Recent Research : MSPs And Staff Monitoring

Given the importance to MSP owners of recruiting and (more importantly) retaining excellent staff, it’s more vital than ever to maximize the value that they get from the relationship with the business. So to this end, it may be worth reviewing a quick precis about a recent academic study.

There’s a 2023 article entitled “Is Someone Looking Over My Shoulder? An Investigation into Supervisor Monitoring Variability Of Subordinates Daily Felt Trust and Wellbeing”, which is quite a mouthful, and I’m not even going to try and pronounce the names this time.

The article explores the impact of supervisor monitoring on the trust and wellbeing of subordinates in remote work settings. And after navigating the academic jargon here, here are some of the key findings from that article.

1 – Daily monitoring by supervisors was found to be negatively associated with daily trust felt by subordinates, which in turn negatively impacted the subordinate’s wellbeing.

2 – The concept of supervisor monitoring variability was introduced, which refers to the variability in the extent of monitoring by supervisors over multiple days. Here, high variability means that the supervisor monitoring is high on some days and low on others, which leads to uncertainty for subordinates.

3 – Monitoring variability was found to intensify the negative relationship between daily supervisor monitoring and how the subordinates felt (daily) and their trust in the newly introduced remote working context.

4 – The study suggests that supervisor monitoring can make subordinates feel that their supervisors are literally ‘looking over their shoulders’, thereby impeding subordinates or autonomy and reducing their feeling of being trusted.

So unsurprisingly (as often is the case in an employer relationship), there are different forces pulling in different directions here. The MSP owner or manager wants to know from their perspective that work is undertaken to a high standard and that more importantly, nothing untoward is going on because obviously there’s a lot of trust and issues of responsibility to deal with. From the other perspective, the employee wants to feel trusted and valued and have a degree of autonomy. Now, based on these findings, a managed service provider could take the following measures to make the best use of this information. So here’s seven suggestions:

1 – Balanced the monitoring. Supervisors should aim for a balanced approach to monitoring, ensuring that it doesn’t become excessive or intrusive, which is just common sense really. So this can help maintain trust and wellbeing amongst subordinates.

2 – Consistent monitoring practices. To avoid creating uncertainty and stress among subordinates, supervisors should aim for consistency in their monitoring processes. And this means avoiding high variability around monitoring day-to-day activities.

3 – Communication and transparency. Which problems can’t be solved with communication? So here, supervisors should communicate clearly about their monitoring practices and crucially the reasons behind them. This transparency can help ‘subordinates’ (when I say subordinates, I mean employees). Basically, it helps them understand the need for monitoring and reduce the feelings of mistrust or any kind of invasion of privacy.

4 – Promote autonomy. Supervisors should strive to promote autonomy among employees as this can enhance feelings of trust and wellbeing. This might involve providing subordinates with more control over their work and reducing unnecessary monitoring.

5 – Training for supervisors. Managed service providers can provide training for managers and supervisors to help them understand the impact of their monitoring practices on their employees and subordinates in terms of their trust and wellbeing. This could include training around effective communication plus promoting autonomy and balanced monitoring practices.

6 – Regular feedback and open dialogue. This is an extension of communication and involves encouraging regular feedback sessions and open dialogue between supervisors and employees or subordinates. This can help address any issues or concerns related to monitoring and helps work towards a mutually beneficial working environment.

7 – Implement wellbeing programs to help manage any negative impacts of any monitoring that you might be doing of your staff. This could include stress management programs, mental health support, and initiatives to promote work-life balance. This has become especially prevalent post-covid. This obviously does go beyond monitoring people’s work, however, in the bigger scheme of things, having wellbeing programs in place is probably not a terrible idea, is it? Especially when you consider the fact that we’re all living in a very frenetic and very stressful world these days, especially since the pandemic and AI is threatening to take jobs away from people, which is very stressful.

Your staff are your biggest asset and they’re also your biggest liability. Investing in wellbeing programs is certainly money well spent. 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 help to avoid conflict and which you can improve over time and include in your management procedure guide.

Of course, if you haven’t got a management procedure guide, then now is a good time to start.


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Mike Knight