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These Are the 3 Biggest Trends in Workforce Innovation

Keeping up with the changing world requires constant innovation — and this includes hiring. Evolving technology, the shifting generational makeup of the workforce, and a candidate-centric market[...]

February 18, 2020

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On-the-Job Isolation and What MSP Program Managers Can Do

Only the lonely

One of the biggest challenges to the well-being of the 21st century workforce is addressing the physical and mental health issues that have accompanied the increasingly stressful conditions of business. Longer hours, fierce competition, rapid globalization, economic fluctuations and the on-demand expectations of customers have fueled these fires. We’ve covered this topic in past articles, with experts generally attributing the underlying cause to stress. However, a new study by genomics researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, sheds a more intriguing light on the subject. The report, published in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” on November 30, reveals that our growing culture of isolation may be creating dangerous levels of loneliness -- a potentially deadly source of stress.

The study found what other scientists have long supposed -- that loneliness triggers physiological “fight-or-flight” responses that change our bodies. In a society now dominated by cubicles, studio apartments, virtual offices, and personal lifestyle devices that silo our experiences, the threat of loneliness looms large. “At this point,” said Steve Cole, the paper’s lead author, “my best guess was that loneliness really is one of the most threatening experiences we can have.”

Let’s look at this from another angle, though. As contingent workforce professionals, we live in an employment environment that’s predicated on impermanence. Our talent, whether they’re independent freelancers or agency temps, hop from project-to-project or assignment-to-assignment. And that means they’re also leaving behind new colleagues frequently, or simply not making the same effort to develop bonds and get attached. This transitory relationship can instill feelings of isolation and loneliness. Yet this is exactly where the best MSP program managers make pivotal and life-affirming differences to the talent who make up the blended workforce.

The devastating consequences of loneliness

As NPR explains in its coverage of Cole’s research, loneliness can warp our genes and cripple our immune systems: “Loneliness has been linked to everything from heart disease to Alzheimer’s disease. Depression is common among the lonely. Cancers tear through their bodies more rapidly, and viruses hit them harder and more frequently.” So what changes are occurring during periods of isolation or loneliness?

  • White blood cells become more active, their counts increase and that leads to inflammation.
  • Chronic inflammation has been linked to a variety of problems from depression to cancer.
  • Further compounding the situation is a decrease of interferons, vital proteins that help combat viruses, bacteria, parasites and tumors.
  • Cole’s team also discovered heightened levels of norepinephrine in the blood of lonely subjects: “In a life-threatening situation, norepinephrine cascades through the body and starts shutting down immune functions like viral defense, while ramping up the production of white blood cells called monocytes.”
  • Simultaneously, lonely people “seem to be shutting down genes that would make their bodies sensitive to cortisol, which lowers inflammation.”

Anthropologists and psychiatrists who have studied the social evolution of prehistoric humans discovered long ago that people could not survive in isolation: being expelled from the tribe literally meant death to the individual. Today, our independent talent may not be facing the same threats of wild animals, marauding hordes or starvation, yet the perils of loneliness persist. That’s where savvy MSP program managers can shine.

If an MSP solution is a symbiotic ecosystem -- or even a multi-headed hydra -- the program manager is the heart that keeps every system functioning properly. In this critical role, MSP program managers don’t always have an enviable task. The teams they support span the gamut of possible stakeholders: HR, procurement, individual hiring managers, countless staffing partners, scores of workers and even their own corporate teams. The reality is that they can’t be everywhere at once. Yet with ingenuity, the proper tools and a razor-like focus, they excel as champions of inclusion and socialization.

MSP program managers can combat loneliness through social tools

There’s a strange irony surrounding a culture that’s become integrated into a global social network -- people, according to numerous studies, end up feeling more isolated and depressed. Plugging into a vast social media collective can open the doors to trolling, judgmental rants, one-sided monologues and a noisy non-conversation of individuals shouting into the void. However, that’s more to do with the participants than the platforms. By using social tools selectively and constructively, MSP program managers can foster a unified culture even when people are physically separated.

