Staffing Challenges Ahead: Planning for 2017

November 4, 2016 Lisa Starr


With conference season coming to a close, a big issue has cropped up here and there. I've  attended the Spa China Summit, ISPA, and the Spa & Wellness Association of Africa events. While different regions of the world have different issues and challenges, there are many similarities. The biggest topics in all of these markets was that of attracting and retaining both staff members and clients. 

At ISPA, Colin McIlhenney shared some teaser statistics from the latest research, which will be released shortly. U.S. spa revenues have broken through the $16b barrier for the first time, and the number of spas in the U.S. is back to where it was in 2008, at roughly 21k. What will be the hurdle to more growth? Clearly, moving forward is going to require new sources of staff members. The compensation supplement research showed that US spas have a current shortage of 300 spa directors, and 40,000 unfilled vacancies for service providers! That is out of a total workforce of about 360k people, so we need more than a 10% increase in personnel. 80% of hotel and resort staff claimed to have unstaffed positions, and I have to believe the same would apply to day spas. 

Certainly, in America, most spa employers would be happy to add staff at any time, in any department. Given that most spa businesses are operating six or seven days per week, and some as many as 10-12 hours per day, staffing one treatment room alone for all of the available hours can require 4 or 5 technicians. The other factor affecting staffing is that as more Millennials enter the workforce, the average hours per work week is shrinking. It has always been the case that Massage Therapists typically worked a 20-25 hour week, but now that has dropped to as little as 15 hours per week, and many estheticians have followed suit. Let me be clear, it is not that Millennials work less, as is commonly thought; they just may often work more than 1 job, or have other interests or commitments that they like to structure their work schedule around. 

So it would appear that we are at the confluence of two opposing outcomes; a shrinking work force that wants to work less hours, and a renewed interest in wellness and spa treatments among our consumers who are possibly interested in visiting spas even more. This situation creates a demand for “bodies,” who may not necessarily be the best fit for the business culture. Finding the “right” employees can always be a challenge, plus most employees, whether licensed professionals or support staff, need additional training in order to excel at their positions. This is the situation we are faced with in the United States, and it sounds dire. But imagine the challenges of staffing up in countries where there is little or no regulation or licensing, small, scattered populations, lack of understanding of the spa industry, and cultural and language challenges, and it makes our problem not seem so bad!

There is not a clear solution to this problem, and it is not likely to go away any time soon. But spa owners and managers should probably adopt a few business practices, if this has not been done already:

Interview Constantly
Run your ads for both FT and PT workers at least two weeks out of the month, and take the time to read the resumes you receive and perform some interviews each week. It is helpful to keep your ear to the ground and have a handle on available resources in your area.

Consider Flexible Scheduling
Rather than offering set shifts, give more options for work scheduling. Parents with young children at home tend to be more available for morning hours, while younger people who may still be in school are more available in the evening and on weekends. In a busy spa, shifts of as little as 3 hours can provide a steady part-time income for the right applicant.

Offer Attendance Bonuses
While very few spas can afford to pay more to technicians as a percentage of revenue, when you have a larger staff and face continual attendance issues, it can be worthwhile to create a bonus system. Available to both FT and PT workers, an example would be that if technicians do not call out sick or request schedule changes for an entire month, they are eligible to participate in a bonus pool. Even $50-75 per month extra provides a few tank-fulls of gas.

School Support
Make sure that you are a known factor in your local cosmetology and massage schools. Offer to give tours to students, or visit the schools for demonstrations and lectures. They are always looking for real-world interfaces, and being a familiar face to the students gives you a leg up at graduation time. 

About the Author

Lisa Starr

Lisa Starr brings over 30 years of industry-specific experience as a consultant, educator and writer to Booker through GOtalk. Lisa also works for Wynne Business, a leading spa consulting and education company. Among other things, Lisa’s expertise lies in business operations and finances, sales and marketing, inventory management, human resource development, and business process improvement. She is a well-known speaker within the trade show circuit and is a frequent contributor to industry

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