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OPINION: STAFF EXPLOITATION A


recent Entry Level Analysis Project report shows that 40-50 per cent of massage school graduates leave the


industry within two years of graduation. It says that: “Many factors contribute to this result including unrealistic expectations about the physical demands of massage work, compensation realities, and evolving life circumstances for 20-somethings” Let’s pick up on compensation realities.


It’s difficult to standardise pay in the US spa industry due to the broad scope of the spa category, the different price points and the experience of therapists required. In addition, the way we pay therapists


is all over the board. On the one extreme, employers may offer too little compensa- tion and have a hard time retaining therapists, especially if the clientele is inconsistent. On the other hand, employ- ers can actually commission themselves out of business by offering too much. Historically, therapists have been inde-


pendent contractors (on a 1099 contract) but in the last five years, some companies are converting them to employee status due to legal ramifications and IRS/tax


ERIC STEPHENSON Director of education, imassage, USA


pressure. Advantages of independent contractors are autonomy, scheduling, pricing and specialisation. A big obstacle, however, is the ability to attract enough clientele to sustain a high enough income. Overall, I think the lack of standards


surrounding therapist pay does mean that operators can potentially take advantage of staff and lack of opportunities may force therapists into lower paid positions. But it’s up to the individual practitioner to know their worth. A brand new therapist may not be able to command the same wage as a 10-year veteran. Yet a therapist with a long-view may choose to work in a spa at a lower compensation point if they’re receiving training and experience and making connections that might further their career down the road. In 2014, therapists who have a keen


knowledge of the soft-skills required to be


a successful practitioner – in addition to excellent hands-on skills – will always be in high demand. Those who take an active role in attracting/retaining clientele will see increased financial compensation. I do, however, think benefits need to be


looked at in our country, because unless a therapist is working with a big corporation, most benefits are small-scale and only include things like free monthly spa services and product discounts. I’d like to see health/dental benefits, as well as a pen- sion option, added. Currently, it’s difficult for many therapists to support themselves, much less their families with the added costs of healthcare and childcare.


Imassage is a continuing education organisation. Stephenson has been an industry educator for 15 years. Details: www.imassageinc.com


I do think benefits need to be looked at in our country [the US]... I’d like to see health/dental benefits, as well as a pension option, added


A 42


lthough we’re now, sadly, in the closing phase of The Sanctuary, I feel I can provide some insight into employment


standards – especially zero-hour contracts, having managed this famous UK destina- tion spa and a team of up to 90 therapists for the last seven years. At one stage we had around 30


therapists on zero-hour contracts. Having employees on call to come in only when necessary allows a spa to decrease salary to sales percentage and utilise therapist time effectively. It also gives therapists flexibility to work when it suits them, although we were also able to cancel shifts when bookings were lower than expected. A year after I joined we began to phase


out zero-hour contractors and opted for minimum contracts of at least one day a week. We did this for a number of reasons. Firstly, we felt that as a number of staff would not book shifts for months at a time,


OLIVIA DAVIES General manager at PZ Cussons – The Sanctuary, UK


they were missing out on training offered and vital communication. This also meant that there was inconsistency in our own treatment standards which – because of the possible lack of contact with those on zero-hours – was challenging to address. Secondly, having employees on


zero-hour contracts affected loyalty. Over the period that we phased out zero-hour contracts, our annual staff turnover in the therapy team reduced by half. Although there were obviously additional factors and improvements that affected this. Do I think there’s a potential problem with staff exploitation in the UK concern- ing zero-hour contracts? Well, I think that


there are many businesses out there which are constantly looking for good therapists and that’s the reason why there are alternative contracts. As long as businesses offer complete transparency on zero-hour terms of employment, therapists can make an informed decision on whether it’s right for them. So I hope that exploitation would not be an issue.


Olivia Davies has been working in the UK spa industry for 20 years, including seven years at The Sanctuary, London. The Sanctuary closed in May, after 36 years in operation, to focus on its retail skincare business. Details: www.sanctuary.com


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