Adrian Gostick - The Anxiety Solution

Adrian Gostick
September 07, 2021

Adrian Gostick

Bestselling Leadership Author and Organizational Culture Expert
Health Teamwork Future of Work Culture/Work Environment Personal Growth Personal Development

Intro:

Welcome to Beyond Speaking with Brian Lord, a podcast featuring deeper conversations with the world's top speakers.

Brian Lord:

Hi, I'm Brian Lord, your host of the beyond speaking podcast. And today our guest is Adrian Gostick. He is the best-selling author of the carrot principle and a number of other books. And normally I roll through an intro, but I had mentioned on LinkedIn, I was interviewing Adrian and said that he was a bestselling author, and the first comment was from some guy named Chester Elton, whoever that is. He said, "Adrian Gostick is not just a bestselling author. He is a leadership and cultural guru." So please everybody know he's also a leadership and cultural guru. In fact, Adrian was hailed as one of the top 10 global gurus of 2020 in leadership and organizational culture. And Adrian Gostick helps clients around the world with employee engagement and leadership issues. And today we're focusing on two huge issues right now the future of work and the, and the anxiety solution. So, Adrian, thank you so much for joining us. We really appreciate it.

Adrian Gostick:

It's my honor, Brian, thank you so much.

Brian Lord:

Yeah. And so what is it like to be one of the top gurus of 2020? I mean, that's pretty impressive. I know this Chester guy really wants everyone to know that. So that's pretty cool.

Adrian Gostick:

I'm, I'm going to ask for a recount cause I, you know, I'm not sure about this, but, but it has been really exciting to be able to work with some amazing organizations around the world, on their, on their cultural issues. You know, sometimes people ask me, oh, they, you must get called into some really diseased environments, some real places that need you. And you know, frankly, Brian, they never call. Who I get to work with are good cultures that want to keep being good and they want to get even better. And so it's been a great ride. It's, it's been really rewarding to be able to help move the needle, but, but really help cultures that want to get better.

Brian Lord:

Yes. And for those who don't know, so Chester and Adrian have you know, our partners in crime and I've written so many books together and spoken together and they do a lot of stuff. So anyway, I, and we've worked with both of them here at Premiere for 20 plus years. And so we were good friends with them and we liked to poke, poke a little fun at Chester. Cause he he's, he's one of those big personality type of guys.

Adrian Gostick:

Yeah. I'm glad he came out of a shell for you.

Brian Lord:

That was nice. Nice. so anyway, so the first thing I want to talk about future of work is huge, but I also want to talk about the anxiety solution. You know what are you know, as, as anxiety, anxiety solution as a leader, how do you spot the signs of employees who are hiding anxiety? Yeah. And

Adrian Gostick:

Right now, do we have to assume that most people at our organization are feeling some level of, of stress, worry or anxiety. They are different. Those terms sometimes are used interchangeably, but they're not, you know, stress is something we feel about an event. It can actually be good for us. Our anxiety is where it pushes over the line and it stays even as the stressor is removed. What we're finding right now is one third of all workers have a full-blown anxiety disorder. That's almost twice as high as it was pre-pandemic. And this is tail from this pandemic on the mental health isn't going away anytime soon. So if we had about a third of our employees say who had a broken arm at work, but they didn't talk about it. That would be a problem. That's what's happening in our workplaces. And by the way, over 40% of people in their twenties have a full-blown anxiety disorder. And yet this is really something that we're only beginning to talk about in organizations. So most companies that have us come in are having this talk about resilience wellness, mental health, and anxiety. And we're finally starting to address this and start thinking about some of the solutions that we can put in place. You know, things that really will bring down anxiety levels. And unfortunately, most sort of resilience training in the past is focused on you, Brian, the employee, and what you need to do better. You need to get more sleep and maybe do some meditation and get more organized. Nobody's thinking about us as leaders. What can we do differently to systemically bring down the anxiety levels in our teams?

Brian Lord:

When did you start working on this?

Adrian Gostick:

Yeah, it's interesting. Probably a couple of years ago, it was about 2018. We began and about one fifth of employees at that point had reported feelings of anxiety. And in many cases they were living with an anxiety disorder. So we knew it was a big deal. And we started interviewing a lot of people in their twenties and they told us to a person when we interviewed these younger employees, we in our generation, we talk about mental health all the time. I'm going to like every conversation you will, all these, you never talk about this and that's got to change, you know, cause you can't fix something you don't address. And so, you know, probably about 2018, 2019, we were doing the research. We're getting ready to, to write this book. And our publisher Harper Collins called us early in 2020, as you can imagine, anxiety levels were spiking as the pandemic was hitting. And they said, "The book's time is now and we need this. And so we've really been, it's been really heartening, heartening to see the book coming out in 2021 and to really help a lot of organizations to, to, to know that there's finally a tool to help managers and leaders deal with rising anxiety levels in their teams.

