By Douglas Preston
It's every spa owners' frustration: creating a top quality spa clientele while facing a revolving-door change in key service and support personnel. Between incessant demands for pay increases, tailored working hours, avoidance of staff meetings, and cyclical career disenchantment it may seem as though you'll never assemble a stable and reliable team. And you're close to being right. In the spa industry the job jumping, burnout, and dropout rate are alarmingly high, rendering many spa owners unwilling to invest in substantial employee training.
We recently conducted an informal survey of spa technical professionals to try and determine the key reasons that some look for new workplaces. The tally excludes those that cite the need to relocate, care for a child, or other situational reasons for resigning a job. In order of frequency we recorded the following:
1. Unhappy with spa owner or manager 39%
2. Not enough business/income at a particular location 31%
3. Better offer from new employer 19%
4. Starting own business 9%
5. Changing career focus 4%
What's most interesting about the responses that we collected was the majority reason (#1) that respondents cited as the stimulus for changing employers. Searching deeper into the primary cause for job unhappiness as related to a manager or owner we learned that:
- employer/employee communication was judged as poor, infrequent, or demeaning
- employee felt that the position failed to offer education, training, and other growth opportunities
- employee felt that they had been hired and abandoned or left to drift by manager
- employee disagreed with owner on their job description and responsibilities
- employee judged management as disorganized, favoring senior personnel, and displaying a double standard in terms of expectations and behavior standards
Whether or not these perceptions are fact or represent a reaction to one's own career/personal deficiencies, they remain a profound reason that many spa employees feel the pressure or need to uproot and move. It's important to understand that probably few aspiring professionals had a realistic grasp on what a career in spa services would mean in terms of practice building, self-promotion, early income potential, and the rigors of working in a tightly-run day spa environment. Licensing schools, also cash-and student-dependent business, are not likely to drive home the message among attendees that a spa career will involve hard work, low initial pay, and years of clientele building. Add to that all the media and industry hyping of glorious day and resort spas that tend to gloss over—or ignore completely—the messy business of employee management, high operating costs, and rapid turnover so characteristic of them. What we end up with is the assembling of employers and employees in an activity that neither may be adequately prepared for or able to correctly respond to. Hence the growing profusion of spa business consultants!
No one wins when employee turnover occurs; employers lose money, clients and reputation strength; employees lose money and clients; clients are inconvenienced and forced to choose loyalties between the spa they enjoy and the practitioner they've become attached to. All of this is bad for business. Now before you go offshore for telephone handling or completely automate your spa services it may help to understand the five primary values of the spa employee. By primary values we mean the qualitative aspects of their career interests that determine how they'll evaluate the job that they've accepted with you. A values-centered spa will develop employee programs and a company culture that reflects what staff members are most positively attracted to and least likely to discard on emotion or impulse. Here they are along with notes on how to make the most of each:
Five Key Spa Employee Values
Employees want to learn new things—techniques, product ingredients, equipment, and so forth—and cite this as their #1 value in either finding or keeping a spa position.
Management strategy: Offer stimulating new employee training plus on-going training and classes for all members of your team at least quarterly but preferably more often. Use a blend of in-house and outside trainers to keep the team stimulated and interested. Don't let ineffective people attempt to train or inspire your employees—it will have the reverse effect! This is not a good place to be stingy.
2. Personal recognition.
The old complaint that one never hears anything from their boss unless it's something negative is alive and well in spa management. Just because a person sets himself or herself up to serve as a manager doesn't automatically make them an expert at being one, then or ever. Management is a skill, not a job to merely fill with the most convenient or high-ranking person around. But no matter who occupies the management role at a spa some things are absolutely essential, one being the need to make employees feel valued and important to you and your customers.
Management strategy: Pass the cookie plate of praise around the spa more often—MUCH MORE OFTEN! Put it on your daily list of duties to catch employees doing things right, instead of only exceptionally. Think of how relieved you are just when the massage therapist arrives to work on time, or even at all! Be amazed when your front desk person greets clients with warmth and enthusiasm. Notice that your esthetician followed through on a client retail recommendation, helping your business to take full advantage of its sales potential. Be aware of anything praiseworthy and then offer worthy praise. You'll earn a lot of additional employee loyalty with this least expensive of all employee values. Stop treating it like gold!
3. Growth and opportunity.
No one wants to think that they're working in a dead-end job. Whether or not your employee will reach for more responsibility or longer hours, they will almost all want to feel that you will see them as qualified to do so. Unusually ambitious employees may routinely survey the company landscape for a chance to improve their position, pay, and prestige.
Management strategy: Promote from within whenever possible or, at least, interview internal people before hiring from the outside. Some individuals are more attracted to elevated titles than to pay increases. Whatever you do try to learn what your employees career interests are and then support them with promotions to team leader, assistant manager, or any other potential position that they seek that's feasible for you and which has been earned by them. Even citing the exceptional service performance of an individual can satisfy the need for personal growth.
Would you want to work for a company that might, at any given minute, have to reduce employees or even shut down? Are rumors afoot about the company's health, its financial condition, or possible sale to another owner? Are you possibly the source of these concerns?
It doesn't take much gloom to make employees think about jumping from a sinking ship, and what they don't know can seem more real than what they have believed to be true. Bad news travels fast among employees, customers, and even your competitors! The faster you can get a hold on the situation, the better.
Management strategy: Do not share your business fears or worries with anyone that doesn't need to hear it! While your bookkeeper or controller may be aware of a cash-starved company checkbook don't let your service team in on the bad news. For them it can mean that the house is about the fall down, and with it their jobs! A meeting held behind closed doors with a suited stranger, particularly one that toured the spa just prior to it, is all it takes to rev up the rumor mill that a business sale is imminent. Openly vocalizing your frustrations among employees or revealing private information over drinks with a trusted team member may act as a confirmed reason to look for new horizons, or just a more secure job!
It's funny how this all-important detail of employment can rank so low among the expressed values of the spa professional. Do not assume this means that pay isn't of interest to them; however, among all of the "Why did you choose this profession" considerations for pursuing a spa career money doesn't often come up as a prime motivator. Let's face it; income does matter eventually, for everyone. In a new spa career, however, there could be a significant delay between the first day on the job and the ability to purchase a house, car, or even an iPod! What's going to help you and your employee survive the wait for a satisfying payday? A rich working environment of values 1-4. Failing that value, #5 rises to the top of the list and it will never be large enough or soon enough. In other words, you cannot buy off an employee's most closely held career values.
Management strategy: You've already read them—now DO them!
For more information, visit www.prestoninc.net