Do We Expect Too Much from Our Spa Managers and Directors?

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Managing teams of people requires a variety of skills, including effective communication, the ability to mentor and motivate, leadership, conflict management and resolution, and the organization to pull everything off with a customer service mindset, nearly 24 hours a day. And if these skill sets aren’t enough, now being up on electronic communication, social media, and interpreting data has been added to the manager’s plate. Let’s also not forget the financial responsibilities to drive production, all while keeping employee and guest culture high by acknowledging good work. Most recently, work force preferences, sensitivity training, diversity initiatives, sexual harassment issues, and inter-generational communication gaps have thrust more responsibility onto today’s managers. And yet, being knowledgeable in their field still hasn’t even been mentioned. Do we expect too much from our spa managers and directors? 

In looking at the role of spa director over the past 20 years, it’s no wonder that our spa management staff is exhausted, stressed, and working ungodly hours. Industry data from ISPA and the Global Wellness Institute reveals a management shortage that seemingly will never go away.  And now a new burden is being thrust upon spa directors: the universal sought-after term, wellness. Wellness and spa—are the words synonymous and the responsibilities the same for managers? Wellness is a word applied to just about everything nowadays. “Wellness washing” has replaced “green washing” as a buzz term, and sadly, the function of wellness in spa is needed more than ever.

Spas today are incorporated into wellness centers, medical offices, senior living facilities, and real estate ventures. From infrared saunas to salt rooms, from IV infusions to cosmetic surgery procedures, from medical treatments to eastern approaches, spas are now providing even more diverse and complex offerings. Fitness offerings have evolved to include  functional assessments done on green screens and interpreted by a physiologist and corrected through physical therapy. From nutritional apps to cardiometabolic tests to genetic testing, the list goes on. We’re all individuals, and we expect that in our care and in our spas.

So why are spa directors and their management skills considered universal? Having worked in the medical field for half my career and in spas for the other half, I know firsthand how managing these groups, and more importantly, the profit-and-loss statements of these departments, require an individual skill set or double the education. Yet in the spa industry, we just add the word to the existing title, and we add the responsibilities to managers along with that. Our spa directors have become directors of spa and wellness. With this comes the backlash of well washing along with unqualified and overworked spa professionals now expected to carry the burden of yet another industry. Managing a massage therapist is not the same as managing a physician. Herein lies a major problem with the shortage of spa managers. Soon, delivery of poor service or disappointed customers expecting individualized health and wellbeing in the spa setting will further drive the nail unless we break the cycle.

Our recruitment firm is seeing wellness professionals being hired in the senior living sector, hospitals, wellness centers, and a very small number of hotels. It’s time for all spas—day spas, destination spas, resort spas, hotel spas, and health spas—to create the position of wellness managers so our spa managers can deliver on what we do best.


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