Millions of Americans are returning back to work after being home during the pandemic. While this has been exciting for many, some are feeling burned out by their work. What do you do if you are feeling burned out by your work? How do you reverse it? How can you “get your mojo back”? What can employers do to help their staff reverse burnout?
In this interview series called “Beating Burnout: 5 Things You Should Do If You Are Experiencing Work Burnout,” we are talking to successful business leaders, HR leaders and mental health leaders who can share insights from their experience about how we can “Beat Burnout”.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Janice Johnston.
Dr. Janice Johnston, MD, is co-founder and Medical Director of Redirect Health. She oversees all medical operations as well as the patient experience, spearheading efforts to enhance quality care while improving administrative efficiencies. In addition to leading medical operations, Janice leads an active family practice and cares for patients of Redirect Health as well as Arrowhead Health Centers, a comprehensive and integrated network of Patient Centered Medical Homes (NCQA Level 3) and surgery centers that she co-founded with her husband, Dr. David Berg, who is also a co-founder of Redirect Health.
Today, Janice is integral to the operations of both companies, continually advancing strategies to improve member service and ensure positive patient outcomes. She mentors staff and medical students at the facilities, helping others understand and operate within the patient-centered healthcare model that she has driven in recent years.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
There was no “magic moment,” but I could just tell it was where I would be led to. Quite early on, I just knew in my heart that being a physician was what I wanted to do. Being able to help people, listen to them and guide them to their next steps is what I’m comfortable with. Even in high school and my first year in college, I knew medicine was my ideal path so I started with it straight away. Getting people better has always been my focus and being a family physician allows me to see people through the whole course of their health and life journey. In Primary Care we get to see it all. From childhood growing up to starting a family and all the ups and downs that come with life…that’s an awesome part of medicine.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career?
My desire to help people led me to medicine but the idea of creating Redirect Health was born after trying to navigate the convoluted American healthcare system. We quickly realized that the system was simply nonsensical, yet everyone went along with it rather than finding a better solution.
We created Redirect Health with the idea of making healthcare easy, accessible and affordable for everyone. Especially during times of great uncertainty, such as during this pandemic, having the confidence that you have meaningful access to care is crucial to your overall well-being and sense of safety.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
I wouldn’t be where I am today without my husband, David. We’ve been together since college, long before we started our careers. He’s pushed me to places I may not have gone myself. Even before founding Redirect Health together, he challenged me to be a leader and a mentor to others.
I also have to credit my colleagues along the way in terms of support. When we get stuck, frustrated, tired or sad about patients — collectively as a whole, the medical community is great about supporting each other.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
Well, when I came to Phoenix from Canada, I moved straight from my residency there to being a physician here. And of course the systems are different, to say the least! No one ever taught me about the billing end of it. I was just told, “If it’s easy, charge this…If it’s hard, charge this.” And of course, that’s all wrong. So, a lot of my early mistakes stemmed from just not understanding this whole crazy US healthcare system.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
“The best medicine is love. If that doesn’t work, just increase the dose.”
My philosophy has always been to treat each patient as if they were my own mother — Always with the intent to listen carefully in order to understand the details of what is impacting their health and then addressing it piece by piece.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
At Redirect Health, we’ve been practicing Virtual-First medicine with our Virtual Primary Care for many years. However, due to the obstacles created by the pandemic and pre-existing gaps in the U.S. healthcare system, we decided to create an additional and simple way to navigate healthcare with the Redirect Health app. With the app, members have the ability to access healthcare at their fingertips. The app gives members convenient access to their virtual membership card and an overview of their benefits summary, as well as the ability to schedule virtual appointments, make prescription refills, and upload claims or bills.
Our team at Redirect Health also recently created our own mutual insurance company for policy owners. By doing this, we avoid having to ask for permission from other insurance carriers. Additionally, we created our own third-party administrator (TPA) which gives us the ability to pay claims according to the policies. By doing this, we have the power to create logical policy rules for our members, as opposed to asking permission from major insurance companies — streamlining the healthcare process for everyone involved and saving a substantial amount of money along the way.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
- Perseverance — It takes a lot of dedication and some trial and error before a concept can become successful. Remaining perseverant during times of adversity is what makes a strong business leader. By choosing to learn from your mistakes as opposed to letting them take you down, you’ll come out stronger and more prepared for the next challenge.
