“Burnout” is a scary word in Student Affairs. As #SAGrads and #SApros we are warned to do all that we can do to avoid burnout and tout work/life balance as a cure-all.  Recently I have become extremely busy; busy with coursework, graduate assistantship, and internship. Warnings of “watch out for burnout” have appeared on my Twitter feed and in conversations I have had with my supervisors and peers. I regularly heard this term throughout my undergraduate experience and it constantly invades discussions within graduate school, but something different happened this time.I questioned this term and its implications. What is burnout? What causes it? We seem to believe that it is pervasive enough in our field to warn against it at every point, but is it really as prominent as we are lead to believe or is it just a story told to #SAPros to encourage work/life balance?

There is a bit of truth in every story and on a whim I reached out to the Twitterverse in search of a potential answer. Below you will find my plea:

I received one reply with a lead… Maybe there were not many persons on Twitter at the time of my post or it was lost in the shuffle of our everyday lives, but only one person was able to point to a scholarly source on burnout. My investigation of that one source nearly led me to a dead end, but after some intense Googling at the local café, I found some great information that I wanted to share with the world.

Burnout rates within the first five years of experience are estimated to be 50%-60% (Evans, 1988; Holmes, Verrier, & Chisholm, 1983; Lorden, 1998; Tull, 2006; Renn & Hodges, 2007). My cohort is approximately fifty persons and if this statistic rings true then twenty five or more will no longer be in student affairs within five years. Researching this topic reminded me of my conversation with President Gavin Henning of ACPA where he noted that out of his cohort of twenty five only five remained in higher education (See my post with Gavin HERE)

What reasons do persons have for their departure from the field? For many it is a myriad of reasons. Frank (2013) notes in her dissertation there are individual and institutional reasons for departing student affairs. Frank (2013) also keenly remarks that many new professionals “feel they work too many hours for too little money and find few opportunities to advance”; a situation that many #SAGrads (and just about everyone else) knows all too well.

What do we do about it?

When new professionals make up 15%-20% of the workforce within student affairs and 50% will burn out within five years we are looking losing a 7.5%-10% of the student affairs workforce regularly (Renn & Jessup-Anger, 2008). There is something wrong. I use “we” in a general sense to represent all of us within the field: grads, and professionals of all levels.  I do not mean the following list to be exhaustive or the ultimate list, but as a way to spark discussion among us. What can we do to reduce burnout for ourselves? Our supervisees? Our supervisors? Our peers?

  • Lombardi (2012) points to socialization of new professionals as possible solution
  • Professional development opportunities in graduate programs dealing SPECIFICIALLY with new professional adaption
  • Integration of technology with student affairs to increase productivity and efficiency
  • Flexible work hours (event on Saturday? Come in late Monday)
  • Flexible work week (Lots of Saturday events? Why work Monday?)
  • Treat yo’ self to some ice cream or frozen yogurt or
  • Communicate when stressed
  • Satellite offices (a change in scenery can increase productivity)
  • Go out with friends and/or family
  • Be a mentor
  • Ask to be mentored
  • Go to conferences to meet new people in similar situations
  • Ask for advice (supervisors or from peers)

What do YOU think we can do?


Evans, N. J. (1988). Attrition of student affairs professionals: A review of the literature. Journal of College Student Development, 29, 19-24

Frank, T. (2013, February 25). Why Do They Leave? Departure from the Student Affairs Profession. Retrieved October 15, 2015, from https://vtechworks.lib.vt.edu/bitstream/handle/10919/19306/frank_te_d_2013.pdf?sequence=1

Holmes, D., Verrier, D., & Chisholm, P. (1983). Persistence in student affairs work: Attitudes and job shifts among master’s programs graduates. Journal of College Student Personnel, 24, 438-442

Lombardi, Kara. (2012). Socializing New Professionals: Leading the Way to a Smooth Entry. [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from http://archive.naspa.org/conference/CFP/COORD/upload/NASPA2.pptx

Lorden, L. P. (1998). Attrition in the student affairs profession. NASPA Journal, 35, 207-216.

Tull, 2006; Synergistic Supervision, Job Satisfaction, and Intention to Turnover of New Professionals in Student Affairs. Journal of College Student Development, 47 (4), pp. 465-480

Renn, K. A., & Hodges, J. P. (2007).  The first year on the job: Experience of new professionals in student affairs.  NASPA Journal, 44(2), 367-391

Renn, K. A., & Jessup-Anger, E. R. (2008). Preparing new professionals: Lessons for graduate preparation programs from the National Study of New Professionals in Student Affairs. Journal of College Student Development, 49(4), 319-335.

Robinson, Kasey. (2014). Navigating the Role of New Professional: Transition, Trials, and Tips in the First Year. [PDF document]. Retrieved from https://c.ymcdn.com/sites/www.nodaweb.org/resource/resmgr/Annual_Conference_2014_Presentation/Robinson_Kasey_Navigating_Ne.pdf