MSPs – Looking Over Your Staff’s Shoulders?

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Given the importance to MSPs of recruiting and retaining excellent staff, it’s more important than ever to maximise the value they get from their relationship with the business. To this end, it may be worth reviewing a precis about a recent academic study.

A recent 2023 article entitled “Is someone looking over my shoulder? An investigation into supervisor monitoring variability, Subordinates’ daily felt trust, and well-being” by Xiaotong (Janey) Zheng, Karolina W. Nieberle, Susanne Braun, and Birgit Schyns (ref # ) explores the impact of supervisor monitoring on the trust and well-being of subordinates in remote work settings. After navigating the academic jargon, here are some key findings from the article :

  1. Daily monitoring by supervisors was found to be negatively associated with the daily trust felt by subordinates, which in turn negatively impacted the subordinates’ daily well-being.
  2. The concept of supervisor monitoring variability was introduced, which refers to the variability in the extent of monitoring by supervisors over multiple days. High variability means that supervisor monitoring is high on some days and low on others, leading to uncertainty for subordinates.
  3. Monitoring variability was found to intensify the negative relationship between daily supervisor monitoring and subordinates’ daily felt trust in the newly introduced remote working context.
  4. The study suggests that supervisor monitoring can make subordinates feel that their supervisors are “looking over their shoulders”, thereby impeding subordinates’ autonomy and reducing their feeling of being trusted.

Unsurprisingly (and as is often the case in an employer relationship, there are different forces pulling in different directions). The MSP owner/manager wants to know that work is being undertaken to a high standard and nothing untoward is going on. From the other perspective, the employee wants to feel trusted and valued and have a degree of autonomy. Based on these findings, a managed service provider could take the following measures to make the best use of this information:

  1. Balanced Monitoring: Supervisors should aim for a balanced approach to monitoring, ensuring that it does not become excessive or intrusive. This can help maintain trust and well-being among subordinates.
  2. Consistent Monitoring Practices: To avoid creating uncertainty and stress among subordinates, supervisors should aim for consistency in their monitoring practices. This means avoiding high variability in the extent of monitoring from day to day.
  3. Communication and Transparency: Supervisors should communicate clearly about their monitoring practices and the reasons behind them. This transparency can help subordinates understand the need for monitoring and reduce feelings of mistrust or invasion of privacy.
  4. Promote Autonomy: Supervisors should strive to promote autonomy among subordinates, as this can enhance feelings of trust and well-being. This might involve providing subordinates with more control over their work and reducing unnecessary monitoring.
  5. Training for Supervisors: Managed service providers could provide training for supervisors to help them understand the impact of their monitoring practices on subordinates’ trust and well-being. This could include training on effective communication, promoting autonomy, and balanced monitoring practices.
  6. Regular Feedback and Open Dialogue: Encourage regular feedback sessions and open dialogue between supervisors and subordinates. This can help address any issues or concerns related to monitoring and work towards a mutually beneficial working environment.
  7. Well-being Programs: Implement well-being programs to help manage any negative impacts of monitoring on subordinates’ well-being. This could include stress management programs, mental health support, and initiatives to promote work-life balance.

To be clear, the last one (i.e. number 7) goes beyond monitoring work but in the bigger scheme of things, having well-being programs in place is a very good idea, given the fact that we’re all living in a very frenetic and stressful world these days, especially since the pandemic and AI is threatening to take jobs away from people. Don’t forget … your staff are your biggest asset and your biggest liability!

Hopefully, by at least thinking about these different perspectives and writing down these seven ideas, it’ll be possible to develop some practical processes which can avoid conflict and which you can write down and improve over time in your management procedure guide. And if you haven’t written a management procedure guide, now’s a good time to start!


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Mike Knight