Spa Confidential: An Opinion Editorial on the Wellness Underbelly

Back in 2000, chef Anthony Bourdain released his best seller “Kitchen Confidential: Adventures In The Culinary Underbelly” a part auto-biography, part behind the scenes look at restaurant kitchens. For many, his cautionary tales, anecdotes and commentary changed the way people viewed the restaurant industry.  Inspired by some recent “unrest” amongst spa staff where I work, this post is a peek into the urban day spa. Nestled in the bowels of a cacophonous city, the spa should function as a mecca of relaxation for the guest. Leave your troubles at the door and enter a sanctuary of blissful rest for the next hour and change, depending on what treatment you have booked. However, if you are an observant type (and I so  am THAT person) you may be able to detect an undercurrent of negative, frenetic energy emanating from the staff servicing your decompression.

You may also wonder why, in a feel good business such as the spa industry, would anyone be in a negative way? Part of what makes me look forward to going to work is that 99.9% of my clients leave with a smile on their face and compliments falling out of their mouths. What other “service” profession is that gratifying?  Whatever the state they arrive in, be it imbalance, stress or sometimes pain, they leave in a better place than they arrived.  That makes me feel like my therapeutic duties have been satisfied. After all, I went back to school to become a massage therapist in order to help people. Being able to make a decent living is an added, secondary bonus. It sometimes makes me wonder where a colleague’s priorities are with respect to this profession, when I sense their disdain at having to work. More often that not, it is the feeling that their employers do not have their best interests in mind that overtakes their therapeutic mood, tainting them for their clients and all other people in their path. A recent corporate decision had many staff members airing their fears and complaints via online forum. Some of the things I read made absolute sense, but others were unbelievable laments of the ills dealt to them. Here is the thing – if I was that miserable and downtrodden at work, I wouldn’t stand for it. I would be on a fiendish search for a new home for my skills. Yes, the economy is not the greatest, but it is possible to find a number of part time gigs to supplement what you need to live, financially speaking. You can also grow your private clientelle, especially if you have been at this profession for a number of years. I am almost two years in and I have 4 steady clients I see privately in addition to my spa work. If I can do it, what’s stopping you? Is almighty FEAR rearing its head again? Or is it the stubbornness of the old school mentality of working the same job for 20-30 years, retiring and living off a comfortable pension for the rest of your years; no worries?

I don’t pretend to know everything (although I would love for that to be the case…ALWAYS 🙂 ), I just feel passionate about my profession and wish that more of my colleagues shared that sentiment. It’s so unfair, both to ourselves and to our clients, to allow policy changes and corporate memos to affect how we feel about the work and quality of service. It’s frustrating to have just a few minutes between appointments to not only walk your client back to reality, but clean the room, change the sheets, wash your hands and run to the next appointment without looking or acting harried. It’s frustrating to ask spa attendants for supplies you desperately need for your treatments, only to have them shrug and say they don’t know where anything is even though they have been working there longer than I have been licensed. It’s frustrating to have commissions you have worked hard for get slashed twice in a year, with no incentive on the horizon to reward your hard work. And finally, it’s frustrating that computer glitches and “prioritized” booking causes appointments to be unevenly distributed. How we anticipate these frustrations and how well we support each other as a team will make all the difference. I arrive early, I give the best possible service experience to my clients under the conditions I have to work with, I smile and say “YAY” when I greet them (not always, but when merited like “YAY, this is your first massage ever” or “YAY, you found a babysitter so we can give you the TLC you deserve, etc.), I squirrel away the supplies I need in bulk and give myself internal pep talks about the universe taking care of all. It’s been working for me so far, but as soon as it gets to the point where my clients become aware of my frustrations, I will need to reassess. Maybe the urban day spa may not be the right place for my work in the long run; however no matter what space I work within, I am always myself – a licensed health care professional with your well being in mind.

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