How to support MSP employees in the aftermath of COVID

| By: Arlin Sorensen

As a business owner for more than 40 years, I’ve seen my fair share of tumultuous times. What we’re experiencing now is certainly no exception. We are all feeling pressures from all sides, and in many different ways—professionally, personally, politically, and socially—it is a lot to bear. 

What I’ve seen is that how people handle life and work is unpredictable and all over the map. The same exact job done by two different people looks very different. What I know is that we have to take care of our employees and make mental health a priority.  

So, how do we put our people first while still making sure we are focusing on business goals? Read on for my thoughts. 

It’s all about striking a balance 

Business owners want to maximize output from their teams. ROI is a very real outcome that matters, and the productivity of people is the biggest impact on whether or not a business is profitable. So, the tendency is to try and run ‘hot’ and be sure there is no time when an individual does not have something productive to occupy their time.  

Owners also realize that one of the highest costs to them is the cost of onboarding and replacing people. So, they are continually measuring and trying to find that exact line that will provide just enough work for the hours available to fulfill the job.  

On an individual level, time management is key. Personally, time management determines whether I feel overwhelmed or stressed on most days. But the idea of work/life balance is a dream. It doesn’t exist.  

What we have to focus on is managing the tension between the two, and that comes down to one simple action: saying no to things that are not in our HABU (highest and best use).  

My personal experience has shown me that if I focus on the HABU and say no to the rest, I will have time to do what has to be done. Of course, it requires discipline and a willingness to put things first, but it is part of success. 

The pandemic has been an interesting lesson in time management. Many people got more hours in their day because of the reduction in a commute or other time-eaters. But there was also an introduction of things into the workday that previously didn’t exist—kids doing school from home, a spouse also working from home, and more. It required different skills and adjustments, but it boils down to a need to manage time and use it in our HABU.  

Probably the most significant time sink pre, during, and post-COVID is email. It can consume your life and take up all of your time if you allow it. I use the “Four D’s method” of managing email (Delete, Delegate, Do, or Defer) and have found it extremely valuable to keep email at bay. 

Lastly, in my quest to strike a balance, I have learned that the discipline of a daily routine is critical for success. For me, that begins with a morning quiet time of reading, study, writing, and prayer. It gets me started on the right foot and also allows me to share my thoughts each morning with a large audience around the globe through my daily “Thoughts from the Farm” blog (if you’d like to be added to that blog, please email and place “Add” in the subject line).   

Make mental health part of the conversation 

As with almost every challenge in life, communication is key to caring for our teams while still working to achieve our goals. People need a way to express their beliefs, questions, and concerns. Managers have to truly manage and connect with their people daily. They must listen and provide feedback and offer suggestions and resources when needed. 

Mental health has to be something we talk about, not just hope it’s going well. Managers have to have a relationship that lets them get awkward with their direct reports and ask the hard questions to validate emotional health. And we must build a culture where it is encouraged to seek help when things are overwhelming and becoming out of control.  

With the new work environment where many jobs can be done from anywhere at any time, talent is now the biggest struggle for many businesses. The labor market is a new frontier, and retention needs to be the focus.  

Retention is about more than pay, although that certainly matters. Clarity of values, mission, and vision is essential to keeping good people on the team. And almost equally important is the need for every member of the team to know how they fit into achieving the success of that mission and vision, and for them to know that they are valued and important. If it is muddy at the top with the leadership, those in the trenches can’t see it at all.  

Again, with this new work environment, it’s challenging to sustain a culture where employees feel they are a priority and are more than just their work. ConnectWise partner Rashaad Bajwa, CEO of Domain Technology Partners, recently shared an experience around this: 

“We had our first fully in-person team building since COVID started and had triple the attendance than normal. It was eye-opening how human-interaction-starved our staff has been. What we learned is that regular intentional touchpoints are more important than ever during this extended separation. The in-person BBQ was so successful in no small part due to the regular cadence of virtual team building and collaboration opportunities staff have had over the last 13 months of COVID to remain engaged with each other. Being remote has tested our culture, because the default path is to only focus on the client work and not each other. If our only outlet is tickets and tasks, there is a higher risk to fall victim to burnout or depression.”  

Do what matters 

At the end of the day, there’s work to get done, and there are business goals to achieve. CEOs and owners want to grow and scale their companies and retain their employees, and it’s hard to do when resources are low.  

There will always be tension between management and their teams around resources. When things are tight, and there is more work to be done, the importance of HABU and prioritizing becomes the go-to tool. Some things may need to pause in order to do what matters right now. 

It is seldom the case that there are excess resources, at least for very long, as that is not a formula for success and profitability. So, managing what is available and managing it well is the order of the day.