How Mental Health Affects Your Team

As a society, we’ve started talking more openly about mental health. And for leaders, this is a good thing, because ultimately your team’s mental health can have a significant impact on your company’s bottom line.

Managing a team’s mental health can be difficult. While we no longer expect people to tough out their personal crises in silence, your crews may still feel the need to maintain a tough guy attitude in the face of stressful emotions. And leaders themselves often find it challenging to make their team’s mental health a priority, when they’re already juggling so many other equally important management issues.

But whether it’s stress over a divorce, or worry over a child awaiting surgery, when someone on your team is grappling with serious personal issues the consequences can go beyond mere underperformance. And in the dirt world, a team member who’s having problems staying focused on their work might even pose a hazard to other people. This is why your team’s mental health matters.

Get that check engine light fixed.

When the people reporting to you are stressed from grappling with personal issues, you can’t let the situation slide, hoping it will resolve itself. “If the check engine light comes on in your car while you’re driving down the highway, you pull over to the service station and you get the engine serviced,” Willink pointed out. “And once you do that, your car will be fine. You can take it back to the highway. You can keep on driving it.”

But if you ignore that check engine light and keep driving? You’ll destroy your engine. And it’s no different with people. So if someone you’re managing is so stressed they’re showing you the human equivalent of their check engine light coming on, it’s a signal you shouldn’t ignore.

“Maybe you get them to take on an office job for a while,” Willink said. “Or maybe you send them out in the field, because sometimes the office is more stressful than the field. But you do something. You do what it takes to get that check engine light fixed.”

Managing mental health as a leader.

Dealing with the mental health component of team management can often prove to be a bumpy road. Willink offered the following tips to help leaders better navigate this road:

Build relationships

You need to focus on building relationships. “The number one thing you’ve got to have is a good enough relationship with your people so you can see when there’s something going on,” Willink said. “Now, this doesn’t mean if you’ve got a thousand people under you, you need to have this kind of relationship with all these people. But team leaders need to understand, if they have seven people on their team, they’re responsible for those seven people.”

What does this responsibility look like when it comes to a team member’s personal stress? “As a leader, you’ve got to know your team well enough to know that Fred is acting strange,” Willink said. “And when you see this, you say, hey, Fred, what’s going on? Is everything okay? That’s what we as leaders have to do. And we have to build the relationships that let us do this.”

Provide support.

Building a relationship with your team will enable you to see when something is troubling one of your team members. But when you do see that something’s not okay, what can you do?

You support them. Willink used the cover and move technique as an example: “You use the cover and move tactic to support your team. So if Fred’s daughter is really sick, you say, ‘Fred, take Friday off so you can go to the hospital with your little girl. Go spend some time with her. We’ll cover for you.’”


Manage your team’s mental health by building relationships. You need to be able to see that a team member is having personal struggles before things get out of hand. The best way to do this is to have the kind of relationship with your team that enables you to see when something is not okay.

And when someone is having problems, give them the support they need. This might mean having the team cover for them so they can take crucial time off. Or you might move them onto a different type of task.

When dealing with stress and mental health, expecting people to tough things out is a strategy that simply doesn’t work. The reality is, personal crises can — and often do — have serious negative consequences on a person’s work life. And this means leaders must make their team’s mental health a priority.