How you can combat employee burnout in the spa industry

Employee burnout in the spa industry is something we’ve touched on briefly in the past.

In a recent article about common mistakes spa managers make, we referenced an interview with Carlos Calvo Rodriguez in which the Assistant VP of Spa (training) at Shangri-La said that one of the issues the industry is dealing with is managers working service providers too hard.

We think this all-too-common issue deserves to be looked at a little more closely. Employees are commonly exhausted and overworked, and this doesn’t just cause problems for workers, it can also seriously affect your business and bottom line. What seems like an effective strategy for maximizing revenue in the short term – pushing service providers to cram in more work days and treatments – is ultimately short sighted, and will cost more than it saves.

Burnout is something Sonal Uberoi has been concerned about lately. Uberoi is the founder of Spa Balance Consulting, and Board Director of the Spa and Wellness Association of Africa (SWAA). Spas, hotel groups, and wellness companies hire Uberoi to help them design, set up, and manage their businesses. We asked her to talk about this issue, how it negatively affects businesses and individuals, and what can be done about it.

Spa employee burnout happens at every level

Uberoi says that burnout is something that happens at every level, from therapist and receptionist to management.

“This becomes more evident in spas within hotels and resorts where staff scheduling is heavily dependent on hotel occupancy. Spa staff suddenly find that their days off have been pushed back, so they have to work seven or eight days in a row — or more! — and management have to be at the hotel from morning to when the VIP client leaves his or her treatment at the end of the day, which can mean a 10-12 hour shift. These small ‘one offs’ slowly become the norm, which over time eventually lead to burnout.”

She adds, “The irony of it all is that we promote wellbeing, we preach work-life balance, but we don’t practice what we preach in our own businesses!”

Burnout happens for a number of reasons

Uberoi uses the example of hotel spas to talk about the reasons behind burnout.

“Firstly, I think it is generally due to a lack of understanding of spa operations and what each person in a spa does,” she says. “I’ve lost count of the number of times I have had to fight to get the role of spa receptionists approved. A hotel General Manager thinks a spa therapist should clean the spa, answer the phone, take reservations, and perform treatments! Would they ask the same of their chefs? It would be interesting to see what a chef would tell a GM if he or she told them they also had to take table reservations, serve drinks, and clean the main restaurant floor, over and above the kitchen.

“Secondly, spas tend to be taken for granted. They are treated as the ‘compensation’ department that has to be at the beck and call of the rest of the hotel for errors in guest service made in other areas — shower not working, upgrade not given, poor service in restaurant, etc. — instead of a business unit in its own right.

“Thirdly, staffing schedules in these spas are heavily dependent on hotel occupancy and suffer enormously from any changes in occupancy.

“Fourthly, GMs that aren’t wellness-oriented. If they don’t understand wellness or at least believe in a wellness-oriented lifestyle, it is near impossible for them to implement that concept in the rest of the hotel.

“Lastly, lack of training and awareness of burnout and the impact it has on business.”

The high cost of burnout

Unfortunately, these impacts are significant. As we mentioned above, the strategy of overworking employees can cost businesses more than it saves.

This can manifest itself in high staff turnover, for example, which Uberoi notes increases costs. It’s more expensive to recruit and train a new employee than it is to retain an existing one. Employee attrition can also cause schedule holes until that person is replaced, which can result in downtime or place a bigger burden on remaining employees, resulting in more burnout and further attrition. A vicious circle, if you will.  

Uberoi points out that burnout can also lead to a decline in guest satisfaction. “A tired and burned out therapist will not be able to give his or her best, and understandably so.” Unsatisfied guests are obviously bad for business and have a ripple effect. Not only will you probably lose that customer, but news travels faster than ever these days through word of mouth and the internet. Bad reviews are far reaching and can cost you dearly.

Another issue, says Uberoi, is a disconnect from a company’s core values. “How can you preach something you don’t practice?” she asks. “Consumers are not ignorant. This will catch up on us if we don’t address it.”

Combating the problem of spa staff burnout

To make sure your employees aren’t burning out, Uberoi lists some simple steps the industry can take, which include:

1. “Education and raising awareness of the negative impact of burnout.” Remember, it affects everyone, including you

2. “Yoga, meditation, and other activities for staff.” Supporting employee wellness is key to keeping employees from burning out.

3. “Revisiting staff schedules. Each spa is unique, but there is always a way that things can be done better, for all.” There are tools to help with this, including software to optimize your staff scheduling.

4. “Making staff wellbeing our priority, instead of therapist productivity and financial targets. Needless-to-say, the latter are important, but without the former, the latter is not possible.”

You’ll get much better results out of people who are well treated, well rested, and able to give their all.



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