Early last Thursday, I was sitting in the drive-thru line at Starbucks, checking Twitter. I noticed a slightly desperate-sounding tweet from @kellimarks, a friend who owns a bakery in Little Rock. She had three weddings to prepare for and several other cakes to bake and no help.
I had an appointment with the oral surgeon that day, so I really needed something to take my mind off that wonderful event. I ran home, changed into my Sweet Love Bakes T-shirt (the approved uniform), and headed to the bakery.
Kelli had just had a horrible experience with a new employee – a young person who didn’t appear to understand the importance of hard work and punctuality. As we stirred up cake batter and washed dishes, Kelli and I talked about “this generation” and its members’ seeming inability to get the work thing down.
Later that day, I realized that it probably wasn’t just “this generation.” There have always been those individuals who’ve had trouble performing up to expectations, and they can be 18 or 40. There are also those bosses who fail to express their expectations clearly. Communication issues can certainly add to problems with even great workers.
Many of us in higher education rely on student workers to get our jobs done. They gain valuable experience about the real working world, and we get cost-effective completion of some of our daily tasks. The relationship can be mutually beneficial, but only if both sides communicate what they need up front.
This past week, I’ve thought much about the relationships we develop with our student workers. They can be so rewarding, but they need ground rules. Here are the basics I came up with, but there are so many more:
- Define expectations up front. Outline which tasks are most important to have done, and then add a few nice-to-haves. I also try to figure out what my student workers like to do, and then have them do a good bit of that. That means that my current worker takes photos a lot – something he likes and is very good at. He also posts those photos to Facebook, a task that I consider a nice-to-have since it saves me time after events and lets us appear on top of things.
- Communicate deadlines. If I want you to complete a task, I better give you an idea of when I need it done. This has been a shortcoming of mine in the past. I tend to think that the way I work – finish a task when I’m given it as soon as possible – is the way of the world. It’s not. Many people will procrastinate if they don’t have a hard deadline. The object is to ensure they know what I need (see point No. 1).
- Be flexible. Student workers are students first. School is their first job, and I pledge that in my office they’ll get as much respect for that job as they do for mine. If my student worker needs to study, or cut his hours, or complete an assignment for his campus newspaper, he has my blessings. If our student workers cannot graduate, then all the practical learning we can give them is of no benefit.
In the end, our relationships with our student workers – and other co-workers – depends on our effective communication and listening. Showing our respect by communicating better in the workplace can benefit everyone.
How do you establish relationships with your student workers? Tell us more.