Stephanie Rest on how to attract and retain talent in the spa industry

The staff shortage in spa and wellness is a hot topic. Everyone is looking for solutions. These aren’t necessarily obvious and may require some uncomfortable introspection on the part of the industry. Stephanie Rest has some bold opinions about where some of the problems lie.

Rest is the founder & CEO, of Caribbean Wellness & Education, an organization that cultivates wellness programs, professional events, and educational courses for spa and tourism professionals. She is also the President of WE Consulting, a firm specializing in developing optimal solutions for spa and wellness enterprises, and Vice Chair of the Global Wellness Institute’s Wellness for Children Initiative.

Rest has such an extensive background in the spa industry, which includes a great deal of recruitment and training. So we asked her for some thoughts on how the spa and wellness industry can attract and retain new talent.

Coming up with creative and inclusive solutions

Rest says she thinks the industry needs to be more inclusive, and to “demystify” a career in spa and wellness.

“We need to get out there, be more open, and encourage people to join our tribe,” she says. “How do we simplify things and make it fun? Can we readily communicate to the average person thinking about their career options that this is a good one?”

A lack of interest in the industry, and awareness of its career possibilities, is one exacerbating factor. Rest suggests, like others before her, that creating relationships with schools is a key piece of the puzzle.

“We can do a better job of reaching out to schools,” she says. “Having additional advocates and boots on the ground recruiting could greatly increase our workforce. Perhaps a solution is working with guidance counselors at the high school, community college level, or with career centers for the secondary career market.”

“In the U.S. we could also be partnering with on-demand organizations like Zeel, which has a primary focus on national recruitment. Zeel is already providing supplemental staff to spas across the nation. Perhaps on-demand staffing solutions will be the way of the future for spas, following other rising industries like Uber, Netflix, and Amazon that are a part of the disruptive billion-dollar on-demand economy.”

Too much work and too much drama

Other big issues lie with the spas themselves, Rest says. Even when we attract employees, we struggle to retain them.

“We do quite a bit of recruitment and find that after a few years in a spa career, some people drop off from burnout. Another rising trend is that therapists are leaving traditional brick and mortar spas to work for on-demand companies or are building their own practices. Are they choosing an alternative path because we make it challenging for them to stay with our organizations?”

“Spas can be demanding with hours, responsibilities, requiring working holidays, and a great number of services. There is a demand to do more, be more and many of our therapists are burned out. On top of burnout, there is generally a struggle to keep drama out of the spa atmosphere. This drama amongst co-workers creates a toxic environment for many employees. Not all staff creates drama, but generally there is someone stirring the pot. At times our employees are choosing to leave an organization, saying ‘I cannot work in an atmosphere like this.’”

And the alternatives are appealing, which means that, until working in a spa makes employees as happy as working from home does, this problem will persist.

Rest says, “If you can work from home and make your own schedule and be in a calm environment, I think you just choose that.”

It starts at the top

A lack of management training is a big contributing factor here, says Rest, because it’s up to managers to handle trouble between team members. But many of our up and coming managers have not been given the tools to be successful.   

Rest says, “Our rising managers and supervisors in the industry often do not have the tools or resources to deal with staff conflicts. They may be extremely knowledgeable in many aspects, but still require mentorship in mastering their leadership and business acumen skills. Growing our teams from within our organizations are vital, but we must offer the opportunity for continuing education to allow our rising stars to develop their skills to successfully run our organizations. If we do not offer professional development resources, our managers are self-teaching, or they are just kind of lost. This is coming from a leader that was thrown in the deep end, self-taught, and eventually relied heavily on her mentors to guide her.”

However, there are solutions out there, she adds. “We can cultivate powerful leaders and there are avenues to allow us to do this. UCI-Irvine has a great certified online program for Spa Managers and WE has partnered with Springboard Caribbean to deliver an on-site UK Accredited CTH Diploma in Management & Leadership for Business and Hospitality in the Caribbean, for example.”

Investing in employees’ futures – and yours

School can be prohibitively expensive, which means spas might have to consider picking up the cost, says Rest. “Like everyone, we have a huge deficit in providers. So, if we find someone with great aptitude and an interest, we’ll put that person through school. Managers must be the advocates for their spa and consistently be recruiting to acquire talent. We must peruse non-traditional recruitment practices, go out and find people, and potentially put good people with great capacity through school. Most of us are at the tipping point now where it is not an available avenue, but a necessity.”

Creating a network of support

Another idea, she says, is creating support networks in the industry community.

“We are working with the Global Wellness Institute presently to develop a peer-to-peer initiative to support one another, and a mentorship program that will be accessible to everyone. Mentorship is a two-way street, often the mentor gets just as much out of the relationship as the mentee. Wellness is one of the fastest growing industries in the world and a great career-path. The more we share common opportunities and invest in each other’s success, the stronger we will growth together.

“We in the industry need to look to the rising demand for qualified employees, invest in our human capital and figure it out together.”


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