‘It never really shuts off’: Workers talk burn-out this Labor Day

WHO classifies burnout as occupational phenomenon
‘It never really shuts off’: Workers talk burn-out this Labor Day

Work burnout isn’t just something many employees have had to deal with – with one study showing about two-thirds of people report feeling burned out sometimes or always – but it’s also classified as a legitimate syndrome as of this year by the World Health Organization in its diagnostic handbook.

According to the WHO, the burnout is characterized by being exhausted, feeling negatively about one’s job and reduced efficacy.

Spending the day at the Memorial Union Terrace feels like the opposite of being at work, and for many who experience burnout, that’s a good thing.

“Sometimes it’s pretty stressful,” said Mike Velotta, referring to his job in physical therapy. “Being in the industry I’m in, (burnout) is pretty common, actually. You have your good days and bad days, though.”

But being near the water gives an opportunity to reflect.

“Labor Day for me is almost a day of sitting back and reflecting on why am I doing this and what are my goals, and how am I going to change to do things better,” Velotta said.

He and his wife, Laura Velotta, were happy to be spending time with their daughter Monday.

“We rode our bikes down here to get breakfast at the terrace,” Laura Velotta said.

“We’re definitely just hanging out enjoying our day off,” Mike Velotta said. “We don’t get them very often together.”

They enjoyed the rare day, especially since they’re both familiar with long work days, job stress and even burnout.

“When I get off work, I try to shut that off and come home and relax if I can,” Mike Velotta said. “Days like this are very helpful.”

That can be hard when phones and work emails are never far away.

“I think your brain never shuts off, because your computers are always on you, so your work email’s always on, so you’re really working, even if you’re not on your job, you’re always working,” Laura Velotta said. “You’re always thinking about your job, so that’s more burnout to me, that it really never shuts off.”

The WHO classifies burnout as an “occupational phenomenon” caused from unmanaged, chronic workplace stress.

While it’s not considered a medical condition, it manifests in issues including lack of energy, increased cynicism and decreased productivity in the workplace.

Those are effects familiar to others on the terrace, as well, including a family of two University of Wisconsin-Madison graduates and two current students.

“It’s when you lose your passion and motivation for what you’re doing in your job. I just don’t feel real excited about going to work, then you know it’s time to take a break,” terrace visitor Kim Johnson said.

Breaks can be as simple as a meal by the water on a holiday honoring the everyday worker

“It’s really nice to have a day set aside to value that, whether we spend that thinking about that or just ourselves being in the workforce taking that time to relax and feel appreciated,” student Megan Finkbeiner said.

Even if it’s just for a day, it was just what the doctor ordered.

“It’s been fun,” Mike Velotta said. “We don’t have to worry about anything else today. Just hang out.”

The WHO said it will develop evidence-based guidelines on mental well-being in the workplace.

Get your weather forecast from people who actually live in your community. We update with short, easy-to-use video forecasts you can watch on your phone every day. Download the iOS or Android app here.