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Perhaps one of the most important functions and actions a student employee supervisor can take is establishing an active and open professional relationship with their student employee(s) through effective communication. Effective communication between supervisors and student employees begins even before the student employee is hired; communication begins and continues throughout the planning, development, recruiting, and hiring stages of a position. For example:

  • What does your department have on its website that could attract students to want to work for you, whether or not you even have a vacancy? Does your website convey your department’s culture?
  • Does the job description and posting effectively market the position, department, and overall educational work experience to candidates?
  • How are all applicants treated and communicated with throughout the application, interview, and selection process?
  • What policies and procedures exist in your department that impact student employees and how are those communicated?

Once the student employee is hired and begins working, it is important to continue active levels of communication. Doing so can ensure a positive work environment, maximize productivity, and create a valuable experience for your student employee to ask questions and to gain skills that will help them succeed in the future. 

Maximize Active Communication

To maximize communication between you and your student employee(s), consider the following questions:

  • Have you communicated formal and informal expectations you have for your student employees? Have you allowed your student employees to communicate their expectations of you, as their supervisor?
  • Can you adapt how you communicate something to your student employees by better understanding generational differences in the workplace?
  • Can the diversity of backgrounds, learning styles, and experiences your student employees bring be tapped into to add to the department?
  • When you have information to convey to your student employees, would it be best conveyed in person, written, demonstrated, or delivered in the form of a question or training? Should it be delivered individually or in a group setting?
  • How can you explore and support the student employee’s understanding of their work-life-school balance struggles and strengths?
  • How can you maximize relationship building between your student employees as well as your full-time colleagues?
  • How can you maximize your student employees’ input, opinions, and desires to be included?

Mindtools provides a suite of resources, articles, and activities for supervisors to gain a better understanding of their communication styles as well as working (and communicating) with different groups of workers. These tools can be used for supervisors to become more informed on how to effectively communicate with their student employees, both individually and as a group.    

Communication Activities and Suggestions

  • One-on-one check-ins between supervisors and student employees provide opportunities for supervisors and student employees to discuss progress on projects, challenges, opportunities to improve, and an open exchange of ideas. Check-ins also allow opportunities for supervisors to coach and connect student employees to campus and community resources in support of their academic, professional, and personal interests outside of their immediate position.
  • Student employee staff meetings can be leveraged to create an environment of involvement, engagement, and team building to further goals of the department. Group feedback and trainings can also allow for creativity and time-saving measures to deliver information. 
  • Formal communication tools and mechanisms can be utilized when communicating and collaborating with student employees. These tools include, but are not limited to, e-mails, electronic distribution lists, intranets, OnCourse pages, and project management/collaboration programs (e.g., Basecamp, SharePoint, Box).
  • Informal communication tools can be just as effective, and potentially more feasible, than alternatives. Ideas to leverage for use in your department include whiteboards to answer questions or share announcements, a notebook to pass questions and answers back and forth, a bulletin board to map out progress on a project or acknowledge accomplishments, and a supply of sticky notes or blank pieces of paper to be used in sharing information in mailboxes. 

Additional Resources

How to Communicate with Employees   
Mixing and Managing Four Generations of Employees
Establishing Expectations: Ten Suggestions for Supervisors and Managers