Mind and Body: How to Promote Mental Well-Being in Your Spa
By: Ryan O'Gara

Many people who enter the spa industry see themselves as healers by nature, whether they are working as a practitioner or creating products that are sold in a spa. That strong desire to help and take care of people is often the common thread between spa managers and vendors. When it comes to employees’ mental well-being, however, spa leaders must balance that impulse with a clear understanding of the limits of their role and the ability to recognize when employees may be best served by outside resources.

Finding that balance can be tough in the best of times, and it has been especially challenging in 2020. As the COVID-19 pandemic has dragged on, its impact on mental well-being has become clearer. In June, a CDC survey found that 40.9 percent of respondents reported at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition, including symptoms of anxiety disorder or depressive disorder (30.9%), symptoms of a trauma- and stressor-related disorder (TSRD) related to the pandemic (26.3%) and having started or increased substance use to cope with stress or emotions related to COVID-19 (13.3%).

The mental health implications of COVID-19 are such a serious issue that the Journal of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association called it “a second pandemic.” And that puts managers in a difficult position as they attempt to lead their teams from an operational standpoint while also trying to have a positive impact on their employees’ mental well-being.

As the pandemic continues into 2021 and mental health issues persist, consider this a guide for providing employees the best possible support while keeping the very real issues of your legal liability in mind. This complicated topic is as simple as understanding what managers can do—and, just as importantly, what they should not do.

DO: Prepare Yourself
The first thing any manager should do is to examine the resources offered by their company, such as an Employee Assistance Programs (EAP). It’s important to participate in such programs first, to better understand what they will eventually recommend to their employees. And if there aren’t any free resources available or they aren’t enough, consider investing in a training session. There are virtual trainings through Mental Health America—an organization that specializes in promoting mental health and pre-venting mental illness—for as little as $100, and up to 30 employees can attend.

There are other small but important practical steps a manager can take to prepare—like putting the Suicide Prevention Hotline and Text Hotline numbers or the Credit Crisis Hotline number in your phone—but they must also remember not to overlook their own mental well-being. The need for self-care isn’t limited to employees, after all.

“You can’t pour from an empty cup,” says Erin Schad, a wellness benefits analyst with Kohler Co. “You can’t give someone what you don’t have yourself.” In other words, to properly care for employees, a manager must first care for themselves, and that means an honest look in the mirror. “You can brush it aside as much as you want, but I can’t be a good mom if I’m not taking care of myself,” Schad says. “I can’t be a good partner if I’m not taking care of myself. And it’s the same thing with co-workers.”

By being honest about their own mental well-being, leaders may inspire others in the workplace to feel empowered to talk about their struggles. If they do, it’s important for a manager to be ready.

“We have to provide so much grace right now for one another as human beings and not just go straight to the performance-issue mentality that we normally would go to because of all of these variables,” Schad says. “You have to be equipped to have those discussions more than we ever have before because that approach is not allowing for the grace that people need right now to get through this together. And I think that’s a reset for a lot of people that just go straight to performance.

“Let’s get back to why is that happening and be open to the response, because it’s probably not what you’re expecting to hear, but that’s all a part of educating ourselves to and having some of those trainings.”

DO: Stay Connected
Staying closely connected to employees can be a challenge in an age of remote work and physical distancing, so checking in with them frequently is crucial. If employees are working remotely, managers often have an actual view inside an employee’s home. That means potentially seeing warning signs of trouble. And at the same time, the remote work dynamic can be challenging for managers because most of the employee’s workday is unsupervised, which can lead to suspicions when an employee isn’t performing at their normal level inside the office.

“It’s very easy for people to hide more,” says Kristine Huffman, a licensed clinical therapist and a partner with Hutchinson Consulting. “If they’re not doing Zoom, for instance, you can’t even see if people are really taking care of themselves. Do they appear to be disheveled or not practicing good hygiene? I think we should ask our employees who are working from home to be as groomed as they would be if they were at work.

“Are you having individual check-in calls with each of your team if they’re working remotely just to kind of monitor how they are feeling? And then if you sense that something’s wrong with that person, make sure that you point them in the direction where they can get help.”

Some signs that an employee may need someone to reach out are if they are caught in a negativity loop, they are duller than usual, they are on edge, they take quick offense or they are jittery. When the performance is impacted by the issue, it must be addressed.

“You’re not doing anybody any favors by ignoring that stuff,” Huffman says. “It’s a hard thing to do. I’ve had to do it several times over the course of my career where I’m feeling so much compassion for somebody because they’ve obviously had some kind of anguish. And putting their job at risk only increases the anguish. But you have to make certain business decisions to make sure that your team is operating as they need to and other people aren’t getting stressed as a result of this one person’s behavior.”

Kohler recently implemented a new method for responding when a manager directly asks an employee how they are doing. Instead of simply saying, “good,” they now respond with a rating between one and 10. When someone isn’t necessarily comfortable sharing, this is a way to get them to open up. Specifically, employees are asked how they are in their personal lives and their work lives on that ten-point scale.

“It’s being vulnerable with that person to where they feel comfortable saying more than just ‘good’ because it’s almost robotic,” says Julie Lyon, who is a wellness manager at Kohler. “Right now, there’s a lot of people really struggling, so it’s important to open up that door.”

More than ever, life at home is bleeding into life at work, so personal struggles are inevitably going to leak into the workplace.

“What we’re finding too a lot is that we may be doing fine at work, but there’s a lot going on at home,” Lyon says. “We have to listen to the whole person since there’s a lot of different things that people are struggling with right now and it’s important for us to be sensitive to that.”