Email remains a valuable external communication tool, yet advances in interoffice messaging, chat and video conferencing applications can bring everyone together in a personal and meaningful way. Consider the explosive adoption of Slack, one of the most popular work collaboration and messaging tools. Technologies like this allow for real-time communication without the burden of cluttered inboxes. They’re also more conducive to flexibility and dialog. As Meghan Biro writes in a recent post from TalentCulture, it’s all about collaboration:

“Applications like Google Drive and Docs, Dropbox, and other cloud storage tools allow employees to collaborate across the globe, and make the issue of failing hard drives a distant memory. When paired with a communications tool, such as Yammer, Skype, Jive, or Zoom, workers are able to ‘meet’ at any time of day while collaborating on shared documents, eliminating mindless administrative tasks and the need to coordinate schedules through countless email chains. The result? The growing remote workforce won’t be out of touch with office culture, and projects among teams, even those living in disparate locations, are completed seamlessly.”

Reliance on tools alone, however, may not be enough. Here are some ways MSP program managers can add a personal touch to drive success.

  • Create policies that enforce down time. Despite the allure and ease of instant messaging tools, overuse and communications at odd hours can make people feel tethered or trapped. Make sure that rules are established to promote work-life balance and let others unplug.
  • Random opportunities for small talk, chance interactions and other socialization occur organically in physical offices. Simply scheduling teleconferences won’t really solve that challenge. However, giving people ongoing access to social chat tools and video apps, such as Google Hangouts or Skype, can facilitate impromptu communications that boost camaraderie.
  • Some communications still need to happen in person. Really effective MSP program managers understand that and take time to travel to other sites or bring people in so they can be seen and acknowledged.
  • Even when suppliers, colleagues or talent are working remotely, they shouldn’t be invisible. MSP program managers overcome these physical limitations by regularly referencing off-site professionals, demonstrating their accomplishments and providing recognition.

MSP program managers conquer loneliness by being amazing people leaders

In the days before MSPs, time-strapped hiring managers and procurement leaders became overwhelmed with overseeing a rising population of staffing providers and talent. When under that kind of mounting pressure, it becomes easy to shift one’s focus to managing teams rather than individuals. This is another strategic area in which MSP program managers make a tremendous difference. In partnership with their staffing allies, MSP program managers have the time and dedication to humanize the workforce management process, concentrating on talent as the unique individuals they are.

  • They interact with talent during onboarding to learn about each person’s aspirations, goals, interests, skills, experiences and particular needs.
  • As the program moves forward, MSP program managers are able to customize their interactions with talent in the blended workforce at a level beyond busy hiring managers and HR leaders.
  • They schedule regular meetings with staffing partners and their talent to identify progress, accommodations, additional training or development needs, solicit fresh perspectives and new ideas, and to coach on performance.
  • MSP program managers are the voices of the client’s vision. As such, they prove instrumental in giving meaning to the work that talent perform. They inspire and challenge their talent, provide authentic opportunities to take on greater responsibilities, encourage skills development and drive them to grow professionally -- MSP program managers shape workers into co-creators of a productive workforce. Not only do MSP program managers help cultivate performance, they also cement solid retention and engagement rates.
  • They focus on feedback, mentoring and continuous improvement. Two years ago, the Society for Human Resource Management discovered that only two percent of hiring managers provided feedback to their employees. Conversely, MSPs and their staffing partners routinely hold clear, open discussions about duties, performance expectations and ways to brainstorm improvements or solutions to issues. They coach talent and constructively critique areas for improvement, while championing the development of perspective-taking and problem-solving behaviors.

MSP program managers build communities, not commodities

Unlike a client’s hiring managers, who have pressing corporate duties to perform, MSP program managers have a clear mandate to nurture exceptional talent. In their positions, MSP program managers find themselves on the frontlines with suppliers and workers alike, marshaling their resources and leading by example. It’s one of their greatest strengths in eliminating feelings of isolation and loneliness -- they’re engaged, they’re part of the same team, and they’re visibly working to build a community that serves the needs of the mission.

As technology, increasing commitments and a redefined work culture pose greater risks of isolation, MSP program managers remain paragons of inclusion, sending talent a clear message about the power of their role and their importance as members of a workplace family.

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