of services and programs to help students prepare, explore, and plan for their future careers. From resume and cover letter development to interview strategies and career planning, these offices may be able to present at a student staff meeting or meet with your students individually.  
  • UITS Trainings and Workshops: University Information Technology Services (UITS) facilitates a wide variety of trainings and resources, both self-guided and in-person. Consider investing time in your student employees by developing their skill sets for use in their current positions and in the future.   

Additional Engagement Resources

Please see Information on Wage Increase Policy and Procedures, which applies to IUPUI student employees.