My final word on burnout

Have you ever had one of those blog posts that has been simmering in you months and months? This is one.

On August 30, I tweeted this:

Am I the only one who isn’t worried about #studentaffairs burnout? Aren’t we all replaceable? Aren’t there new grads every year? #SAchat

Truth be told, I hadn’t thought about it much. I had observed an unusual amount of people tweeting about their burnout concerns (seemingly for others, but never for themselves) and how we as a profession can help those who feel burned out. Not being the most empathic individual, I was unsure why I was supposed to be concerned about burnout.

The more I think about it, the less of a problem I have with burnout. In fact, it’s a good thing. We need it.

1. There is a thought that many new #SAPros aren’t joining the profession for the right reasons… new pros are joining the ranks because they think Student Activities is “fun” or they don’t know what else they want to do or they never want to stop being Greek or  they can extend their college career FOREVER! When these pros finally get into the field and see the work that goes into it, many of them experience instant burnout. It’s not what they thought it would be and they go from an energetic person to someone instantly defeated. We don’t necessarily want them to stay if they’re unhappy with their new career field. Shouldn’t we be helping them make a graceful exit and re-entry to a different profession?

2. For our new #SAGrads, its hard to get a first job. There are too many of them and not enough jobs. They’re counting on one of two things:  a new pro to be burned out and quit so they can take that job. OR, they’re counting on a middle manager to be burned out and quit so someone in an entry level position can move up, freeing that entry level job for them. This is a twisted circle of life… Mufasa probably doesn’t approve.

3. When you’re burned out, not only are you unable to give 100% any longer, but your student interaction suffers. Maybe instead of “helping” them, we need to be calling out those professionals and letting them know the impact their attitude is having on their respective institution. Students know when a staff member is suffering from burn out. They can smell it.

4. Maybe burn out is nature’s way of telling us we’ve overstayed our welcome at a particular institution. When you notice you are suffering from burnout, its time for a change of venue… or a change in position. As long as you recognize it, I don’t think burnout is something to be feared.

So yeah, I’m not worried about burnout. It’s natural. It happens in other fields. It happens in every office across the country. Instead of being worried about burnout, I want to be able to recognize when it happens to me. That’s infinitely more important.

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My final word on burnout

9 thoughts on “My final word on burnout

  1. James Darling says:

    I think you are making a dangerous assumption about why people burn out of their careers. You seem to be implying that when people burn out it is because the job is right, but the person is wrong for it. If people frequently burn out, you must examine whether there is something inherently wrong with the way Student Affairs is structured – or whether people in positions of authority are creating a toxic work environment.

    In the legal profession, in large law firms, young associates are forced to work grueling hours, often doing menial work (document review). Burnout is common. Burnout is used as a tool by higher-ups to weed out associates before they are given meaningful responsibility. It is a system that promotes those most capable of weathering abuse rather than those most capable of and willing to do their eventual jobs. The fault lies primarily with the business model, propped up by folks who went through it and cannot bear to admit its folly. It is, in short: stupid, counterproductive hazing.

    Your diagnosis may be entirely correct, but please take a look at whether Student Affairs is operating in the way it could and should be before you declare that burnout is a positive.

    1. All very valid points, Jim.
      I absolutely recognize Student Affairs is a flawed beast. Our structures aren’t consistent from school to school. There is a lot of administrative bloat. There are numerous functions that are no longer relevant to the mission of the school.

      I also recognize many fields treat their youngest employees as Potential New Members to a fraternity/sorority (that was almost today’s blog entry). I especially see your point about large law firms using menial work as a form of hazing.

      At the end of the day, I see as I see it… I recognize I sit in a place of privilege. I am not burned out. I am creatively engaged. It’s just how I see it from my place in the field.

  2. Burnout often occurs when there is a perception that the institution doesn’t value the work that we do. Far too often administrators make decisions without understanding the amount of time and energy that goes into this work, ultimately producing the perception that they don’t care. A great way to decrease burnout and increase retention (both students and SA Pros) is by investing in our human resources.
    Great conversation starter my friend! I can’t stand apathy and indifference!

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