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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Competing narratives in student manager story

Published: March 23, 2012
Section: News

In response to a Hoot article last week discussing a decline in student manager positions at Usdan, Aaron Bennos, director of Dining Services, contested the decline was intentional. 

“As we determine those who have the desire to become a student manager and are willing to take on more responsibility we gladly promote them,” Bennos wrote in an e-mail last Friday.

Bennos, who was handing out ice cream to students on the Great Lawn Thursday afternoon, did not respond to repeated requests for further comment this week.

There has been a noticeable drop in the number of student managers at Usdan from six to seven working there before last year to three now, according to current student managers, Ben Sargent ’13 and Jesse Manning ’13. Student managers in Usdan typically work on the floor and are required to know how to work every station. They make sure the other student workers are doing their jobs.

There are currently three student managers working in Usdan, but “some of their responsibilities are administrative as well,” Bennos wrote. Sargent said that one of the student managers does not work on the floor and instead handles payroll.

There are other food service locations that employ student managers but, just by its station structure, Usdan’s student managers have a more noticeable effect on the quality of service. If student workers need to take a break or do not show up to work, student managers are often the ones to cover their stations. If there is not a student manager working at a given shift, union and student workers are spread thin to cover the stations.

The decision to promote workers to student managers reflects more than a change in pay. Rather, it represents a position of leadership, enabling students to demonstrate their experience, skills and motivation to excel at the job. It rewards students who have consistently performed their jobs with notable distinction. The purpose in promoting them is to increase efficiency and provide an additional layer of communication between workers and senior management. Further, the student manager position enhances oversight and enforcement of student responsibilities and conduct.

Interviews with student workers, student managers and supervisors reflect a disconnect between layers of Aramark’s employee structure. There is confusion among student workers between the position of “supervisor” as opposed to “manager,” because they are used interchangeably in speech although the positions are quite different.

The supervisor position is the step between student and professional manager, and professional managers deal more specifically with scheduling, Sargent explained. Professional managers are often overworked and unaware of the instances when students do not show up to their shifts or show up late. When there were six to seven student managers, or approximately one per shift, student managers were able to fill in gaps by covering student workers’ stations. But the reduction of student managers has resulted in a lack of efficiency, enforcement and student accountability. Union workers are even less frequently informed regarding scheduling changes for student worker shifts.

Interviews this week revealed that the three student managers who work in Usdan were not aware of who the other two student managers were. Becky Starzyk ’12, a former student manager of Quizno’s, explained the sense of ambiguity attached to this position.

Other than a pay raise, there was little else to indicate her status. She was not even given a uniform to distinguish herself from other student workers. “I just tried to be more efficient and act with more authority,” Starzyk said.

Ultimately, turnover in middle management and drop in number of student managers at Usdan impact quality of service. The constant change in authority figures affect student accountability, according to Manning. If student managers do not see consequences to laziness, they lose motivation to do their job well. Further, lapses in communication between levels of the employment structure result in disorganization and slow service. The dilemma for Aramark is to address these organizational challenges.

Frequent turnover among supervisor and student manager positions means that often employees have not stayed long enough to set the standard for their co-workers. The challenge for Aramark as it promotes students to become managers is to establish consistency and understanding—to create organizational clarity between its workers and supervisors.