Brian Lord:

So it's kind of interesting because you've got two dynamics at play here. You've got leaders and newer employees, but then you also have the sort of the generation type of thing where it's not just an age thing. It's almost like the age culture type of thing. How do you bridge that gap between the two?

Adrian Gostick:

A lot of it is helping leaders understand the business case behind this, that this isn't really just coddling people. It's it really is accepting that we, people are bringing their whole selves to work. And we as leaders have a role to play in the past, we would say, oh, "You've got a, you got an issue like this, go talk to EAP. You know, go, go take some medication." You know, imagine if somebody was your friend and came to you and said, you know, Brian, I'm, I'm, I'm really struggling. I'm about to burn out and you tell them, go talk to somebody else. Why don't you just go take some medication? They probably wouldn't be your friend very long, but we do that as leaders. And that actually has to change. Leaders have told me, you know, cause we work with a lot of CEOs, a lot of senior leaders and many of them have sort of admitted in the past. We used anxiety as this weapon to get people to work harder. And, and then ironically, they were say, you know, it's it's talent. That's really going to differentiate our organizations in the future. Well, what we're finding is very, very smart people have higher levels of anxiety than, than even the regular population. The human brain is wired to keep us safe. So if you're, if you're smart, if you're thinking that the brain is wired to, to keep looking for threats on the, on the horizon and in our environment, the brain isn't wired to keep us happy. It's wired to keep us safe. And so if you want smart people in your organization, if you want people who are, who are thought leaders, and they're going to challenge the way we're thinking, we've got to accept that we have to be a lot more empathetic than we've ever been as leaders.

Brian Lord:

How do you become more empathetic?

Adrian Gostick:

Yeah. That's an interesting one too, because there's a difference between sympathy and empathy. Sympathy is, oh, you're having a problem. You know, I'm strong, you're weak. Let me help you. That's that's not empathy. Empathy is, you know, no matter what you're feeling. And in fact, a [inaudible] recently told me, he says, "Look, I had a, I had one of my employees come to me. She's a single mom, three kids at home. She's got all these stresses, her parents. I don't know what she's feeling." It's like, no, you probably don't know specifically what she's feeling, but empathy is going to a dark place. Or we've all been in a dark place ourselves at some point in our lives. And it's being able to address that. It's a being able to say, I've, I've been in tough situations in myself. I understand. What can I do to help? You know, there, there are two simple words. If you remember anything from our conversation today, people who are listening, it's these two words, when you think you've maybe spotted somebody that's acting a little differently than they were because you're looking for changes in behavior. The two words are I noticed, you know, I noticed Brian that usually you you're heading a lot of comments that are on our Zoom calls, you're usually right in the midst of things, you've been a little quieter lately, is everything going okay? Or, you know, I noticed Brian, your reports usually really in depth, but lately they've been a little shorter. Is there anything in the work environment going on that like that I could help with? You know, that's a simple way to begin this conversation because again, I don't want you to become a therapist as a leader, but we do want leaders who are more empathetic and able to really pull the best out of their team members.

Brian Lord:

And that is one of those things. I think you're going to, you have that worry of you don't want to step on people's toes. So some people are unfeeling, but others are feeling, but they also there's so much. So they don't want to offend people by saying, oh, you've got, you know, anxiety issues. Let me help you. And I, I like how you, how you bring that in. How did that come about that? You found that well,

Adrian Gostick:

And I think you're really, you know spot on with that idea. You can say to somebody, do you have anxiety? Ah, ha! You know, again, that's not what we're looking for here. HR is gonna probably gonna come visit you and say, "Probably not your role to say. That" What we're looking for is, is, is touching into that, that, that heart of the issue. And you ask, how do we come to that? We've we interviewed so many people, not only as we wrote Anxiety at Work, not only psychiatrist, psychologist, some of the world's leading thinkers and anxiety, but we interviewed dozens and dozens of people, business people who, who suffer, who struggle. And one of the main things they told us is that when I, when I share this with my boss, I just want him or her just to listen to understand if there's something they can do great. But nine times out of 10, I just want them to understand where I'm coming from to have that connection as human beings. Here's the worry though. Only one in 10 employees say they felt safe talking to their boss about their mental health. You know, that's a challenge. If you want to build a great culture we have to increase the trust levels between people and, and, and their employees.

Brian Lord:

How do you set up a situation to make yourself more open and accommodating, especially if you're somebody who maybe has not had that reputation in the past?

