The Journal of College and University Student Housing - Volume 46, No. 1 - 32

Stephen A. Berg, Casey Graham Brown

by undergraduate students who are at least
of sophomore academic standing (Schaller &
Wagner, 2007). With undergraduate students
typically spending four to five years in college,
the tenure of an RA often lasts from one semester to three years. Interest and retention in
the position can be impacted by internships,
study abroad experiences, campus involvement, and other job opportunities (Brecheisen,
2015), and these factors can lead to a high, unplanned turnover rate of RA staff each year.
Campus housing staff spend a significant
amount of time recruiting and hiring new RAs
(Berg & Stoner, 2016). While a certain level of
annual staff turnover is expected to occur at the
completion of each year, residential communities and staff teams are impacted differently
when an RA leaves unexpectedly during the academic term. Increased retention of RAs and
therefore a decrease in mid-term RA vacancies means that supervisors would spend less
time training new RAs and could choose to use
more time developing staff in other areas.
Many researchers who have examined turnover in student affairs have focused on new
professionals and on those who leave the field
of student affairs (Lorden, 1998; Tull, 2006).
The literature associated with RA attrition has
focused primarily on three areas: (a) burnout,
(b) role ambiguity, and (c) role conflict. There
is little research on RA departure.

ATTRITION OF RESIDENT
ASSISTANTS
The responsibilities of RAs are complex and
demanding. Those who experience the position's multiple stressors are more likely to
experience burnout and exhibit poor job performance (Nowack & Hanson, 1983). Low job
32

satisfaction can entice RAs to consider leaving
their position (Lambert, Hogan, & Barton,
2001), and those RAs who experience high
levels of role ambiguity, role conflict, and
burnout are more likely to have lower job satisfaction (Brecheisen, 2015; Deluga & Winters,
1990) and reduced academic performance
(Brecheisen, 2015; Schaller & Wagner, 2007).

Burnout
Maslach, Jackson, and Leiter (1996) defined
burnout as "a syndrome of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment that can occur among
individuals who work with people in some
capacity" (p. 4). Maslach (1976) asserted that
jobs in which staff are required to hear about
another person's life issues can challenge the
employee's coping skills because of the emotional intensity of the relationship. Freudenberger (1975) described how individuals in
helping professions experience burnout differently than individuals in other professions
and that they experience stress specific to societal issues, the needs of others, and their own
needs. Maslach wrote, "Burnout is inevitable
when a professional must care for too many
people. There's higher and higher emotional
overload" (p. 20). Because RAs are expected
to provide support for students while dealing
with their own life issues, student affairs researchers have used the concept of burnout to
examine the RA position and the impact it has
on job satisfaction and performance (Deluga
& Winters, 1990; Hornak, 1982; Nowack &
Hanson, 1983).
Additional elements that make the RA
position susceptible to burnout include the
helping role RAs have with students, policy enforcement, and the 24-hour-a-day nature of the

THE JOURNAL OF COLLEGE AND UNIVERSITY STUDENT HOUSING



The Journal of College and University Student Housing - Volume 46, No. 1

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of The Journal of College and University Student Housing - Volume 46, No. 1

Contents
The Journal of College and University Student Housing - Volume 46, No. 1 - Intro
The Journal of College and University Student Housing - Volume 46, No. 1 - Cover1
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