There are many reasons for staff shortages.
How should spas recruit and retain staff and build a better spa team?
By Richard Williams
Globally many industries, very much including hospitality and the spa and wellness industry, are now plagued by staff shortages. Sadly, this is the fallout of the pandemic crisis. As hotels and businesses must lay off staff due to forced closures and as manpower seek alternative options, be they returning to their hometowns, or learning to navigate this new work environment, by learning online skills or different skills to those they were educated or trained in.
For those businesses lucky enough to have weathered the COVID storm and come out unscathed and still able to operate, some have found the return of business more sudden and unexpected, and thus they are challenged by lack of skilled staff. Unable to recruit those previous employees as they have moved on or become unavailable, now they find a shallow pool of skilled workers to recruit for, and they are left short-staffed.
This in itself is a challenge, as consumers who have previously experienced no less than the best in service, now find that this is unfortunately not always the case. They find it more difficult to book appointments or enjoy the usual high service experience. This has occurred in five-star hotels across the globe, from receptions, dining rooms, hotel spas, to busy day spas and even in retail.
Many specialists have discovered they can create an online audience and now prefer to work from home, working for themselves. Spa industry businesses have also pivoted towards online offerings as they manage the fallout of no face-to-face customer services. On a positive note, we see resilience and reinvention and those with a creative business mind discovering new and inventive ways to access alternative revenue streams. However, it is obviously a pity to lose the previous customers.
Countries or regions globally that are suffering the most from spa staff shortages are those countries and territories with governments that have been slower to reopen borders and thus delay the tourism market. Places like Hong Kong, Macau, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, parts of Polynesia. Europe and USA opened earlier and have bounced back quicker. The USA, though, has huge statistics with manpower fallout from COVID lockdowns, and people choosing lifestyle and family over returning to work. They number in the millions. Here in Bali, tourism returned so quickly businesses that many did not expect to be quite so busy and most are operating on less staffing as they seek new employees.
Businesses such as wellness retreats and resorts are recruiting again as they slowly open. Even though therapist recruitment is also a challenge at this time, specialists such as wellness consultants, TCM doctors, Ayurvedic doctors, naturopaths, homeopaths, rehabilitation therapists, fitness experts, yoga specialists, counsellors, nutritionists, are even more sought-after than before. However, many of them have their own workshops and clients, or as mentioned, have reinvented themselves as online consultants. They prefer to work in these manners, to become a freelance or to work remotely and are less interested in moving countries and locations for full time employment opportunities.
Medi-spas and medical wellbeing services were less affected, as in some countries they were able to operate in different levels of lockdown. For example, home in New Zealand, Medi-clinics stayed open when there was semi-lockdown and still provide services such as laser, aesthetic tech and injectables.
I am led to understand that most spas these days would remunerate senior therapists with credentials, certificates/diplomas, at a higher rate. Therapists who have worked longer than others may not earn more salary than newer recruits unless their performance is measurable and they are contributing more to the business, be that repeat and request guests, sell well, or assist with training or participating in any business events.
Young inexperienced therapists should have a training plan to increase their knowledge and skills set and therefore their potential to earn more salary in the future. These therapists may also be under probation, until either they have completed their training or they have been able to demonstrate their suitability to work.
It is essential that the spa has a trainer or trainers and that there is an ongoing training schedule for all staff, be they a new, experienced therapist, receptionist, or attendant. Performance tracking via use of KPI’s is the best way to measure, correct, validate, and reward the team. Validation is so important, even before a pay rise and rewards, and acknowledging someone, thanking them, complimenting them goes a long way. Many, though not all, staff will thrive on proper team management and engagement.
Some properties will charge a premium rate for their more experienced or specialist therapists, but sadly the staff member may not enjoy a bonus from this as they deserve.
Nowadays, Gen Z and millennials want to align themselves with employers who validate their own values, be they towards sustainability or best practice with duty of care to team members.
It’s so important, as I mentioned, to validate, engage, reward, and respect your team, through authentic management, dialogue and processes implemented such as KPI’s, daily team meetings, team one on one’s staff activities, ongoing training and legitimate care and consideration of their own personal and professional development.
For example, in our busy spa in Auckland, (and by busy, I mean the weekends booked two weeks minimum in advance and full from 9am to 8pm, 14 rooms, 5 reflex loungers and a nail salon!), we would have a staff-shared lunch. The team were from New Zealand, Philippines, Thailand, Bali, Korea, Japan, and we would have a shared lunch once a month, and we would all cook and contribute. Everyone loved to do this and even though they were tired and busy, it created a sense of family and solidarity.
Training is essential in any business. Sometimes undervalued by owners or operators as a revenue loss as opposed to a business service enhancement, I am 100% certain of its efficacy and enhancement of not only the team skills-set but the elevation of services. Service can very well slip if not maintained, be it the review of treatment protocols, to the way we speak to and engage our guest.
I have spent many years caring for and driving spa teams from 4 to 75 people. I always believe in a caring and sincere approach. I would confess to a “helicopter mother” style and am fiercely protective and supportive of my teams. I continue to communicate and sometimes mentor my previous team members from over the years in Thailand, Singapore, China or Bali. To me, we need to care about our staff and offer them a way to improve their skills-set and become a better person. Have an open-door policy and as leaders, ensure you are hands-on, and lead by example. If you have come into the industry via an academic doorway such as an MBA, ensure that you at the very least know the treatment protocols inside out, get an understanding of physiology, and genuinely learn about products and their benefits. Experience specialist services, try to walk the talk. Trust me, as someone who was raised in the food industry and trained as a chef, I have struggled for years with my weight… we do what we can. At the end of the day, we remain kind.
So are there any solutions for the spas which already have a staff shortage? Some businesses and especially industry tech providers have identified self-service as an option. There is some amazing (but very costly) equipment, that can lull us into deep relaxation. Light therapy for example is almost impossible to replicate achieving alpha-beta-theta levels with only a therapist. I believe there is most definitely a market for both. For any five-star experience one still requires a guide, a concierge, a wellness coach to hold our hands, explain what to do, where to go and what to expect. (I guess until AI take this role!). Meanwhile we will always seek out hands-on treatments, and healing touch.
If you ask me about trends, I would say I am a great believer in the power of sound and enjoy a sound therapy session very much, gongs, temple bells, crystal bowls. Science has proven that sound waves such as 432Hz will influence the cellular system. I would like to predict that the human voice in the future will be more recognized, because I believe therein is the power stronger than any object, bell, gong or singing bowl. You heard it first here!!…