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Massage Today
October, 2002, Vol. 02, Issue 10

The Ninth Element: Social Contribution

By Robin Zill, LMT

The 10 Elements of the Spa Experience are designed to teach the consumer and professional about the integrated nature of the spa experience. This is the 10th article in a 12-part series and focuses on the ninth of the 10 elements: Social Contribution.

"For the money! He screamed.

Show me the money! The crowd responded with a roar: "Show me the money!"

- Los Angeles Times, 12/7/97, Steve Ballmer, Microsoft Gathering.

"You begin to realize that our economy is based not just on the satisfaction of desire; it's based on the creation of desire. Our economy creates desires; it doesn't just satisfy them. Desires which are created and then satisfied- it's a totally unnatural state of affairs. I was amazed when I realized that this description of our economy was similar to the Buddhist description of samsara, delusion."

- Jacob Needleman

Social Contribution concerns how we exchange and value goods and services, in our economy and in our profession. For me, social contribution, quite simply, explores the dynamic of giving and receiving in our lives. It explores the purpose and intention behind our work; how we and others value it. The two excerpts above from Robert Rabbin's Invisible Leadership describe the paradox of the American Dream.

Originally, we created this element to embrace the need for integrated and "generalist" management skills among spa employees. However, as discussions evolved, we discovered that the essence of "social contribution" was exchange and communication. Spas were and still are highly compartmentalized. Often the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing. Integrating leisure, fitness, massage, aesthetics and retail can be difficult, as there is no common language that speaks to these issues and how they relate to each other. Hence, it is difficult to provide or even explain the "essence of the spa experience" to the consumer.

I must confess that this element is more complex than it may seem at first. On the one hand, business survives on the measurement and management of money and profit. On the other hand, the spa industry is service-oriented and needs to meet the new elusive demands of the discerning consumer, who is craving personal fulfillment and social connection. To complicate matters, we are playing the new business limbo, "how fast can you go," which seems to be changing by the minute. "Show me the money" is now a common theme at every level of business, from corporate CEO to massage therapist. Certainly, the days of bartering goods and services, when people were more connected to nature and a simpler lifestyle, are long gone.

Like you, I try to balance my idealistic self with the rigors of everyday business. It is obvious that money will probably continue to be the common medium of exchange. But our financial world has gone virtual; money is not a physical exchange anymore. The gold standard is out; greenbacks are out. Debit and credit cards are in. Perhaps this transient way of exchanging money through computer clouds is somehow a reflection of our changing consciousness. Is this a metaphor for why people are craving physical touch? The exchange of energy and heart is hard to value in dollars. Can we put a value on the exchange of "chi"?

Just as receiving completes the circle of giving, the 10 elements of the spa experience form an interdependent circle. The 10 elements help to create a career path that supports lifestyle choices and a mechanism for increasing monetary compensation as skills and scope of practice increase. The circle format for a career path also works for the next century professional, just as in nature, the circle reflects a pattern of dynamic living. If you think about it, the sun, the moon, and the horizon all are circular. There are very few, if any, truly straight lines in nature.

Take for example the career path for a massage therapist. Is there one? How does a spa owner or consumer determine who is a master therapist, and who is right out of school? Similar to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, we must recognize it is difficult to contemplate ideals, values, missions and visions if we do not have adequate food or shelter and struggle to pay the bills. We also must be compensated fairly in the scope of, and in relation to, the business environment. Compensation plans must be commensurate with other team members, and they should be long term in focus. That is why determining fair compensation for the massage therapist is such a vital topic in the industry. After all, massage is the most popular spa service in the industry right now.

There are a myriad of compensation plans in the spa industry now: salary, hourly, commission, sub-contractor, etc. For the most part, spa owners recognize the intangible gifts massage therapists bring to the spa experience. They are interested in finding a fair and rewarding plan for everyone. But remember, the spa director or owner must answer to investors and others. A recent article by Brian Coughlan in Massage Therapy Journal summarizes some of the latest hiring trends for massage therapists working in spas. I believe the most significant is the shift from being an independent, self-employed therapist to an employee with perks and a salary.

For the most part, at least historically, most spa professionals believe that the spa industry is a cultural renewal industry, one poised to create new lifestyle values that synergize with global preservation. Anita Roddick, founder of The BodyShop and author of Business as Unusual says, "The business of business is not just about money, it is about responsibility. It is about public good, not private greed." Do you agree? I do, but let's be practical. If the workers with vision are not compensated fairly, will their voices be heard? Are they powerful enough to make change happen? I don't think so. Growing older and perhaps a bit wiser, with the help of my visionary friends and mentors, I know there is cause for concern. More than ever, they are saying with remorse, "Robin it is about money, it is all about money."

In the very beginning, we started out giving free massages. It was understood that we needed to educate people about the power of touch. While becoming more mainstream, has the massage industry gone extreme? I'd like to see the industry bounce back to a position of balance: giving touch back to the elderly, children, disabled and others in need. I believe this is happening somewhat, we just need to see more of it. I believe the healthier you get, the better you can give back to others. The best massage therapists are the ones who have learned to give and receive. We have to explore what this means on a deeper level. Anita Roddick brings this point home again and again in Business as Unusual. She envisions a future in which business leaders come to see their industries as incubators of the human spirit, rather than factories for the production of more material goods and services. If companies truly have a global or community vision, they will find themselves far ahead of their competitors in the long run.

Click here for previous articles by Robin Zill, LMT.


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