Kerschbaumer is not alone. In an industry dedicated to relaxation, many spa pros are on edge: Their work-life balance is off-kilter and although they are experts at rejuvenating others, they often neglect their own needs.
Burnout is typically caused not by one event, but rather an accumulation—hours, days, weeks, months or even years of self- neglect. Spa industry professionals often fail to practice what they preach, and they end up trying to promote wellness while they themselves are falling apart. “This is a much bigger problem than anybody’s letting on,” says Carol Phillips, founder of spa consulting and marketing firm BeauteeSmarts. “Work can start to feel like a grind rather than your chosen career, especially for those who have been in the industry for 15 years or longer.”
Knowing What to Look For
The Mayo Clinic defines burnout as “a state of physical, emotional or mental exhaustion combined with doubts about your competence and the value of your work.” Symptoms may include—but aren’t limited to—fatigue, depression, and lack of enthusiasm or interest. “It’s human nature to shut down when you get overwhelmed,” says Phillips. “On top of that, if you’re the business owner and you’re responsible for the team, that pressure is always there.”
Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness can serve as a signal that burnout is on the way. In addition, “tardiness, missing meetings, forgetfulness, noncompliance, and not following rules and regulations” are all telltale signs that staffers might be burning out, warns Phillips. “I always listen closely to any complaining going on in the dispensaries and break rooms. Burnout is a joy- sapper that makes you not want to work. It’s more than general malaise, and if it goes on for a period of time you need to look at what you’re doing and how you can fix it,” she explains.
“If you’re in tune with your staff, you will recognize the smallest changes within their personalities,” adds Scott Duncan, a partner at Spa Gregorie’s, with locations in Newport Beach and Rancho Santa Margarita, California. “Often the first signs start with something that managers may overlook—no smile, a slight sigh or a lack of follow-through. It’s important to connect with that employee immediately to give encouragement before it becomes a bigger concern.”
Phillips considers the “why bother?” attitude a red flag. That type of thinking can eventually cause staffers to mentally, emotionally and physically check out. “We are all human, and we all get a little unmotivated at times,” notes Duncan. “But when even simple tasks are overwhelming, you may have a problem.”
A meltdown or even a walkout is usually the result of unchecked burnout.
Prevention and Recovery
Surviving burnout requires you to rethink, refocus, recommit and rediscover your purpose. “We’re in the spa industry because of our heart and passion,” says Phillips. “We give and give and give; it can be very draining if we don’t recharge our batteries.”
She advises owners to delegate more and try to fret less. “With smaller businesses in particular, owners think they have to do everything,” she points out. “I once had a spa owner reschedule a consultation because she needed to run errands and go swap out the steamer machine. I remember thinking: ‘She bills $100 an hour for a facial. Wouldn’t it make more sense to pay someone $10 an hour to run those errands?’”
Tamara Willis, owner of Allyu Spa in Chicago, relies upon her past experience as a full-time massage therapist to keep informed about burnout prevention among her staers. “I’ve always been hyper-aware of boundaries and taking care of myself,” she explains. Willis applies the same criteria to her staff by encouraging flexible schedules, which give them time for self-care and a break from work. “We have two coordinators rather than one spa manager. They each work four days a week,” she says. “It allows them to share the load and enjoy some downtime.”
Even Allyu’s front desk has “almost unlimited scheduling flexibility,” notes Willis. “They cover for each other, split shifts and do whatever they need to so that they can take vacations. A lot of it comes down to making sure there’s enough room for quality of life.”
After her selfie wakeup call, Kerschbaumer took yoga classes and hired a nutritionist, cutting sugar and white flour from her diet. “I lost 30 pounds within three and half months,” she says, realizing that burnout had caused her to eat poorly and ignore her health. But slowing down didn’t come easily. “Being a workaholic had become a way of life,” notes Kerschbaumer. “I had to learn how to unwind!”
She also made a point of adjusting her attitude. “I started listening to audiobooks instead of the news. I would go on walks and listen to motivational speakers talk about well-being and how to inspire people. I found it very calming and uplifting,” says Kerschbaumer.
This new mindset has carried over to how she treats her sta. Kerschbaumer encourages them to book that trip they’ve been talking about, and gives them cash or gift cards to help them check something o their bucket lists. In October, she has employees sign up for company-provided education that takes place in January. “It gives them something to look forward to in the New Year,” she says. “I also like to occasionally discuss (and maybe update) one of their service oerings, so the therapists aren’t stuck doing the same thing over and over again.”
In addition, Kerschbaumer began holding “service days” for employees; she shuts down the spa and—after morning meetings—everyone receives relaxing treatments from each other. “It allows them to take some time to unwind and have fun. They love it,” she says.
“When I start feeling overwhelmed, I have to read,” says Phillips. “I’ll take half a day o to immerse myself in a book—from mystery to motivation to romance—to escape, stimulate my mind and forget about everything else.” She also suggests attending trade shows as a way to rediscover your passion for the industry. “I met most of my best friends at trade shows—some more than 20 years ago!” she enthuses. “You have to get away from your bubble to get a dierent outlook. That’s why they say travel is the best education.”
It’s a matter of perspective, says Duncan. “Burnout is a normal part of life. It happens to all of us,” he points out. “If you speak as a mentor and show your sta that you understand, it makes them realize that they’re just human.” That way, they’ll feel safe openly discussing what they’re going through and are better able to proactively address it—because although it can be a normal experience, burnout should never be overlooked.
“You have to take control of the situation,” stresses Duncan. “Routine can become boring, so be creative about adding new energy: Play music in the back office, come up with fun contests and activities, care more, give more, listen more closely and look for an opportunity to help staff shine.”
– by Merlisa Lawrence Corbett