Supervising Employees

The Role of a Supervisor

Students are a productive component of the College's labor force and should be treated as such. They can be extremely dependable and trustworthy, provide initiative and creativity, and maintain confidentiality in many offices on campus. Supervisors train, motivate, guide, and evaluate the student employee. Supervisors also serve as models for the development of solid work habits such as punctuality, dependability, cooperation, honesty, and efficiency. For many students, supervisors bridge the gap between home, the classroom, and the "real world."

The supervisory role can be frustrating at times. As supervisors, the work and the professional tasks involved in accomplishing that work are paramount. The fact that student employees do not always see the importance of their work may be frustrating.

It is the supervisor's responsibility to deal with imperfection and act to correct behavior that is incongruent with employment standards. Supervisors must act in these cases with prudence. A good supervisor must have many talents, not the least of which are communication and patience.

Although it may be difficult to establish a formal training program for student employees, good personnel practices require that every new worker be oriented to the organization of the workplace and trained to perform necessary tasks. The responsibilities of the student's supervisor are:

  • Orienting the student to his or her role in the department and the standards of behavior expected of employees.
  • Training in skills and procedures necessary to perform tasks.
  • Providing a space for working that is free from hazards.
  • Keeping communication lines open, clear, and constructive.
  • Setting a good example.
  • Treating student employees in accord with their rights, which are the same as all employees' as defined by applicable state, federal, and college regulations.
  • Outlining procedures clearly - assume nothing.
  • Being firm, yet flexible.
  • Making student employees feel important and needed.
  • Addressing problems (or potential problems) as they arise - do not let them build.

Students should be provided with specific job descriptions outlining expectations and responsibilities. Take the time to review tasks and to make certain your student employees receive proper training in order to accomplish the tasks. A procedural manual can be helpful in many situations.  Supervise their work closely, give them deadlines to meet whenever possible, and evaluate their performance often. A little bit of praise and encouragement can go a long way! Students can learn and benefit from the supervisor's expertise and constructive criticism. Whenever possible, increase the level of responsibility of your student employees. Remember, if you have been specific in outlining expectations to student employees it is easier to point to the same expectations if issues arise with performance of your student employees.

Tips for Good Supervision

Establish clear goals. Provide training, performance expectations and ground rules. Develop a student employee procedures manual (if appropriate).

Delegate! Assume that the students you have hired are competent and responsible. Provide them with the potential for learning and growth.

Set a positive example of professional, polite, and ethical behavior. If students witness a supervisor that is punctual and professional, students will learn to do the same.

Remember that student employees are students first. If there is a conflict between a student's academics and job, academics must come first. The student can and should however learn how to manage time so that the impact on the position is minimal. Make it clear what is expected regarding the commitment and how to notify you if they must be absent.

Show appreciation for exceptional work. Positive feedback, especially when given in front of one's peers, costs nothing and provides a quick, effective reward.

Allow for student input. Ask your student employees what they think of a certain project. They have a lot to offer!

Be an accessible supervisor. Tell students they are free to ask you questions and discuss concerns. Periodically ask them if they have any questions.

Be a student. Learn how to improve your skills. Attend workshops, take classes, and read.

Be a teacher. You most likely possess a great deal of knowledge and skills, so share these with your employees.

Encourage risk-taking and decision-making. Letting students know that you trust as well as believe in them helps to foster a sense of cohesiveness, which can lead to increased self-esteem. Please remember that this is a learning experience for the students you hire.

Communicate openly and honestly. A student employee should always know how they are doing.

Let your student employees know you are observing. Hold them accountable for incorrect behavior (late for shift, missed time entry, unprofessional behavior, etc.) when issues initially arise. If you let things ‘slide’, they are likely to become bigger issues that are harder to resolve with significant consequence. 

Feedback and Coaching

Motivate with Positive Feedback

Positive feedback goes a long way to motivate students and encourage them to continue doing their job well. Positive feedback is most effective when it is:  

  • Recognizing a specific action/behavior 
  • Given as soon as possible after the student's good work occurs 
  • Delivered in a sincere manner 
  • Directed toward individuals rather than groups 
  • Adapted to the student's style/preference
  • Proportional to the work being recognized 

Make frequent feedback an ongoing process. Consider using or adapting one of these sample performance evaluation forms:

Managing Poor Job Performance

There may be instances when the employee's work performance is not at an acceptable level.  In some cases you may want to try and work with the employees.  The following are possible reasons for poor performance, and suggested strategies for improvement:

Lack of knowledge of specific job duties or responsibilities. Provide additional training. It will be helpful to develop a more specific job description or manual to make job responsibilities clearer.

Lack of skills for tasks to be performed. Provide training on skill development. Another approach is to shift the person to a position where skills s/he does have can be utilized.

Personal problems affecting job performance. It may help to just be a good listener. It may also be necessary to refer the student to any number of campus resources if problems persist.

Interpersonal conflict between supervisor and employee, or between other workers or staff in the office. It is extremely important to develop open lines of communication. Arrange a meeting with your employee(s) to discuss problems in a professional manner.

General lack of motivation on the part of the employee. This can be more difficult to correct. Some suggestions which may help include re-emphasizing expectations of the position; providing frequent feedback on performance; varying the job responsibilities; or shifting the person to another position where skills will be better utilized.

Four-Step Coaching Process

The following guidelines are intended to help supervisors address concerns regarding students' attendance or performance before they become serious enough to warrant termination. NOTE: This process is not required and does not apply to situations that involve "gross misconduct," i.e. harassment, misuse of College facilities, time sheet fraud, etc.

STEP ONE: Prepare for the Discussion with the Student:

  • Considering the following questions may help you identify exactly which behaviors are problematic, and to determine why these concerns have arisen. The more specifically you respond to each point, the more effective your discussion with the student is likely to be.
    • What actions do I observe that indicate a problem?
    • In what ways is the student's behavior negatively impacting our work/department?
    • What would this student do (or stop doing) that would convince me that they have resolved the problem?
    • Does the student know what my expectations are?
    • Does the student know how to perform the job/meet my expectations? Arrange a meeting with the student, informing him/her of the purpose of the meeting.

STEP TWO: Discuss the Concern(s) with the Student:

  • Describe specifically and objectively the behavior(s) you have observed, and explain the impact of the behavior(s).
  • Focus on observed behavior(s), not the student's attitude or personality.
  • Give the student an opportunity to respond to your concerns.
  • Try to get agreement that a problem exists. Ask for a commitment from the student to improve in the area of concern.
  • Explore alternative solutions. Ask for the student's suggestions.
  • End the meeting by summarizing the discussion, reviewing the next steps, and offering encouragement.
  • Document the discussion.
  • Consider sending a follow-up e-mail to the student, summarizing the discussion and detailing expectations.

STEP THREE: It is important to:

  • Hold the meeting in a private place. Don't address the problem(s) in front of others, and ensure that there will be no interruptions.
  • Allow as much time as it will take to complete the discussion.
  • Make sure your emotions are under control.
  • Provide objective constructive feedback with the goal of supporting the professional growth and development of your employee’s skills.
  • Decide ahead of time what minimum action you will accept as a result of the discussion.

STEP FOUR: Follow-up with the Student:

  • Has the student taken the steps that were agreed upon during the discussion? If not, go back to the discussion stage and/or issue a written warning to the student detailing the concerns and potential repercussions of failure to improve in relevant areas (i.e. termination).
  • Verbally recognize any and all improvements.
  • Document all follow-up discussions.


Termination guidelines and requirements are outlined in detail in the Student Employment Handbook (pdf).

Last Updated