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Adrian Gostick: “Sometimes it’s as simple as being accepting to those who are living with anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues”

A first step in building a healthy work culture comes in the form of awareness — of acknowledging the frantic paddling often going on under the surface in your team — a second part, mitigation, comes when we begin as leaders to help minimize anxiety around us, offer support for team members to work through their feelings, and build […]

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A first step in building a healthy work culture comes in the form of awareness — of acknowledging the frantic paddling often going on under the surface in your team — a second part, mitigation, comes when we begin as leaders to help minimize anxiety around us, offer support for team members to work through their feelings, and build resilience for challenges to come. Sometimes it’s as simple as being accepting to those who are living with anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.


As a part of our series about Mental Health Champions helping to promote mental wellness, I had the pleasure to interview Adrian Gostick.

Adrian Gostick is the New York Times bestselling author of the new book Anxiety at Work (Harper Business, 5/4/21), as well as books such as All In, The Carrot Principle, and Leading with Gratitude. His books have been translated into 30 languages and have sold more than 1.5 million copies. Adrian is a member of Marshall Goldsmith’s 100 Coaches pay-it-forward project and in 2020 was ranked in the top 5 Global Gurus in Leadership and Organizational Culture.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?

Thank you for asking me. I was born in England and we moved to Canada when I was about ten. I came to the States for university and since then have become a U.S. citizen. Back before the pandemic, I got to fly around the world working with clients to help build mentally healthy workplace cultures.

You are currently leading a social impact organization that is helping to promote mental wellness. Can you tell us a bit about what you or your organization are trying to address?

I noticed as I was working with client organizations that anxiety levels were rising even before the pandemic, but managers had little to no tools to help. The research in our new book Anxiety at Work is intended for managers. Their default for years — if someone was brave enough to discuss their mental wellness — was, “Call the EAP.” Yet even during the pandemic EAP has not increased. That suggests there’s inherent distrust in work cultures. EAP programs can be very helpful, but employees need to feel trust with their leader first and foremost. And that starts with a manager/employee relationship.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

My passion for mental health has been fueled by my son, Anthony, who helped me write this book, investing it with rich perspective from one who has struggled intensely with the problem. Tony has suffered from severe anxiety since he was a teenager, but he was nonetheless able to graduate with honors from university as a biotechnology major, all while working part-time in an NIH-funded genetics lab and as a teaching assistant. Notwithstanding many late nights of studying and a passion to work for months at a time with no weekends off, he would now and then talk about how he felt he was going nowhere. Many of our talks became reference points that showed up all too often in the stories told to us by workers who have recounted their anxiety. It helped me realized that in working with someone with anxiety, I could look to help build resilience in a set of specific ways. That was a lightbulb moment that set me on this quest. Since then, we’ve heard so much from managers about the problem, and began to understand that we could help them solve it.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

In our interviews we met an amazing young employee named Chloe. She’s the kind of worker most companies are avidly recruiting: smart and personable, comfortable with technology, and an uber-fast learner. After graduation from college, she landed a job at an investment bank in Seattle where she quickly impressed her boss and colleagues. But inside, she felt out of her element. She began to doubt herself. Chloe gathered her courage and mentioned to her manager that she was feeling a little overwhelmed. The manager’s response: “Ah, that’s what it’s like around here. You’re doing fine. Try not to stress.” She resigned herself to feeling this way because that was just how things were. But soon, every night, Chloe felt a looming dread about the next day.

Even though she’d put in a lot of work and had been doing well in her job, one day Chloe simply had too much. She “ghosted.” She didn’t show up at work and didn’t call in sick. When her boss sent a text to ask where she was, she ignored it. Chloe never went back. From her manager’s standpoint, we can imagine this was incredibly frustrating. How could Chloe’s leader have possibly seen any signs that she was about to bolt? As we found, sometimes the slightest of clues can mean a lot. Chloe had admitted she was overwhelmed, and she wanted reassurance that her manager cared. But when her boss brushed off her reality, it closed off all potential to reconcile the issue. Chloe put her toes in the water and found that it wasn’t really safe to talk about her anxiety at work.

According to Mental Health America’s report, over 44 million Americans have a mental health condition. Yet there’s still a stigma about mental illness. Can you share a few reasons you think this is so?

Research shows only 10% of employees with anxiety or depression say they’d feel comfortable talking with their boss about the subject. Many we spoke with said they were worried: Are they going to pass me up on that promotion? Will they think I’m lying? Here’s this extrovert who says she has anxiety? Right. Quite a few people we spoke with said they feared being marginalized or looked down on if they were vulnerable, others talked about the stigma of mental health in the workplace. As one millennial young man we interviewed explained, “If I had the sniffles and called in sick, no one would bat an eye. They’d want me to stay home. But if I admitted I needed a mental health day, I would never hear the last of it. No thanks.”

In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?

While the phenomenon of anxiety may seem a massive societal shift that business might not have a lot of control over, in fact, I argue there is a great deal we in leadership positions can do to help. Leaders should not simply resign ourselves to employee turnover but must focus on retaining our employees. We have found that when leaders offer workers regular chances to talk about their mental health in safe environments, and find ways to help secure their futures within an organization, many of those valuable employees prefer to stay and build their careers within those teams.

What are your 6 strategies you use to promote your own wellbeing and mental wellness? Can you please give a story or example for each?

Every day I go through my routine of mediation, exercise, and organizing what I have to get done. I also bring a card with me everywhere that has my Purpose, Goals, and Who I Hope to Influence today.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?

We studied so many amazing books writing this new work. First Make the Beast Beautiful by Sarah Wilson is one of my favorites, a very honest look at mental health from a first-person perspective. We have started an Anxiety at Work podcast since there was so little out there on anxiety in the workplace, though I do like the Mental Illness Happy Hour as a general look at wellness.

If you could tell other people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

A first step in building a healthy work culture comes in the form of awareness — of acknowledging the frantic paddling often going on under the surface in your team — a second part, mitigation, comes when we begin as leaders to help minimize anxiety around us, offer support for team members to work through their feelings, and build resilience for challenges to come. Sometimes it’s as simple as being accepting to those who are living with anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.

How can our readers follow you online?

Thanks for asking. My website is adriangostick.com and I’m on LinkedIn. I also write a column for Forbes. I encourage everyone to check out the new book Anxiety at Work.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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