To say working at an MSP can be demanding is something of an understatement. Clients can be difficult. Code-red emergencies can pop up at any time, including evenings and weekends.
In fact, a 2020 survey found that 67% of MSP workers say their jobs are stressful, with heavy workloads and poor work-life balance cited as common issues.
Left unchecked, this can create serious problems for your MSP team and their mental well-being. Among tech workers, 71% report that mental health issues negatively affect their productivity—and 57% have experienced burnout.
It’s not uncommon to see complaints in the /r/msp subreddit from techs who have been pushed to their breaking point and are looking at jumping ship. That makes mental health a hiring and retention issue for your MSP as well.
While the potential negative consequences paint a grim picture, supporting mental health can also have a tremendous positive impact for your MSP employees. Happier employees will have greater empathy when interacting with clients. Those who feel happy and supported will be more productive, and more likely to stick with your company for the long run.
Fortunately, there are several straightforward things you can do to build a stronger and happier MSP team.
Promote true work-life balance for stronger mental health
Few things can better help your MSP team manage their mental well-being than a healthy work-life balance. After all, the technology that your team lives and breathes can be a double-edged sword. While technology can be a powerful enabler that helps your team work more effectively, it can also be a contributor to stress and burnout.
Start by encouraging your employees to disconnect when needed. Outside of legitimate emergencies, don’t bombard them with calls or emails after hours so they can take some time to unplug. Work with employees to be thoughtful about what Slack/Teams/email notifications they get after hours. The same is true when they take time off. Make sure your employees are using their vacation days, and that their time off can actually feel like a vacation!
You can also promote a strong work-life balance by providing flexible work hours and encouraging regular breaks. Be accommodating to those who need alternative schedules, and be willing to be flexible as needs change.
Working from home can offer much-needed flexibility for team members who need reduced hours or an adjusted schedule, as well as extra help due to their physical or mental health.
Protect your team from problem clients
It’s not OK for your team to endure abuse from clients, whether that’s angry outbursts, bad language, or threats. Make sure your techs know they can and should report such client behavior and that you’ll take action. Then follow-through on that action even if it means firing the client.
When your team knows they can trust you to step up, they’ll feel happier and more confident in their role.
Encourage open communication
According to the Harvard Business Review, “40% of global employees said that no one at their company had asked them if they were doing OK.”
Negative stigmas surrounding mental health often discourage people from actually talking about it — especially at work. Don’t let this happen at your MSP!
Take the lead in creating an open culture where employees can feel comfortable and safe discussing mental health and other challenges. Casual and formal check-ins, employee surveys, and employee assistance programs (EAPs) that provide access to counseling and other support can all create a healthier workplace culture regarding mental health.
Your interactions with employees are key to driving this open and supportive culture. For example, reframing performance reviews as an opportunity to provide compassionate feedback can take away much of the dread and stress associated with these meetings. In these settings, ask specific questions about the type of support your employees need. Doing so can foster a culture that encourages seeking help and views it as a strength.
In each interaction with an employee, show that you actively support their needs. Truly listen to team members’ questions and concerns so you can respond with compassion and then work together to come up with an effective solution. Asking an employee what you can do to support them will be far more useful than simply saying, “I hope you feel better.”
Strengthen team relationships
When done right, team-building activities can be a great stress reliever that help employees bond and strengthen their relationships with each other. As an MSP owner, aim to regularly plan activities that give your team a chance to unwind. This could be something as simple as a team lunch or online gaming session, or it could include more involved activities like a weekend retreat.
For MSPs with a large contingent of remote workers, also consider ways to help them feel included. One survey of remote workers found that over 70% felt they weren’t able to socialize enough, a factor many executives felt could contribute to high quit rates.
Virtual team building activities could include a casual virtual chat session or video call (where no work is discussed), or trivia and other mini-games that can be done virtually. If your budget allows, you could even facilitate travel to company retreats so remote workers can interact with other team members in person.
Provide mental health resources
Providing training and education on mental health and stress management can be especially valuable for your employees. All too often, people try to power their way through stress and burnout without understanding strategies or practices that could help them.
Providing access to educational resources will help employees learn healthy coping mechanisms that improve their overall well-being.
Mental health education options can include workshops, seminars, or simply sharing online resources that provide actionable information on identifying and coping with stress. For example, a casual lunch and learn with a therapist can provide a helpful, low-pressure introduction to managing mental health.
Education on mental health best practices shouldn’t be considered a “one and done” training. Regular discussions about mental health can go a long way in keeping your team focused on how to take care of themselves and each other.
Lead by example
While all of the previous points are important, one of the most valuable things you can do is to lead by example. As a business owner, your words and actions set the tone for how the company approaches work-life balance, communication, and other areas that influence mental health.
Take regular vacations yourself. Be open and honest about your own mental health challenges when talking with team members. Practice stress management techniques such as meditation. Share how you manage your mental health needs.
When you take care of your own mental health, you’ll set a positive example for others to follow and create a more supportive culture. You’ll also be better positioned to recognize when one of your employees is struggling so you can step in and help.