DO: Recommend Resources to Employees
There’s justifiably been a push for self-care during 2020, and the spa is a wonderful place for that. But as a result, clients, guests and employees could be entering the spa in a different mindset. “Prior to the pandemic, it was probably a lot more lighthearted,” Erin Schad says. “But now that we’re in the pandemic, our suicide rates are skyrocketing, and our depression rates are skyrocketing across all demographics. Those conversations are a lot heavier and are a lot more serious.”

As a result, therapists and spa man-agers can indirectly be put in situations best handled by a mental health professional. That’s why providing employees with the training and resources they need—even if they don’t know they need them—can be so crucial.

“We don’t want those associates to be put into a place where they didn’t provide the resources, or use the right language with a guest, or with a fellow associate or a member of the community, without being trained and having the resources available to them,” Schad says. “And then on the other side of it, it’s almost like the caregiver mentality where they’re going home at the end of the shift or at the end of a workday loaded down with all that they’ve carried all day long, from the people that they’ve been providing services to. And that’s heavy. And I think that that’s where their own mental health and having adequate resources that Kohler pro-vides to them is that much more im-portant right now, too, because they’re taking on the burden of every-one else that comes to them and kind of offloads their life stresses.”

When encountering a co-worker or guest who may need help, there may be a strong urge to counsel them, but it’s more important to connect them with the proper resources. Ideally, that will empower them to seek out the proper channels for help.

“We need to make the counseling process less taboo,” says Huffman. “You don’t have to be crazy to talk to somebody.”

DO: Talk About Mental Health
The stigma Huffman references means that mental health may still be awkward to discuss. The Harvard Business Review recently shared advice for combatting that potential discomfort: “Leaders at all levels need to put mental health ‘on the table’—to talk about it, invite others to talk about it, and work actively to develop resources and plans for their employees. This is how to reduce mental health stigma while increasing the likelihood that your colleagues feel happier, more confident and more productive.”

Scott Duncan, who is the president of Spa Gregorie’s, said he noticed that the anxiety level among his staff was high, so he started having meetings about it and creating a dialogue.

“I had a moment where I personally was feeling like I was losing my damn mind,” Duncan says. “We’re all trying, but what happens if it doesn’t work? I started realizing my team around me was starting to collapse, too. We pulled people together and said, If you want to sit down and talk and vent, cry or whatever you want to do, let’s do it.”

Duncan got a positive response from these interactions and recommends every manager monitor the mental health of their staff in a way that makes them feel safe. At the bare minimum, a manager can help facilitate a healthy environment just by talking.

DO: Be Creative in Delivering Information
Helping employees retain information about mental health, especially when they may not feel that it applies to them, can be a challenge. They may hear about free resources during their orientation when they are first hired, but those first few days are often a blur, as an employee is mostly trying to adjust to a new workplace.

That’s why managers would be wise to find different ways to deliver that message. One option is to create a one-pager with all of the available mental health resources so that an employee knows where to find everything. For a few minutes during a weekly staff meeting, a manager can highlight one of the available bene?ts to the staff so they are encouraged to continuously try different resources.

For a more emotional appeal, using storytelling can be a way to creatively communicate the positive impact from these resources.

“Then it humanizes it,” says Schad. “It provides a story and people remember it more, versus just ‘Here’s the details, here’s where to go.’ I would remember a lot more if some-one told me about their intimate experience with the EAP and how it changed their mentality about it. You are going to connect to that. So, that’s a strategy that someone could use to just to get the information out there in a different kind of way.”

DO: Help With Stress Management
Employees may be experiencing fear and anxiety related to the pandemic, as being isolated from friends and family can create feelings of loneliness and despair. Figuring out a way to help employees relieve that stress, as well as the pent-up energy from being confined to their homes, will make them stronger.

Kristine Huffman notes that managers can be part of the solution for coping with that stress and create a better, more productive work environment. She suggests the possibility of bringing in an expert to lead a course on stress management or meditation.

“One of the best things to do when people are under stress is to move,” Huffman says. “Give people the ability to get up and move around (throughout the day). In my home environment, I’m sitting with my computer at my desk all day, so I need to set timers so I get up and move around to burn off some of that energy that just kind of sits there all day. Encourage people to do that and encourage people to take breaks and have something functional that they’re doing during the break that is a mindful moment. Get up, walk around and stretch.”

DON’T: Diagnose Your Team Members
Even if a manager has an idea of the mental health issues an employee might be dealing with, they should keep the conjecture to themselves and allow a professional to be the one to diagnose.

“It’s not even about whether you know how to diagnose,” Huffman says. “That’s not your job, and you have to be really clear about that. Your job is leading your team, providing inspiration and helping people get to a better place by providing resources. It’s not by being a counselor.”

DON’T: Attempt to Fix Employees’ Personal Issues
Upon noticing a problem with an employee, it’s important to understand whether it is a job-related issue or an issue that has an origin elsewhere. If the problem originates outside the workplace, a manager should remember that addressing personal issues isn’t part of their role.

“That’s a big no-no,” Huffman says. “You should never go into the family issues. It doesn’t really serve you to try to give advice on childcare or dealing with spouses, even though there’s been an increase in a number of spousal situations and family fights. Things like alcoholism have increased a lot. But it’s never a good idea to get involved in trying to give people ad-vice on how to deal with whatever’s going on.”

When these personal issues start impacting performance, that’s a red flag. Huffman recommends meeting with that individual and laying out the problem as it relates to work and seeing if there is a solution, whether it is adjusting a schedule or suggesting a resource.

THINGS TO SAY TO SOMEONE WHEN THEY ARE STRUGGLING
Via Harvard Business Review:

- “What would be most helpful to you right now?
- “What can I take off your plate?”
- “How can I support you without overstepping?”
- “Let’s discuss the resources we have available here, and what else you might need.”
- “I’ve been through something similar. And while I don’t want to make this about me, I’m open to sharing my experience with you if and when it would be helpful.”