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Employment Everywhere

Making spa jobs more appealing to applicants

The signs are everywhere. Now hiring. Help wanted. Bonuses for new hires.

But spa retailers aren’t finding enough employees, despite extra government unemployment benefits ending and the high percentage of jobless individuals. Currently, the national unemployment rate hovers around 5.2%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Yet entry-level, minimum wage jobs aren’t appealing anymore, experts say — not when there are less physical jobs that could pay more.

“It’s definitely a different world,” says Jessica Miller-Merrell, founder and chief innovation officer at Workology, a consulting firm for human resources and recruiting professionals. “We’ve seen recruiters in some industries — especially for hourly roles — struggling to get candidates to show up for interviews. So many formerly available hourly candidates have moved on to other industries, and many are looking for remote work and finding it. This means that we have to work harder to recruit candidates for hourly positions.”

To draw high-quality candidates, Michael Swartz, owner of Heavenly Times Hot Tubs & Billiards in Dillon, Colorado, increased pay by $2 per hour, and added health benefits for employees.

“We need staff if we want to continue to grow,” he says, adding that he also increased pay for current employees. “This will allow us to retain our staff and hire new ones as well.” Swartz also offers a retirement plan, matching employee contributions up to 3%, which he started a few years ago.

But how do you attract talent even more fickle than the pH balance of a spa? Miller-Merrell says showcasing company culture is one of the most sure-fire ways to entice top talent. Putting the company’s best foot forward online and in interviews will snag qualified individuals, she adds.

“Highlight all the positive things your company is doing for its employees — from perks to benefits to flexible scheduling — and make those the focus of your employer brand,” she says. Current employees can become brand ambassadors, she says, and can avail of referral programs to bring in loyal employees. “Paying a referral bonus, along with a stay bonus to the referred employee after a period of time can go a long way towards bringing in new candidates and retaining them,” Miller-Merrell says.

Why They Walk Away

Before any of that, though, spa dealers must understand the true value of employees, says Graeme Lister, founder of Rainforest Outdoor Living in Vancouver Island, Canada.

Despite the pandemic generating a lot of revenue for his business, Lister decided it was time to walk away from the company he started in June 2012.

He plans to officially retire at the end of 2021, handing over the business reins to a new owner. If retailers want to build a successful company, Lister says they need to showcase it to prospective employees as a place to make a long-time living, not just a weekly paycheck.

“It’s difficult for people to make a living,” he says of the industry’s traditionally low wages, and points in particular to the U.S. average of $15 an hour. “My thought has always been the industry has never treated it as a career. It has been treated as a stop gap for people who are going on to something better. I think that’s a big downfall of the industry itself.”

Like others in the industry, Lister believes integrating employees as deeply as possible into a positive company culture makes it more rewarding for them to stay.

“It means trying to build a group of people truly trying to achieve a goal,” he says. “In retail, people want to hire a clerk, but they want people to be more than a clerk. You can’t pay clerk wages and expect a superstar. You have to work on education. Build your company values into your people.”

Eric Vician spent nearly 20 years in the spa industry in a variety of roles. His experiences include plenty of work on the corporate side, including brand transitions and working as a marketing and promotions manager for SilkBalance.

About a year and a half ago, he decided it was time to find a new role. While a few opportunities popped up — including commission-only arrangements — he opted instead to educate within the industry. He’s also a freelancer for SpaRetailer magazine.

For him, work-life balance is essential. He also believes it’s what spa retailers must offer if they want happy employees. That’s especially true of working parents like himself who would agree with the sentiment of “be a dad first, then an employee.”

“The work-life balance has never been more important,” he says. “I’ve been working from home for most of the past decade, long before Zoom meetings were the norm, and I don’t think I could ever go back into an office setting. Companies that offer the ability for parents to be flexible with their kids’ ever-changing schedules would go a longer way than a few more bucks.”

Over the years, he’s watched employers offer morale boosters like gift card giveaways and team-building events for positive work culture influence. A family mentality between employers and employees is what he noticed had the most positive impact.

Empathy Goes a Long Way

Employees watch leaders, experts say, and not just with how they keep up with company culture. Responses to big events — like the COVID-19 pandemic — can show an employer’s true intentions and spirit, Miller-Merrell says. Taking an empathetic and genuine approach will be noted by employees and may even keep them loyal.

“The response your company had to the pandemic, with regard to employee safety and wellness, remote working policies, and so on, really matters to employees — and they will remember it,” she says.

When it comes to making job descriptions and positions look appealing, create opportunities, Miller-Merrell adds. Employers who put themselves in an employee’s shoes are going to fare better in maintaining those loyal workers, too.

“Focusing on things like psychological wellness and offering resources shows that your company genuinely cares about employee safety and well-being,” Miller-Merrell says. “Other ways of boosting retention: transparency about policy, flexibility for working parents or employees who wish to continue working from home and ensuring that your employees feel safe returning to work.”

Swartz believes treating others well and with respect also boosts employee retention. That is especially true for his staff members whom he considers a prized asset to his busy business.

“It goes back to treating your employees like family,” Swartz believes.  “One of my mottos is, ‘We treat our customers great but our staff even better!’ ”

Despite millions losing unemployment benefits, it’s unlikely there will be a rush back to work — especially in physical labor jobs. As much as long-time spa industry experts hope things will get better for hiring, it may take a while, especially in countries like Canada where unemployment benefits have been extended.

“I get it; it’s not a bad gig to get unemployment benefits,” Lister says. “It’s going to be a long time before staffing gets any better.”