According to the 2022 ISPA U.S. Spa Industry Study, spa revenues have reverted to pre-pandemic records. And while there has been an increase in spa employees since the previous study, employers are still struggling to attract, recruit, and retain them.

Now that more people are realizing the importance of self-care, there is a higher demand for health and wellness services at hotels and resorts but not enough employees to fully accommodate guests. Many employees utilized the last couple of years to reflect and reevaluate their personal and professional priorities. We have witnessed people who left the hospitality industry completely because they discovered a new career path that provides them with similar, if not better, working conditions.

Spa employees and therapists also can offer their services independently down the road. First, they start their journey in a facility where they are given a certain rate and scheduled hours. Once they understand the ropes, employees can run their own spa business. They have the freedom to be their own boss and select their clientele.

The increase in people switching careers and working independently have forced companies to raise the bar when attracting spa employees, especially when considering inflation and cost of living in certain areas.

As an employer, you may be wondering – how exactly can you recruit and retain the right spa employees during this candidate-driven market? Simply put, your company must be open to changing and adapting to the market to reap the rewards.

Recruiting Spa Staff

When recruiting spa staff members, your priority is to create a streamlined and timely hiring process. Many staff-level job seekers don't want to risk waiting for a certain opportunity if it means another week or month of getting unpaid (or underpaid); this can be a substantial loss for those living paycheck to paycheck. If another spa with similar wages and perks comes to them with an offer first, why wouldn't they seize the opportunity?

If your company has a low application submission rate, it may be a sign to refine the hiring process. Are the qualifications and responsibilities listed in the job description too demanding? Is the application too tedious? How personalized are the outreach emails and phone calls? How long do candidates have to wait until your organization follows up about their application or interview? To avoid losing out on potential staff members, you must create a positive candidate experience during the hiring process, from start to finish.

When determining benefits, staff-level employees are likely to focus on the short-term over the long-term when evaluating an opportunity. Research how competitors in your area are attracting spa staff and see if your organization can go above and beyond their offerings.

Turning Stone Resort Casino, which is recognized by Spas of America as the number one spa in North America, offered relocation packages, temporary housing, childcare, and more when they recruited hospitality staff in late 2020. Yaamava' Resort & Casino at San Manuel hosted a hiring event that offered on-site interviews, career workshops, and giveaways. With gas prices soaring this year, Sunriver Resort is offering summer workers a $100 gas gift card every month until August 2022. I have also witnessed resorts advertising sign-on bonuses, tuition reimbursement, and complimentary room accommodations to stay competitive in the current market.

And if your organization is facing hiring budget constraints, your team should strive to maintain a positive brand. Recent studies report that a majority of Millennials and Gen Z professionals are willing to take a pay cut to work for environmentally and socially responsible companies.

Recruiting Spa Executives

Though spa executives also want the hiring process to move in a timely fashion, they are looking at their career from a larger standpoint. Based on my experience speaking with hospitality executives for nearly 20 years, they have the financial stability to be flexible regarding the length of the hiring process compared to staff-level candidates. When executive candidates receive one offer but suspect they may be getting another, they are willing to wait it out for the sake of figuring out which path is best for their career. They may even negotiate their start date to be able to take a vacation beforehand or decide to give their former employer longer than two weeks' notice before their official resignation.

Think of the long-term benefits you can offer these seasoned professionals. Executives understand that compensation will come based on their performance, but they ultimately want to join organizations that will continue to challenge them and recognize their hard work. How is the corporate culture? What is the company going to do to support their career growth? And a newer incentive to consider nowadays – is there an option to work remotely full-time or part of the time? Because work-life balance has increased in value, executives are using hybrid and fully remote work as a bargaining chip during the negotiation process.

If your company doesn't have enough time and resources to find the right spa executive, research and hire an executive search firm that can fulfill your company's hiring needs. Executive recruiters are a valuable resource if you need assistance with understanding the industry and current job market. They act as the bridge between the employer and job seeker with the goal of making the hiring process smoother for both parties.

Regardless of your decision to do the recruiting in-house or outsource the work, you must know what you want. Every employer wants to hire the "right" candidate for their team, but what exactly does that entail? As much as using third-party vendors are a huge help in the recruitment process, you shouldn't be completely hands-off either. You know your spa the best. To find your ideal executive, you need to be able to decide what qualities and skillsets are needed to make a mark at your company. After all, the leadership you choose will heavily influence the culture and performance of your spa department.

Health is Wealth: Retaining Your Spa Employees

Once you've hired more employees, the next hurdle is making sure you are doing everything in your power to keep them happy and motivated to stay at your organization long-term.

Laura Putnam, CEO and Founder of Motion Infusion and bestselling author of Workplace Wellness That Works, explains that the issue companies are facing isn't a labor shortage but a well-being shortage. Your spa is meant to promote health and wellness, but how often is this practiced within your own department?

From a business standpoint, you cannot operate your spa properly if your employees are burnt out. As customers continue to see the value in prioritizing their well-being, your organization should work hard at fostering a healthy and positive work environment for its workers. Consider how much time you put into ensuring your customers come back to use your services. Now, how can you do the same for your employees?

If your team is experiencing high turnover, place yourself in their shoes and take the time to truly understand their needs and motives. Unsure on what your workers want? Ask them directly. Do they want better compensation? Are they feeling overworked? Do they need more training? Do they want more recognition for their work?

Maintaining consistent communication with your spa team members is crucial. It can be surprising how much useful insight you can get from your team on how to elevate the employee and guest experience. Taking the time to listen – and I mean really listen – to your employees is a simple, yet effective way to make them feel supported and appreciated. As long as you follow through, that is.

Any employer can advertise how much they care about their employees, but your workers won't believe it until they see it. Do your best to implement changes within your department based on their feedback. Actions speak louder than words, after all.

Final Thoughts

From my experience, spas are often perceived as a different entity when conversing with hospitality clients. Employers rave about their hotel rooms, food and beverage outlets, live entertainment, and award-winning golf courses, but I rarely hear about their spas. In this candidate-driven market, employers need to shift their perspective and treat their spas with the same attention as they would their other divisions if they want positive results.

While the industry is bouncing back to pre-pandemic revenues, it doesn't mean that everything will (and should) go back to the way things were. We shouldn't forget or ignore the lessons the pandemic has taught us over the past two years. Offering spa candidates and employees the bare minimum isn't enough anymore. If you want your hotel and resort to thrive, you cannot afford to wait on the sideline until the job market is back on your side.

The reality is that the "new normal" is here to stay. Employees will continue to put their health and wellness at the forefront when considering future opportunities, so it's in the employer's best interest to keep that in mind when improving their recruitment and retention strategies.

Hiring and retaining the right spa employees is a delicate process that will take time, effort, and an open mind. If you really want to make a difference and improve the way your spa operates, the people who are best for the job will want an employer who genuinely cares about them and fairly compensates them for their work.

All of these changes won't happen overnight, of course. But as long as your company is keeping the needs of your spa employees top of mind, you are one step closer to running a winning department.

Benjamin (Ben) Farber represents the 3rd generation of proud family ownership of Bristol Associates