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Massage Today
March, 2002, Vol. 02, Issue 03

Spa Letters

By Steve Capellini, LMT

Author's Note: The Spa Letters column features news, personality profiles, trends, and plenty of professional possibilities for LMTs in the spa industry. The style is epistolary, meaning the articles are letters to a fictional massage therapist friend of the author.

Dear Lou,

I'm quite impressed with the incredible enthusiasm you've shown for your work in the spa industry.

At this rate, you might become spa director yourself in the near future! You should be proud of the "Supervisor of Spa Treatments" position you've been offered, whether you accept it or not.

That's right, I said whether you accept it or not. You should definitely sit down and think long and hard about the decision, although right now it would seem silly to turn down something so obviously good for your career - including an increase in pay and prestige. But before jumping for that big spa brass ring, consider what I call the "3 Rs" that come into play when moving into management.


First of all, when you make the switch to being a manager/supervisor, other people are going to look at you differently. When you are somebody's "boss," he or she may have the tendency to categorize or even demonize you. This single quick decision will make you the "enemy."

I'm not exaggerating. This happened to me, and it's happened to many others I know in the spa industry -- therapists who started working in the spa out of a sincere desire to do good work and treat other people in a caring manner. As soon as they moved into a managerial position and felt the sting of separation from their colleagues, many of them retreated immediately into their former roles as therapists (with the added stigma of "demotion" attached to the position), while others quit the industry altogether.

I don't mean to alarm you, but if you choose to take the position, you have to be prepared to see therapists from the opposite side of the desk. What you see may not be too appealing.


Consider the new responsibilities you're likely to have, including, among other things:

  1. payroll;
  2. scheduling;
  3. dispute management;
  4. training; and
  5. liaison between staff and upper management.

Being in charge of payroll means you'll be in charge of your staff's wallets, bank accounts and paychecks. People will see you as the gatekeeper to their prosperity, or their lack of it. You'll be amazed how quickly a massage therapist will transfer his or her feelings of lack and poverty onto you if the paychecks are not what is expected. You will have to be there to distribute these paychecks, and you'd better not be late or in any way impede the flow of funds, because you will hear about it immediately. Once you have a system worked out, payroll can become routine. Just be aware that others will see you not so much as a friend anymore, but more as a parental figure, if you're the one handing them their money at the end of every pay period.

The flip side of payroll is scheduling. By deciding who gets which shifts, you ultimately will be in control of who gets the biggest paychecks. This is often tied in with some kind of seniority system, as I mentioned a few letters ago. Some managers have a hands-off attitude about scheduling, leaving the details up to requests from the staff and the day-by-day exigencies of the spa, but I think it's better to be proactive on this issue. Of course, scheduling massage staff will include scheduling yourself, since you'll still be a working therapist, and even though you think that will mean you can choose when you work and get the choicest times and dates off for vacations and so on, you'll find that in reality, supervisors work a lot more than the line staff, because a lot more is expected of them. Upper management knows that you're someone who wants to move up, and they'll take advantage of that ambition.

If you decide to be a manager of people, you'll also definitely find yourself managing disputes. With massage therapists, that can be tricky. Everything from security issues to sexual harassment charges will come under your jurisdiction, so be prepared!

As a supervisor, you'll be expected to be on top of the latest issues as far as training is concerned. This usually isn't that much of a problem, because vendors come in to do most of the training, as you've already learned. But it's important for you to stay current and informed and able to offer assistance and even extra solo trainings for those on-the-spot situations where an outside trainer is not available.

Perhaps the most important role you'll play as a supervisor is as liaison between staff and upper management. The other therapists will rely upon you to get their concerns headed, and the owners/management will depend upon you to get their views heard (and their rules obeyed!).


Now consider the reasons you're thinking of saying "yes" in the first place. As a supervisor, you will be in position for serious consideration when other job opportunities evolve within the company, or maybe even in other spas. You'll have to keep your eyes open for such opportunities. Also, you'll be making a steadier paycheck, not one based on the fluctuating flow of clientele at the spa. Also with the greater responsibility, you'll get the opportunity eventually to grow into a more mature you. In the meantime, you'll have to settle down to the job at hand, which will be substantial, as I just pointed out.

Ultimately, your rewards may be greater, in terms of career trajectory, but they will also be different from what you originally entered the field to gain. You've only been a therapist for a couple of years, and now you may be heading off into this uncharted territory. I've seen it happen over and over in the spa industry. It can be a tricky path.

Whatever your ultimate decision is, I'll be here for you to help in whatever ways I can. In fact, I'm kind of excited to find out what that decision will be! Let me know as soon as you've made your choice.

Take care,

Steve Capellini, LMT

Click here for previous articles by Steve Capellini, LMT.


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