Spa Letters

By Steve Capellini, LMT

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 can't believe it's already been a year since you've begun your spa odyssey. Now you're a full-fledged member of an industry that employs well over 100,000 people. Plus, as a massage therapist, you're on the front lines of this expanding sector. You are the person spa guests spend time with. You are the person they look to as a living example of the health and wholeness they seek. They want you to walk your talk!

I hope you've benefited from our conversations thus far. What started out as a simple correspondence has turned into a correspondence course for spa therapists! (Editor's note: To read the complete archives of Steve's Spa Letters column, go to

The Next Step in Your Spa Career

"What's next?" you asked in your last letter. Good question. You've been at the spa for some time, and have become a valuable asset through your training, dedication and hard work. Now that spa season is in full swing again, you're ripe to "make your move," or at least take the first step up the spa ladder. But toward what?

It may feel as if you're suddenly in a dead-end position; maybe you're even questioning why you got into the spa business in the first place. Everywhere you look, you see a long line of therapists in front of you. You've just run into what I call the "Seniority Syndrome," and I don't blame you for feeling frustrated.

The Seniority Syndrome

Your enthusiasm and energy are colliding with a system that has been in place at most spas (and many businesses in general) for years. Therapists who've worked at the spa longer than you are given preference for prime shifts and time off, simply because the start-date of their employment was earlier than yours. As you've pointed out, some of these "senior" therapists are resting on their laurels, not doing the best work they're capable of. You think they're taking advantage of the system.

You may be right. However, keep in mind that you might possibly behave the same way if, a few years from now, you find yourself in a cushy senior position. If that were to happen, you might resent the energy and enthusiasm of an upstart -- such as the person you are right now!

The problem, in my mind, is not so much with individuals, but with the system itself. Given sufficient motivation and opportunity, most spa therapists will want to continue to improve themselves and their work.

Your best bet now is to continue to work closely (and obediently!) with your spa director, massage supervisor, and other managers. When the time is right, let the director know about an alternative to the seniority system. I saw it in action at a spa in northern California once, and it worked quite well.

Meritocracy Instead of "Senioritocracy"

Instead of the existing "senioritocracy,"consider an alternative system I'll call a "meritocracy." Rather than awarding therapists simply for sticking around, this system is based on monthly guest comment cards, plus longevity on the job, which does count for something, after all.

If the therapists who garner the most favorable comments also receive the most prized shifts and optimal number of hours, it will work for the benefit of the spa, the guests, and the therapists, who will be motivated to do their best work. The only problem with this system is that sometimes, over-zealous therapists solicit favorable guest comments. Spot-checks need to be in place to guard against this. All guest comments should be unsolicited.

Your Soul's Calling

Lou, I have a feeling you're going to go far in the spa industry. You just have to find a way to reign in your enthusiasm right now so it can be used for the greater good. Sooner than you think, you're going to be a senior employee yourself. Exercise compassion toward others in your workplace who are dealing with their own challenges. Believe me, you'll need the same type of compassion in return one day.

Something you can do today is begin to create your own private meritocracy. Continue to do the best work you can do, on all levels that the job demands. That hard work will take you to the place your heart wants you to be -- your soul's calling.

More about this next time I write. Until then, take care,

Steve Capellini, LMT