Journal of College & University Student Housing Volume 48, No. 2 - 96

Relationships Matter
between a caregiver and the recipients of their attention (e.g, Maslach et al., 2001).
One notable position on a college or university campus fitting this relationship parameter
is the resident assistant (RA). Because building and facilitating relationships is a
cornerstone of the RA position (Denzine & Anderson, 1999; Horvath & Stack, 2013),
RAs are not immune to experiencing feelings of burnout. Despite parallels between
relationship-based jobs and burnout, little is known about RAs' relationships with their
residents and how they influence their levels of burnout.
To address this gap in the literature, this study used data collected from a larger
study to explore the concept of mattering as a relationship lens to explore RA burnout.
Mattering has four cornerstones uniquely focused on the perceived relationship
between people or, in the case of this study, between RAs and their residents. More
precisely, RAs feel they matter to their residents when their residents (a) are aware
of them, (b) believe they are important, (c) experience them as an ego extension, and
(d) rely upon them (France & Finney, 2010). Researching mattering in conjunction
with burnout may aid in understanding the root cause of burnout: relationships. Reducing
burnout among RAs will lead to positive outcomes in not only the RA job experience
but also in the residential experience of students for whom RAs are responsible.
Specifically, this study addressed the following research question: Does RA mattering
predict the level of burnout experienced by RAs?
EMPLOYEE BURNOUT
The association of burnout with relationship-based jobs has been well articulated since
research into the burnout phenomenon began in the 1970s. Two pioneers of this research
documented the association: Freudenberger (1974) observed how those prone to
burnout make personal sacrifices and work long hours for the individuals whom they
serve, and Maslach (1982) found that employees cope with stress by distancing themselves
from their clients while also expressing cynical attitudes towards others. Thus,
the feeling of burnout was either caused by or was directly affected by the relationships
that employees had with their clients, often leading to detachment (Maslach, 1976).
Initial research revealed three dimensions of burnout (Maslach, 1976), all of
which remain prominent to this day (Williamson et al., 2018): (a) emotional exhaustion,
(b) depersonalization, and (c) personal accomplishment. Emotional exhaustion,
or the emotional overextension caused by the work environment, is the hallmark and
most obvious symptom of burnout (Maslach et al., 2001). Depersonalization-also
referred to as cynicism-manifests when employees detach from the recipients of
their care (Fernet et al., 2004). Higher levels of emotional exhaustion and depersonOne
framework that may address the identified relationship gap
in RA burnout literature is the concept of mattering, components
of which are all based on relationships with surrounding individuals,
such as people in residential communities.
96 The Journal of College and University Student Housing

Journal of College & University Student Housing Volume 48, No. 2

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Journal of College & University Student Housing Volume 48, No. 2

Journal of College & University Student Housing Volume 48, No. 2 - intro
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