Labor and Staff | College and University

Please Don't Leave: 7 Tips On Retaining Your Student Employees

With an annual turnover rate of nearly 73% in 2016, retaining employees is a critical challenge in the foodservice industry.1 It's also expensive: according to the Cornell School of Hotel Administration, the cost to replace one employee in a low-complexity hospitality job can exceed $5000.

For college and universities, the issue of turnover is even more acute thanks to the transient nature of the student employees and the age-old struggle to balance work with academic demands.

The good news is there are things you can do to stem the tide, increase employee longevity and reduce your costs. Here are seven ideas that can help:

  1. Hire the right people. If you can find students who already have hands-on experience in foodservice, that's a great advantage, especially if that experience was positive. A student who already enjoys this type of work is less apt to leave.
  2. Make them feel important. This generation positively thrives on praise. Make sure you're communicating your appreciation of good work when you see it. Recognize star performers with more public recognition like Employee of the Month (or Year) honors. Make note when longevity milestones are reached (one semester, two semesters, etc.). When you promote students to management or give them special projects, it shows them you appreciate their efforts.
  3. Help them see the greater purpose in their work. Another hallmark of this generation is their desire for meaningful work that makes a difference in their community. Make sure they understand the important role foodservice plays in the daily life of your institution.
  4. Help them develop their skills with frequent training opportunities. Training is another way you can demonstrate real commitment and interest in your employees. If students can see their skills are improving, it can prevent feelings of being trapped in a boring or static job. Consider starting a mentoring program where new hires are paired with veterans who can answer questions and lend an ear when issues arise.
  5. Communicate with them over the summer. Don't lose your connection with students over break. Keep them engaged with your operation over the summer and let them know how much you look forward to working with them again when school resumes. Share what's new in the department and the opportunities coming up when they return in the fall.
  6. Put your expectations in writing. Written job descriptions, daily or weekly briefings, and one-on-one time with students can all help to clarifying expectations. When supervisors take the time to communicate these details, students have a better chance of succeeding.
  7. Encourage a fun workplace culture. They are students, after all. Jokes, music, contests... these are all things that make work more enjoyable. And when employees are enjoying themselves, they tend to stick around longer. Consider scheduling parties or lunches for your department periodically to give everyone something to look forward to. Anything fun and social will do the trick!

Above all, keep in mind what your student employees are taking on. They're often the first in their families to attend college and the academic workload and stress they're managing can be overwhelming at times. Maintain an operation where they feel valued and supported and they'll keep coming back until they graduate, that is.


1 United States Bureau of Labor Statistics
2 Cornell School of Hotel Administration, "The Costs of Employee Turnover: When the Devil Is in the Details"