- Empathy — Empathy is necessary to be a great medical professional, as well as a business leader. By using empathy, I can better understand my patient’s needs which helps me make better decisions for their medical journey, ensuring that I put their health and wellness above all else. Using empathy also helps me to put myself into our employees’ shoes which guides me to make stronger business decisions that will benefit the entire team in the long run
- Passion — You have to be passionate about what you do. If you’re not passionate about your line of work, one failure will be enough to destroy your dreams. With passion, you’ll be able to pick yourself back up and keep striving to attain your goals.
For the benefit of our readers, can you briefly let us know why you are an authority about the topic of burnout?
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a trying time for individuals all over the world, especially for professionals in the medical field. Many medical professionals have been working on the frontline of the pandemic since the beginning and have been forced to face the harsh reality and detrimental impact of the virus every day at work. Even when the workday is over, we still bring so much home with us and continue to work beyond our normal hours. With electronic medical records available, I will go home and still be in work mode, checking records and working more than I need to. It has really removed the distinction between work time and home time which can be incredibly draining.
However, everyone has been dealing with burnout to some extent, regardless of profession or age. Parents have had to juggle childcare and work simultaneously, students have had to navigate virtual learning, and many have had to deal with job loss or the fear of losing their job.
Let’s begin with a basic definition of terms so that all of us are on the same page. How do you define a “Burnout”? Can you explain?
To me, burnout can occur from a number of different situations which can be linked to some form of prolonged stress or excessive workload. If that stress or workload is not addressed properly, the individual can become physically, mentally and emotionally drained — leading to complete exhaustion.
It’s important to note that burnout can look different in different people. For some, it can look like depression or anxiety. It can also look like depleted motivation and the inability to enjoy the things that once made you happy, including hobbies and interests.
You can visualize burnout as a burning fire. When you are working hard for an extended period of time, the fire is raging and burning bright. However, fires can’t last forever and eventually the flames will dim down until there is nothing left. Once the embers have been extinguished and there’s just smoke — that is burnout.
How would you define or describe the opposite of burnout?
If you are not experiencing burnout, you will likely still find joy in your hobbies and interests, as well as feel motivated in your professional and personal life. You won’t feel emotionally, physically and mentally drained and may even feel inclined to take on new projects at work and try out new hobbies.
This might be intuitive to you, but it will be instructive to expressly articulate this. Some sceptics may argue that burnout is a minor annoyance and we should just “soldier on’’ and “grin and bear it.” Can you please share a few reasons why burnout can have long-term impacts on our individual health, as well as the health and productivity of our society?
It is never a good idea to simply “grin and bear it” when you are experiencing burnout because it likely won’t go away on its own and it can take its toll on your overall health and well-being. When people think of burnout, they often think of the negative impact that it can have on your mental health but it can also impact your physical health as well.
Burnout, if left untreated, can lead to anxiety, depression, anger and more. Physically, it can cause severe fatigue and stress, as well as increase your chances of developing a number of health conditions including high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and more.
On a larger scale, if the majority of our society is experiencing burnout, the overall health and productivity levels are going to significantly drop which could impact jobs, the economy and more.
From your experience, perspective, or research, what are the main causes of burnout?
I have often seen burnout caused by excessive workloads in professional settings. This can be brought on by a number of situations including unrealistic expectations, demanding leadership teams or lack of support in the workplace.
However, anyone can experience burnout from any situation that causes extreme and prolonged stress. New parents might experience burnout from sleepless nights with their newborn along with adjusting to the unfamiliar role and responsibilities of being a parent. Students can experience burnout from their workload as they juggle homework, internships, relationships, part-time jobs and more while simultaneously trying to have a social life.
What can an individual do if they are feeling burned out by work? How does one reverse it? How can you “get your mojo back? Can you please share your “5 Things You Should Do If You Are Experiencing Work Burnout?”. (Please share a story or an example for each.)
- Recognize it — The first step to overcoming your burnout is to first recognize it. Burnout has a tendency to creep up behind you and you might not realize there’s an issue until it becomes a problem. By recognizing it, you take away some of the power that it has on you.
