How to handle the unique challenges of scheduling student employees

Colleges have a large employee base, with much of it made up of students.

That’s not surprising. There’s a good reason for hiring so many students. 

Colleges need workers across very different departments and areas of the campus, including maintenance, library, student centers, dormitories, food service, retail, security, and more. Student employees are a great way to fill out these employment gaps. This also helps colleges meet work-study requirements and provide more opportunities for students.

Yet those student employees, a mix of part-time and work-study, come with their own unique challenges that no other industry, outside of higher education, has to deal with.

Colleges have unique employee challenges 

There are three core challenges that scheduling managers have to deal with when most employees are students:

  1. Repeated and rapid employee turnover. Every semester, there’s employee turnover. Students transfer out of the college, or some have a class schedule that doesn’t allow them to work the same hours as before. You don’t have a lot of time for onboarding and training new employees at the start of each semester. Turnover and reworking the schedule are the norm, not the exception. Other businesses try to mitigate those issues, but for you, they are a natural characteristic. 
  2. Employment isn’t the main priority. Because they’re students, their first priority isn’t their job, but their education. There’s a lot vying for their attention, between classwork, sports, performing arts, and socializing. All of those are an important part of the college experience that students are paying for, and can’t be disregarded in the schedule.
  3. Last-minute schedule changes. Study groups, out-of-town games, or much-needed prep time for exams are often the reason student employees ask for a night off or a shift change. There’s not much lead time to replace them or adjust the schedule when this happens.

As the one tasked to try and find the best solution for managing the student employee work schedules, you straddle the fence of making sure you have good employee coverage while being empathetic to the needs of the students at the college. When you get it right, the college runs smoothly, and students have a great educational experience.

Basically, it’s where empathy and accountability meet, yet sometimes it seems as if there is no overlap between the two. The good news is that you can create it—here’s how:

Use what your students use

Finding the perfect work scheduling solution starts by making sure the schedule is in the same place your students already are. Your students use their mobile devices for everything; school, social, work, and personal life are all on mobile platforms.

That’s where the work schedule should be, too, and it’s why a mobile-first system like When I Work improves employee adoption and accountability.

Some tools might give you a work-around so you can get what you’re using to create the work schedule on a mobile device, but they aren’t specifically built for mobile. These systems are often ad hoc, using a mix of communication, spreadsheets, and calendar tools with you having to struggle to pull it all together.

Being truly mobile first means students can see their schedule wherever and whenever they want. They can also update when they’re available to work as soon as they know, and pick up shifts as soon as they become available.

Don’t forget that these benefits are also yours, from a manager’s perspective. You aren’t chained to the office computer software to keep the schedule running smoothly. You can see who’s working, who has checked their schedule, and who you need to contact easily, whenever you want.

Since most students have their own mobile devices, you might want to create a BYOD policy that covers any concerns like security, device compatibility, or privacy. But tools like When I Work, that are mobile-first and built to work smoothly across various platforms, make BYOD issues much less of a concern.

Create flexible student work schedules

A flexible scheduling system is no longer an option. It’s a must-have when scheduling student workers.

The purpose of the college is education—and other activities (like sports or performing arts) are associated with that. While other businesses have the option of insisting employees focus on their job more, at the university, the work schedule you create has to work around those priorities. Flexible schedules are the rule of the day. You’ll find that when you sit down to make schedules, it’s impossible to know what’s going on in your student workers’ lives.

It’s nothing more than guesswork as a starting point, basically, unless you turn to flexible self scheduling.

Self scheduling provides the best solution because it empowers student employees to take an active role in their own work schedules. You set the parameters, defining the shifts and coverage. Student employees can drop, swap, or pick up shifts.

This not only gives students ownership and control over their lives, but also increases their accountability to their work and to each other. You’ll see better engagement and fewer no-shows because workers can choose preferred shifts and are functioning more as a team rather than being at the receiving end of top-down management.

Creating a great work-life balance has always been a concern of employers, because when you get it wrong, employees quit. While the student employee scenario on a college campus is a bit different, the importance of that balance is no less. Self scheduling gives them the sense that work isn’t a burden, but something they can balance with their education. 

And of course, since you don’t have to make all the decisions down to the very last person on the schedule, you save time and increase operational agility. When schedule changes pop up, the system is built to adapt.

Communicate simply and effectively

Getting employee communication right has never been easy. Mix that with an inflexible, ad hoc scheduling system that’s trying to use a bunch of different platforms and tools, and you’ll have scheduling meltdowns. 

Historically, there was often no centralized scheduling system and so different departments used their own solutions. Instead of a campus-wide integrated system, you end up with something that’s more piecemeal.

If there’s no campus-wide system, there’s no way to communicate with all of the student employees and managers in one place. It’s not easy to handle time off or shift swap requests, because there’s no one place to look for them. 

This ad hoc approach is related to the other problem of communication: there is too much information being communicated. Students are communicating through email, social media apps, and text messages. They are communicating with professors, friends, family, and managers. Lots of people want their attention. 

If you package work communication alongside where they go to deal with their work schedule, and with the people they work with, you increase the effectiveness of that specific communication. With full-time staff employees, there are internal communication systems. Student workers don’t have access to that, nor are they on the work site as much. 

Again, communication has to live where they live, and work how they work. 

This is why When I Work built in a communication system that makes it easy to work directly with an individual, a group, or the whole team. The messages come to their phone. The conversations surrounding those messages are about work. Important info isn’t buried in a social media app that has nothing to do with their work schedule.

+++

Colleges have more work scheduling challenges than just about any other entity. But all of the different issues that pop up can be handled when you understand three core concepts:

  • Schedule student workers using tools they’re already using
  • Be flexible with student workers, working with them instead of against them
  • Make communication simple and natural in their already noisy world

Using a system like When I Work is not only easy to use, but it checks these boxes as well as those on your own list as the schedule manager. Get better engagement from your student employees, while giving everyone (including yourself) the best work-life balance possible.

Like What You See?

Join over 60,000 other people and get valuable business tips delivered right to your inbox.