The Spa Workforce Super Session
by Jamison Stoike

With more than 30,000 unfilled open Positions in the U.S. spa industry, spa leaders are looking for an edge in recruiting and retaining the talent they need.

They found that edge during the Spa Workforce Super Session, an all-new pre-Conference event that focused on tools, tips and methods for conquering staffing challenges. Nearly 200 ISPA Conference & Expo attendees participated in the lively two-part session. For the first half of the event, leadership and talent expert Bryan Williams led a presentation on how to build a team that thrives. Then, four spa industry leaders took the stage for an open Q&A moderated by Williams.

Recruiting, Engaging, Retaining with Bryan Williams

Across all industries, levels of engagement at work are low and many employees are actively disengaged. To Williams, the central question facing the spa industry is this: “How do we move our team members from quit and stay, to stay and thrive?” Fix the issue with engagement, said Williams, and other workforce issues will solve themselves—engaged employees will stay at your spa longer and more actively recruit new team members.

Williams identified three primary ways to build engagement: cultivate relationships, accept people’s strengths and weaknesses, and make people feel significant. He highlighted the importance of attention, both deliberate and subliminal, on engagement and excellence by citing a study which found that students who were labeled as “gifted” performed better than other students, regardless of their actual test scores. The only difference was the
amount of attention given to them by the teacher.

Williams distilled it to three important questions: “Do you see me? Do you hear me? Do I matter to you?” Demonstrate that you see, hear and value your employees by giving them eye contact, seeking their input more frequently, acknowledging what they say and pushing on them when they deliver mediocre work. Worried about building too close of a relationship with particular employees? Don’t be. “People do not lose respect for you because you become friends with some people,” said Williams. “They lose respect when you don’t do your job as a manager.”

Williams next turned to talent—how to find it and how to nurture it. To find it, think of how you label a person. Are they cheerful? Thoughtful? Organized? These are natural strengths, and Williams suggested hiring people according to their natural abilities. Once the employee is onboard, “build the strengths and make the weaknesses irrelevant,” Williams said. Lastly, it’s important to give your employees—particularly the younger ones—a sense of greater purpose in their work by demonstrating how it impacts their community.

Insights from Industry Leaders

After concluding his own presentation, Williams called up four industry leaders to the stage:

David Chandler
Massage Therapist
Canyon Ranch spa + fitness at the Venetian Resort Las Vegas

Jennifer Holzworth
Director of Spa and Retail
Montage Kapalua Bay

Jeremy McCarthy
Group Director of Spa & Wellness
Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group

Cassie Sampson
East Village Spa

The four speakers represented all facets of the industry and answered a range of questions from multiple angles. Jeremy McCarthy, a longtime veteran of hotel spas, provided a memorable answer early when he was asked what his top tip for hiring was: “Look for people who have been promoted by someone else.” With job-hopping becoming more and more common, McCarthy said that seeing someone who remained at once place long enough to be promoted is often the best proof of their talent. David chandler has spent 25 years at Canyon Ranch and offered his employee-centric perspective
throughout the Q&A. What led him to stay at one place for so long? Canyon Ranch seeks his input on product and treatment decisions, fosters a friendly and helpful workplace, and has gone out of its way to demonstrate that it is grateful for its team.

The last question fielded from the audience asked each panelist what his or her most successful recruiting practice is. Cassie Sampson noted that
her spa has surmounted the challenges of hiring in a small market by teaching a local massage therapy class. This helps her “see the talent” and gets her spa’s name in front of upcoming therapists. Jennifer Holzworth added that getting more involved in her Hawaii community— and encouraging her employees to do the same—has been a successful recruiting tool.

1. Cultivate relationships.
2. Accept people as they are.
3. Make people feel significant.