- Identify what is causing it — You need to be able to identify the area of your life that is causing the severe stress that is leading to burnout. Pay attention to those moments when you feel drained and retrace your steps to the moment that caused it.
- Ask for help — Be honest with yourself and the people around you. Reach out to friends, family and colleagues that you trust and have an open conversation about what you are going through. Those who love you will want to support you and will be there for you — whether you just need a fun social distraction or need someone to talk to.
- Make changes in your life to address it — It’s important to understand that there isn’t one quick fix for overcoming burnout and what works for one person might not work for someone else. In order to address the problem and reduce the risk of the burnout coming back, you’ll have to make changes in your everyday habits and daily routines. There are a number of strategies you can try depending on what is causing your burnout. You can start a daily mindful journaling practice, meditation, deep breathing exercises, disconnecting from technology one hour before bed, getting outside to enjoy nature every day, keeping up with a regular sleep schedule and more.
- Reassess where you are at — Make it a habit to check in with yourself at certain milestones to reassess where you are at and determine if the new habits are having a positive impact on your life. If your strategies are not working, it’s time to try something new.
What can concerned friends, colleagues, and life partners do to help someone they care about reverse burnout?
Concerned friends, colleagues and life partners can best show their support by simply being there for the other person. There may be days when the individual just needs a fun distraction, including going for a hike, having a picnic, watching a favorite movie, and more. However, there will be other times when they might need to talk through their feelings but won’t know how to approach it.
It’s important to be mindful of what they need, ask the right questions and be patient. They might not want to open up immediately so try rephrasing questions to understand how they are feeling and if they want to talk. It’s easy to just ask “how are you?” and get a simple “fine” as a response and leave it at that. However, after some gentle probing, they might open up more and let you know what they are really feeling at the moment.
What can employers do to help their staff reverse burnout?
There are a number of ways employers can help staff reverse burnout and better support their teams in general to avoid burnout in the first place. First, employers should create a welcoming environment that encourages open and honest communication. That way, employees can feel supported and comfortable asking for help when they need it.
Having quality benefits is another way to avoid and reverse burnout on a larger scale. The ability to have access to sufficient PTO, quality healthcare, mental health days, required company-wide vacation time and more can all have a significant and positive impact on the overall wellbeing of the team.
However, there is no easy fix for this problem and business leaders should consistently re-evaluate what is working and what their team members need. Employees should be included in this conversation — it gives them the opportunity to express concerns and helps ensure that any policy changes will actually increase employee retention and satisfaction, as opposed to simply being a temporary band aid.
These ideas are wonderful, but sadly they are not yet commonplace. What strategies would you suggest to raise awareness about the importance of supporting the mental wellness of employees?
I think that we should continue to have these conversations surrounding the importance of our employees’ mental wellness. By having empathy and putting ourselves into our team members’ shoes, we can better understand what they are going through and better understand how to support them.
What are a few of the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they try to reverse burnout in themselves or others? What can they do to avoid those mistakes?
People will often ignore the early signs of burnout and instead opt for a “hustle” mentality, thinking that if they just stay motivated and keep working that they will be able to overcome these negative feelings. However, that just isn’t the case. Avoiding burnout with more work will not mask the problem, it will just speed up the process.
When trying to help others, a common mistake that can be easy to make is to minimize the problem by saying something like “just don’t stress” or “you just need to get better sleep.” Using phrases like this do more harm than good. If you don’t know what to say when a friend, family member or colleague is opening up to you about burnout, you can simply listen, let them know that you are there for them and that their feelings are valid.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
This one’s easy: Getting great healthcare. From artists to truckers to moms and their kids, it’s a human decency issue and should be a right, not a privilege. That’s why we founded Redirect Health.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
Oh wow, there are so many people, but I’m going to go with Michelle Obama. She’s a Harvard-educated lawyer, businesswoman, wife and mother; she raises her kids while leading national and global initiatives — and she does it all in a very public way… without missing a beat in supporting her husband. Plus, she has amazing arms. I mean, those are some life goals.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Readers can further follow me, my work and my businesses at:
- The Redirect Health Website: www.redirecthealth.com
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/janice-johnston-47a33817/
- Twitter: @RedirectHealth
- And also follow my previous videos and ongoing broadcast appearances on Redirect Health’s Blog: https://www.redirecthealth.com/blog
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!