Adrian Gostick:

Yeah. And you know, it's a great question because there's, there's no perfect way, by the way. You know, anxiety- Sometimes we feel like, oh, I can spot it. It's when somebody is really talking really fast, they're anxious. You know what? Some people talk slower when they're anxious. Some people get more withdrawn, some get more aggressive. Anxiety is this unit like with anything, with mental health, it presents very differently in everybody we meet. And so that's really where it comes down to a manager and employees relationship. Really having these one-on-ones. And so one of the things we do a lot of executive coaching as well. And the first thing we put in places, look, you're going to have weekly one-on-ones with your people. And you know, in many cases, managers will do this as a team. And that's okay as well, where they'll go around and say, "Hey, how's everybody doing?" On their weeklies. I had one manager say, we do that. We go around, how's everybody doing? And then he said, then we go around again. And we say, how are you really doing? And he says, it's fun the second time around that's when people go, "Ah, you wouldn't believe what my kid did last night." "I'm worried about my parents, these knucklehead things they're doing, they're still driving. They're 90, you know?" And we get into all these things that people are really feeling. It says only takes about 10 minutes or so, but people need that connection. So when you do you do it as a team, and people feel comfortable- Some won't, especially the anxious people. And you have to be very aware of that, but others, it's a one-on-one situation where you're meeting with your people and it's not just, "Hey, what can I help you with in your personal life?" That's not the idea here. You're coming as a boss. And you're coming to say, what are you, what are you dealing with this week? You know, what are the challenges you're facing? You know, work-wise, let's begin there. And if they decide to share great, you know, hopefully as trust builds, they will, but we can't create this environment anymore where we have separation of work and life. You know, people spend more time at work than anywhere else. So we have to create that connection with our, with our managers. You know, we all know we work harder for people that we, we care about, who, who we think care about us.

Brian Lord:

I know a lot of this plays into your other big topic, which is the future of work. And that's been one of the most innovative things that, that we have seen. What are some of the, maybe the basic outlines of how you see the future of work playing out? Yeah.

Adrian Gostick:

Again, these are all very intricate topics because you know, I'm painting with a broad brush here and every organization is different. You know, I can't go to a Southwest Airlines and say, look, you know, the, the core right now is, is being flexible with your people. They go, look, we got planes to fly. There are places of course, where, where, you know, you have to, you have to sort of follow your business, the strategy you have to follow, you know, what your customers are looking for. Now with that said, we are seeing some trends that are emerging in the future of work that we have to be aware of as leaders, you know, the first is that word of flexibility. The people- many people have learned, you know what? This, this, this pandemic experiment of working from home, it actually worked for many people. Uh we've got some CEOs are saying, everybody come back, we've got others who are saying, we're going to come back slowly. My point is, think about your organization. So if you're saying, come back, give me a compelling reason why it's going to be great to come back your other than you signed the check, you know, we're going to collaborate more. We're going to learn. We're going to give a little flexibility. There's gonna be times where we were here, where there's some times where we not be, because we've learned. So how can we be more flexible as an organization? You know, and the second big idea around this pandemic, whether you're in the office or in the, in the workplace or, or working remotely, is this idea of, of compassion, of this idea of anxiety, of, and really talking about mental health. So many organizations that I'm getting a chance to work with right now are realizing they haven't spent anywhere near enough time on resilience, on building up the, the wellness and especially the mental wellbeing of their people. Um this pandemic has affected all of us. And if there is a silver lining to this, it's that we as leaders finally realized my gosh, this is real, this anxiety stuff, because we've all been trying to balance, you know, kids, working and, and, and trying to get a team engaged and they're all remote and it's been hard. And we, chances are just about, all of us have felt anxiety at some point over the last year or two. And we can finally relate to this idea and realize this is a real business subject that needs to be addressed. So in a very short question or answer here, I'm seeing flexibility, being something that we have to consider understanding our business limitations. And the second is mental health, and what are we doing to help this and give our managers some tools to help their people?

Brian Lord:

One of the things we were just talking about in dealing with anxiety was doing those visits. How are hybrid visits different from those are not hybrid, but, you know, virtual visits different from those where somebody just so used to just popping into the door a door or someone's office is like, "Hey, how are you doing? How are you really doing?" How, how, how do those things change?

