7 signs of a toxic work culture in your spa

Is there a toxic work culture at your spa?

A toxic work culture is one that is affected by drama, infighting, bullying, and animosity to the point where it impacts productivity. A toxic work culture can result in high staff turnover and low morale, and severely impact business operations. A great definition comes from Henry G. Harder and Shannon Wagner of the University of Northern British Columbia:

“Toxicity is synonymous with poisonous. Toxins are agents that act to produce serious injury or death once inside the system. Applying this definition of toxicity to the workplace, toxic work environments are environments that negatively impact the long-term viability of an organization.”

Many people don’t notice toxicity spreading through their workplace until it’s too late. So, it’s important to pay close attention to what’s going on around you and recognize the signs of a toxic work culture, so you can try to detox it – if possible.

The aforementioned drama, infighting, and bullying are obvious signs of a toxic work culture, but they’re not the only ones, and sometimes they can be hidden from the view of management. Bullies are often on their best behaviour in front of authority.

Here are seven more signs of a toxic workplace to watch for.

High staff turnover

People don’t quit jobs they love, and good managers don’t fire good employees. If team members are leaving and getting let go more often than occasionally, that’s not normal. You need to figure out why this is happening.


When people like their jobs they’re excited to come to work. They take sick days and maybe the odd mental health day, but they don’t make up excuses not to show up, at least not if they’re worth having around. Frequent absences may mean something is amiss.

Trouble recruiting

People who love where they work tell their friends, and when they hate where they work, they also tell their friends. Unhappy employees also sound off online and leave bad reviews on sites like Glassdoor, which features anonymous employee reviews of workplaces. This can be happening without your knowledge. If people don’t want to work for you, it could be because someone is telling them to stay away.


It’s normal to have friends, but it’s something else entirely when divisions arise between groups of people, like kids in high school. If you’re noticing team members at your spa branching off into little groups, watch for signs of animosity between them. This childish behavior is always a bad thing, and usually a sign of a bigger, systemic problem.

Customer complaints

Kathryn Dowthwaite Blay, the founder of Spa Education Academy, told us in a recent interview, “when a spa therapist is in a really great place they’re going to give the best treatment and the best service.” Happy staff members make guests happy. Do you think your spa guests don’t notice when a service provider is upset or unmotivated? Of course they do. It makes all the difference. Every spa is going to get the odd complaint but when there are many, something is rotten at the core, and it’s not the customers.

Not meeting goals and sales targets

When work is a pleasure you put your all into it. People work hard and they want to succeed because they want the organization to succeed. When people are unhappy they aren’t motivated to do their best. A toxic work culture drains people of their desire to succeed and to give their all.


Team members talking to management is a good sign, no matter what it’s about. Employees should want to communicate with management about their complaints, challenges, triumphs, and ideas. If nobody is talking to the manager about anything, it probably means they don’t want to communicate with them and that is never good.

How to stop a toxic work culture from developing

It’s entirely up to leadership to cultivate a positive and nurturing work environment.

Employees should feel valued and appreciated, and that they are an important part of your organization, as well as an important part of your success. When people feel elemental to the success of an organization they are more invested in that success. They should also feel that their opinions and ideas matter, and that they can approach management with questions or concerns.

Goals and expectations must be clearly communicated – you can’t expect people to do what you want them to if they don’t know what that is. Above all, managers should model the behaviours they want to see from their employees. If you want people to go above and beyond for you, they should see you going above and beyond.

Your whole team, leadership included, needs to understand that you are all in this together.

Bullying, gossip, and resentment will grow out of a fragmented work culture.

Toxicity spreads and affects everyone in a workplace. Stop it before it starts, because once it does it’s very hard to stop.

For further reading see: 

How managers can create a drama-free spa workplace

8 things you can do to be a better spa manager

Six common mistakes spa managers make


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