Spa Management: A Show of Appreciation

Reminding staff of their value is not only the right thing to do—it’s a proven business strategy.



In the service industry, the customer is always a top priority. Smart spa owners and managers go to great lengths to make sure that clients feel that they’re being taken care of and appreciated, because they know that’s the best way to garner long-term success. However, the show of gratitude shouldn’t stop there. Your “internal customers”—otherwise known as your staff—also need to know you’re glad they’re there and that you appreciate all their hard work.
This is especially true in the wellness industry, says Felicia Brown, spa consultant and owner of Spalutions! in Greensboro, North Carolina. “In the healing arts, which are part of every spa, the healers need to be healed as well,” explains Brown, “and part of that is receiving some direct expression of thanks from the people who employ them.” Taking the time to acknowledge your staff also helps them feel like more than just a worker punching a time clock—rather, they become personally invested in your spa business.

And that investment translates to a lot of benefits for you. A study by Gallup in 2013 found that businesses with engaged employees reported lower rates of absenteeism and turnover; fewer safety incidents; higher customer metrics; and higher productivity and profitability. Furthermore, a report by Bersin & Associates in 2012 found that companies that had effective recognition programs for their employees experienced a 31% lower voluntary turnover rate than those that did not.

Tamara Friedman, owner of Tamara Spa + Wellness in Farmington Hills, Michigan, can attest to the positive link between employee appreciation and low turnover rate. The majority of Friedman’s employees have been with her for at least 15 years, and she attributes this to her efforts in building a spa culture based on mutual appreciation and respect. “You cannot buy loyalty and you cannot buy dedication,” she says. “Creating a family-like atmosphere makes people stay longer and want to work better.”

Simple and Powerful

Yes, making staff feel respected can be a boon to your business and help you increase profits—but that doesn’t mean the only way to show your staff you value them is through money and expensive gifts. Brown says the No. 1, simplest thing management can do to demonstrate gratitude is to say thank you. “Use words—that’s the easiest and least expensive,” she says. “Honestly, the biggest cost in that case is for the owner to be focused and sincere.”

Brown also advises owners and managers to take the time to greet staff, and talk to them about things that are important in their lives. “Stop and say hello to people in the morning, look them in the eye and give them a pleasant smile,” she says. “If you acknowledge someone as an individual, then that person is going to be much more responsive to you concerning the things you need for your business.”

Friedman advises employers to compliment staff members on specific things, such as a new haircut or new shoes, which shows that you notice. “Everybody craves approval,” she says.

Karen Houshultz, owner of Apple Day Spa in Honesdale, Pennsylvania, turns to the written word. She makes a point of leaving thank-you notes in staff members’ work cubbies to recognize them for a job well done. “Taking time to write it down speaks volumes,” Houschultz says. On holidays such as Valentine’s Day, the owner buys little candies to surprise staff with, and on their birthdays she sings to them. When a staff member has gone above and beyond, she bestows a simple gift, usually a promotional item she has been holding on to for just such an occasion. “Low-cost ideas are so easy to come up with,” she says. “You just need to get to know your staff.”

Scott Duncan, president of Spa Gregorie’s, with three locations in Southern California, contends that showing appreciation just takes a bit of creativity. The small chain presents its managers with a quarterly “perks grab bag” that contains surplus spa products, as well as gift certificates and vouchers collected by bartering with local businesses. Managers, in turn, show gratitude to the staffers who report to them, with simple but thoughtful gestures, such as spontaneously bringing in a cup of coffee for whomever is working the front desk that day or opening that morning. They even occasionally don chef hats and cook breakfast for employees at staff meetings.

Sometimes a little public recognition goes a long way. Friedman makes sure to spotlight employees in her marketing emails to clients. This serves several purposes: 1) it makes employees feel special; 2) it helps clients learn about the staff’s credentials; and 3) it helps clients pinpoint services they might want to try. “We feature massage therapists, facialists, manicurists and even the front desk—everybody who works for us gets featured twice a year and they love it,” Friedman says.

Group time away from the spa is a great way to cement employer-staff relationships and build morale. Many spa owners do this via an annual holiday party, but Houshultz suggests an additional outing if possible. She designates April as Staff Appreciation Month at her spa, which includes weekly incentives and a staff overnight trip at a retreat center. “The positive feedback goes on for weeks,” Houshultz says.

Staff Dynamics
Sometimes singling out an employee for outstanding performance can lead to unexpected repercussions, sparking a negative response from other employees who may feel overlooked and under-recognized. Obviously, it’s important to make the effort to be as even-handed as possible, but Brown stresses that singling out an employee can actually serve as a learning tool and motivator for the rest of the staff.

“It’s okay for other people to know that there are star performers,” Brown says. “You want to encourage everybody to outshine themselves, to improve upon their personal best.”

Houshultz agrees that it’s important for employers not to be afraid to single out a star performance. “Use that acknowledged employee as an example,” she urges. “It lets others know that going above and beyond gets them noticed. And if another employee gets upset, let her know that you appreciate her too, but explain what your expectations are of her.”

And what about that employee who never seems to feel properly acknowledged no matter what you do? Brown suggests simply asking her: “What would it take for you to feel appreciated here?” However, the consultant warns, you might still not be able to turn that person around because her unhappiness may stem from a deeper dissatisfaction, either with her job or with something else going on in her life. “That might be a warning sign that this person is on her way out the door, so it’s definitely something to pay attention to,” Brown adds.

Another potentially tricky issue for spa owners and managers may be finding appreciation strategies that are effective for everyone on their staff. This, says Duncan, comes down to management’s communication skills and ability to glean from staff what type of reward drives them. You may need to modify your methods to meet everyone’s different needs. For instance, if you decide to bring in coffee for staff members and someone doesn’t drink coffee, then find out what their favorite beverage is.

“If you care about your staff as you would a family member,” concludes Duncan, “then it’s fairly simple to extract the information that you need to incentivize them.”

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