Adrian Gostick:

It does. I mean, we know that we've, we've all worked here and, you know, there's a lot of, you know, you, you've all seen the psychological research that's happened on, on this connection. You know, that, that basically we're sitting a foot away from each other and that's a little after a while that gets a little intimidating. And so, and a little anxiety inducing, we find as well. So there are times where it doesn't have to be a zoom you know, call somebody, you know, use voice communication as you're taking a little walk. In fact, even tell the person, "Hey, let's not go Zoom this time. You know, just pick up the phone. If you, if you feel like it let's, you know, go for a walk down the road, let's just chat. You know, how you doing? You know, how, and the question is, what do you want to talk about as a manager? That's a great starting question. You know, what's, what's on your mind, you know, what's keeping you from achieving all you can. Is there anything perhaps that you, you, you feel like you'd like to accomplish in our team, but haven't been given the chance yet." You know, you're not, you're not being soft on people. You're actually asking them to achieve more for you, but you're doing it in a very empathetic way. And so, and there are times that this is great too, where you're, you're face to face-to-face and you may feel like there's things you notice here that you don't otherwise. And so, just as I'm looking at you now, Brian too, I can't really see your hands. I can't see. I mean, I can see your face. Yeah. So what you may suggest too is like, Hey, Joe, we're, we're on the call here together. Let's just back off a little, I want us, I want to see more of you. And I, you know, you have to be very careful with that of stuff, but, but sometimes you do, you have people who are kind of, you know, like this in the frame and, and you do want to have sort of more of a kind of, you're trying to recreate what you would see. If you were actually chatting face-to-face now, again, you have to be very delicate with that, but, but there are ways that you can do it that really will help the conversation versus, you know, just, you know, you know, the, the way we, we can do without really kind of thinking about this, and you're looking for those subtle clues of, yeah. Maybe this person is a little anxious or maybe they're nervous, or is there something going on if that makes some sense there.

Brian Lord:

Yeah, I love it. And I hadn't really thought of this sort of the walk and talk option. Like I know everybody's done the virtual ones, but like just talking to somebody on the phone while they're on a walk, I know like if you go back in ancient times, like Jesus and Plato and all of them would always do their talks with people while they were walking. That's pretty, I, I love that idea of, of kind of getting out in nature when you're doing your talk, because that also takes you away from your computer and other distractions. So that's, I love that idea.

Adrian Gostick:

You know, I'm seeing a lot of that, too. Again, the future of work is, you know, one of the things with these Zoom calls, people are really getting zoomed out in their terms now for it and Zoom fatigue, et cetera. Some of the folks that we're working with there takes, like taking a full day, say Friday, and they're saying, this is a no meeting date. This is a, this is a day to get our work done. Now it doesn't mean we're all going to the beach. But it's a day where we don't set meetings up so we can actually accomplish something because what we're noticing in this remote world managers actually want more control. And so they're actually calling more meetings than they have before. They want more connection, because I don't know how to leave what you're doing over there. Brian, are you really working or not? And it really is fatiguing people. So take that little time, give people, even if it's a half-day or a day where there are no zoom meetings. And the other suggestion is this in the future of work is if you're going to have a weekend, make it a weekend. A lot of managers will say, I'll send out an email. It's Friday at eight. I'm just thinking of this thing. Or it's Saturday morning. I just want everybody to know this, but I don't want them to respond. They know how I work. Tell you what they're thinking about that all weekend. And you got to set the timer. So that goes Monday at eight, because you have to set the example as a leader, people in this Zoom remote world need time. Not only when they're not at work, but when they're not thinking about work, and that is part of the part of this as well. That's really important.

Brian Lord:

How do you as a manager determine who is best to work at home and who is best to work, or at least more at home and more at the office?

Adrian Gostick:

And again, this is broad brush because everybody's going to be different. But what we've found in our research is that right now we're seeing one group, particularly that really wants to come back into the office by, by the, by a huge margin. And it is people in their twenties. What's really fascinating is this is a group that's grown up working in teams. I mean, in school, they did team projects. They played on teams. They actually liked teamwork back in my generation, you know, the, the gen X-ers and the boomers, we all sort of valued the cowboy, you know, somebody who could work autonomously. This is not that group. You know, they want to work together and they also want mentoring and collaboration more so than any generation before. So they're actually really eager to come back in and, and, you know, they, they'd probably, in many cases, they don't have families at home little kids, or even if they do, they still value this. So again, broad brush, not everybody's the same, but we have to be aware of that. So, you know, it might be the younger people, but it also may be somebody who is a little less driven by autonomy. You know, sometimes again, psychologists paint with a broad brush saying that autonomy is something that drives everybody. Well, it's not, you know what, we're looking for. People who like to be more collaborative, people who could work more remotely are those who are autonomous. So I actually, this building I'm in right here, I rent from a telecom company. So last April, March ish, when, when the pandemic was hitting, the company sent everybody home. And it was interesting. I was standing here at my door and listening to the conversations, the customer service folks were coming out. It was, they were tearful. They were, we, we won't be able to come to work together. They were hugging each other. They were so sad that they wouldn't be together in the office. And the IT guys came out that I know pretty well because they helped me with my IT stuff. And they were, they were like high fiving each other going, "We never have to be together with another human being, this is awesome!" So, so, you know, again, broad brushes, but there's a good chance that more of our technical people, more of the people who may be love to work autonomously love to, you know, sort of be in their zone versus those people who are, you know, there are people-people are their customer service folks here are answering phones or at the desk, you know, they're there for a reason. They love people. So you gotta be really sensitive to these ideas and not force people into a, into a place that they're going to be miserable. They're probably going to leave you.

