by Ryan O'Gara and Jamison Stoike

As the world returns to normal after the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the spa industry will rebound. Pent-up demand for travel and soothing human touch will bring business back to spas and resource partners, even if consumers are demanding different treatments, clearer hygiene standards and greater transparency than before.

This means that spas will soon be bringing back team members who were furloughed or laid-off to meet demand; but don’t assume that just because the employees return, they’ll stay around. The issues with employee retention and hiring that dogged the spa industry before this crisis won’t disappear, and now is the time to rethink what you’re doing to build a stronger workforce, deepen their connection to your spa and, ultimately, get off of the hiring treadmill.

In advance of April’s canceled ISPA Talent Symposium, ISPA turned to its members for their most successful Workforce Innovations—from unique incentive programs to whole-team brainstorming and new talent pipelines. In this month’s “Member Perspectives,” we’ll highlight a few such innovations geared towards helping you retain your employees once the spa industry is up and running once more.

Partial Tuition Reimbursement — The Broadmoor Hotel

The Broadmoor Hotel partially reimburses tuition for recent graduates. It requires those in this program to work for the Broadmoor for at least one year, and it targets candidates that it thinks will stay at least two to four years to limit turnover.

The reimbursement funds are distributed either biannually or annually and are contingent on the employee meeting the Broadmoor’s standards, like having a full inventory of services to offer, being a good steward to the company, showing flexibility and being loyal to the property. The employees are well aware of these standards beforehand, and they ensure that the employee won’t slack off upon getting hired.

To qualify, a candidate has to have graduated within the last six months. In many cases, the Broadmoor is looking to fill openings immediately, so the candidate must be near graduation at the very least.

This program has allowed Broadmoor to get ahead in two areas: hiring and retention. For the former, the Broadmoor now has a waitlist of employees who would like to be considered once it has openings. In regard to the latter, younger therapists and estheticians aren’t necessarily looking for longevity or sustainability; instead, they could be looking for a stopgap. The Broadmoor had to find a way to incentivize them to stick around for a while, and the time requirement of the program accomplishes that. The Broadmoor Hotel is unique in that it is an indepentally owned property, so it only needed two people to approve its program. When it comes to applying this idea to your own spa, you may have to navigate a trickier approval process from a larger ownership group or board of directors.

In addition, money is also a potential challenge. As the Broadmoor’s spa director Cassie Hernandez says, “It’s a hefty investment.” She believes that with time and effort any spa director can institute a similarly successful program, but it has to work financially for those to even be a possibility. While there are short-term costs, the Broadmoor has seen this innovation pay off over the long term.

“Before you present this idea to whomever needs to approve it, you need to have all your potential revenue aligned with what expenses you’ll incur,” Hernandez says. “Sometimes spa directors go gangbusters with the up-front costs and then get shut down quickly. Put a business plan together for whomever you need to. Show them not only what this will cost, but how much it will make us. I always tell people to go into any program with a pros-cons list, and then have your ROI clearly defined. If you don’t go in with it all outlined, you’ll never get it approved.”

Memorable Meetings — La Rive Spa at Northern Quest Resort & Casino

Each quarter, the entire team at La Rive Spa at Northern Quest Resort & Casino holds a meeting. And although these are technically meetings, La Rive aims to add as much fun as it does information. While some of the discussed topics are dry and things every business must address, La Rive for the last five years has searched for creative ways to inject life into these meetings.

At one meeting, La Rive surprised its staff with a flash mob set to the song “Can’t Stop the Feeling” by Justin Timberlake. Yvonne Smith, the director of spa and resort retail at La Rive, pretended to accidentally play the song during the keynote speaker’s presentation. Unbeknownst to the staff, the speaker was a choreographer in town, and he had been helping the leadership team learn a dance for the past six weeks. After surprising the staff with the flash mob, the leadership team taught the dance to the staff, and they all performed it together.

To this day, Smith says staff members still talk about that meeting and how hearing that song brings back good memories. The staff recognized all of the little details that went into planning something like that, and they appreciated them.

“My belief is that when you have fun together, it creates a bond together and deepens our connection,” Smith says. “It’s important to see management in vulnerable positions and not good at something, where you can learn along with them. It humanizes us, and it helps build trust. They know we’re willing to do something we’ve never done before or something we look silly doing. They’re used to seeing us as experts, which is good for professional reasons, but I also want them to trust me as a person. The reason we’re having fun together is that it has a lot of long-term benefits.”

La Rive doesn’t do a flash mob at every meeting, but it does try to keep the mood upbeat. For example, the leadership team might greet staff members by name as they enter a room decorated with balloons and bright colors, with music playing in the background. La Rive focuses on little details like these to make what should be mundane meetings much more appealing.

To freshen up your own meetings while keeping costs down—necessary in the current economic climate—try to tap into community connections, friendships and partnerships. To provide food for these meetings, La Rive sometimes trades services with another property. Additionally,
Smith says that everyone knows interesting people—the key is to think about ways to incorporate their skills. For example, the choreographer in the story above was a friend of Smith’s; she gave him spa credits as payment. In the near future, she’s planning a meeting with a competitive hoola hooper, and has previously held meetings which featured activities like yoga and painting. “Know your team,” Smith says. “If they’re really athletic and enjoy doing those things, that opens the door to doing different kinds of things like hiking, yoga or wall climbing. If your team is more artsy, just be mindful of that. “At the same time, don’t be too careful. We have an opportunity to widen peoples’ experiences. They may not choose to do something, but sometimes it’s what we don’t choose that brings a whole new dimension to our lives and brings joy.”

Volunteer Time Off — Trilogy Spa Holdings

Trilogy Spa Holdings encourages each of its spa locations to organize a charitable endeavor with a local organization. The employees are provided with volunteer time off (VTO), which pays for a full day of work when they take off time to volunteer in the community. The VTO is paid out on the next paycheck.

Trilogy decided to offer this instead of funding an annual holiday party. Spas, of course, still have the option to host their own holiday parties, but it won’t be on the company’s dime. Trilogy ultimately decided that since their company is full of wellness professionals, that money would be better spent serving others. It looks at VTO as a win-win because it is doing something good for community and doing something good for its employees. This goodwill activity helps team members feel as though they are making a difference, especially during the holiday season when some aren’t as fortunate.

Spas are encouraged to do two service projects per year—one in the winter and one in the summer—using their VTO. Despite the practice not being mandatory, participation is high due to the simple desire to give back, plus an element of healthy competition and public kudos: Trilogy’s spas document their service days to share across the company. After each VTO, the employees can gather back at the office for pizza to bond and celebrate. This has been appealing to many of Trilogy’s younger team members, especially when the service project is one that they are passionate about.

One logistical hurdle is the scheduling of a VTO-based activity: many employees may want to participate in the activity, but you must still have enough staff available to work at the spa. And some employees may not be fully onboard with reallocating funds from other team-building activities to charitable causes, so the way that a VTO pogram is initially presented and communicated matters greatly.

“It’s how we deliver the message,” says Andrea Zemel, people culture partner for Trilogy. “It wasn’t like, ‘Hey we’re not having a holiday party’ or you can’t have one. It’s just that the company is going to invest in this instead of paying for a $5,000 party. The response at first was, ‘OK, this is different.’ But it wasn’t, ‘I can’t believe we are doing this!’ It was very well received.

“Think about the current culture of the team. Is it a culture of togetherness, or does everyone do their own thing? That will make a huge difference,” Zemel says. “If you have a manager with a pulse on the team, that will go a lot further than someone who sits behind desk and doesn’t know the team as well. Do they respect their manager? If he or she puts out a program like this, will they listen?”