So much on my mind that I can’t recline
-Black Star, “Respiration,” Mos Def and Talib Kweli are Black Star (1998)
Burnout in housing and residence life (HRL) professionals is a topic that is worth its own dissertation (which I am currently working on), but until a comprehensive study is completed, an aspect of this problem to consider is determining the major organizational antecedents that accompany burnout. For many HRL professionals who live on campus, living where you work is a unique challenge to those who struggle to with the work-life equation, and one outcome of an imbalance in this equation is burnout. The term has been used casually to describe a very serious and real threat to the work of student affairs professionals. When your ability to care gets diminished to the point of no return, everyone – students, RAs, colleagues, the department – suffers. Over 30 years of research has been spent analyzing and defining burnout. In terms of defining the construct, one can summarize burnout based on three dimensions – emotional exhaustion, depersonalization of others, and a feeling of reduced personal accomplishment. In terms of expanding the theoretical framework beyond these dimensions, or strictly looking at personality or organizational factors as causes, Christina Maslach and Michael P. Leiter have identified six major organizational antecedents that look at the person within the context in their book, The Truth about Burnout. This article will examine the six areas they discussed by briefly describing them and applying them, anecdotally, in the context of the work of a HRL professional. Then, some preliminary theories will be offered based on the examination to determine where change needs to occur.
(Note: description of these terms were referenced from Job Burnout by Christina Maslach, Michael P. Leiter, and Wilmar B. Schaufeli, Annual Review of Psychology, 2001. 397-422) (Maslach, Leiter, & Schaufeli, 2001).
– A mismatch in workload is generally found as excessive overload, through the simple formula that too many demands exhaust an individual’s energy to the extent that recovery becomes impossible.
This can be seen in a live-on/live-in professional’s dynamic schedule which includes traditional office hour work as well as evening and weekend work, which includes, but is not limited to: on-call duty rotation, emergency/crisis response, meeting with undergraduate staff (RAs and RHA), meetings with student organization, and attendance at university events.
– Mismatches in control most often indicate that individuals have insufficient control over the resources needed to do their work or have insufficient authority to pursue the work in what they believe is the most effective manner.
Residence hall directors, are usually classified as entry level positions within a housing and residence life department. They have a great deal of input into how they supervise staff and create community in their area; however, it is common for these individuals to experience frustration on a lack of control in other factors that are controlled by those who hold assistant or associate director positons. Other factors may include: hiring/firing/placement of undergraduate staff, programming requirements/model, use of budget, higher level judicial outcomes, opening/closing hall procedures. To some extent, if they ask, residence hall directors can look for greater involvement in these processes; however, due to their positions, there is an inherent limit that can only be overcome by acquiring a higher level position.
– A third type of mismatch involves a lack of appropriate rewards for the work people do. Sometimes these may be insufficient financial rewards, as when people are not receiving the salary or benefits commensurate with their achievements. Even more important at times is the lack of social rewards, as when one’s hard work is ignored and not appreciated by others.
Residence life departments typically do a good job of acknowledging the work of its paraprofessional and professional staff members; however, there is a bell curve of social recognition in which too much praise, or rather praise for all tasks equally can have negative or diminishing effects. Either all acts are treated equally and thus a specific project which took weeks to complete may be treated with the same praise as handing in a weekly report will demotivate an employee to go above and beyond, or over time, due to the over saturation of praise, recognition will seem disingenuous to an employee thus diminishing the supervisee-supervisor dynamic.
Part II will look at the remaining dimensions and draw a conclusion.