Brian Lord:

How do you think this sort of new future of work will enhance innovation?

Adrian Gostick:

Well, the nice part about this is this really can drive some benefits for us that as we start getting a lot more open with our people, especially this idea in our book, Anxiety at Work, we talk about this idea of helping people find their voice. Anxiety causes a lot of people, especially younger people to keep their ideas to themselves. In organizations, probably every organization I go into the CEO will say, look, I want more ideas. I want to challenge the status quo. I want people to realize that we want to push here. And yet, unfortunately too often, we, we don't really, we don't really practice that. We, we encourage teams to stretch and push, but individuals that pop their heads up often, you know, the results, aren't that great for them. One great CEO that I do work with. He, I did some 360s with his people and they told me, they said we can make any mistake once. And we know that. And I thought that was really interesting. You know, their idea was that, you know, he doesn't want us to keep making the same mistakes. It doesn't want us to be sloppy, but he really allows us to, to push the boundaries, to, to, to try new things. And he encourages that, that he will pull people up on stage and say, this was an amazing attempt and would reward them for that as much as people who were tried things and they were successful. So as we think about innovation, there's a couple of things from this future of work that will actually benefit as if we really learn lessons from this pandemic. The first is, are we allowing people a voice on these Zoom calls? We actually, many of us started to go around and say, okay, we haven't heard from everybody. Let's get every voice. What haven't we thought about here? What can we challenge? And we really get people to break through that anxiety and speak up. And the second is bringing down sort of stress levels, bringing up empathy, because I'm not as an employee. I'm not going to share an idea if I don't feel safe in this environment. And you know, some authors have talked about psychological safety. I think we'd take it further to emotional safety. Am I feeling emotionally safe here that I would venture an idea and raise my head above? And I won't, if there's not trust, so this really can be a rebirth for our organizations, but we can't go back to the way things were. We have to have learned from this, from this experiment we've had over the last year or so.

Brian Lord:

And you work with some of the biggest companies on earth, you know, big multinational companies. How can you build this culture in this sort of in the future of work with diverse global remote team members?

Adrian Gostick:

That's a great question too, because you're right. I mean, you're, you're trying to turn a battleship and it can happen, you know, the, the, the organizations that we've come into have been able to move, but it, but it really, honestly, it can't be a Russian Revolution. It can't bubble up from the bottom. It's really does have to, when it's really worked, it has to start at the top with the CEO, with the executive team or the, you know, the divisional president, et cetera. Cause there can be oasis of, of really strong culture within even a you know, sort of a bad overall company culture, but typically this starts at the top. And so that really is one of the beginnings of how you do this. You know, secondly, on the global question, you know, that's really where this idea of inclusion and diversity becomes so important. It's helping people and managers understand how you listen, how you, not only you, you, you listen and you give voice to those people who are coming from, you know, around the world. This is really exciting because many cultures now, this telecom company, they can now have an it guy who's in Pakistan. They can have a customer service person who's in Ireland, you know, for a little local company. This globalization is really exciting, but we have to listen and we have to be embracing those, you know, those people who are coming in. So it's first off, it's listening, it's standing up for people who are, who are coming into your workplace, who may not have a voice, especially those remote people where we have to allow them to feel like they are part of the team. And it's really embracing the, you know, the idea that we don't know it all it's we got to have the culture that will, it's a learn- it's a constant learning culture where we're allowing new thoughts and ideas to come into our workplaces. You know, that really is what differentiates the really innovative global organizations is that they're learning every single day.

Brian Lord:

Well, Adrian, thank you so much for coming on and sharing your stories of the anxiety solution and the future of work and for doing what you do to, you know, write so many books and speak so much to help so many companies and leaders around the world.

Adrian Gostick:

Well, thank you, Brian. Thank you for your partnership. We love working with you and thank you to everybody for taking a few minutes to listen to these ideas today.

Beyond Speaking is hosted by Brian Lord and produced by Eric Woodie

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