How to manage a toxic employee in your spa

Toxicity results in low productivity, low morale, and high absenteeism, and can cost a company dearly. Here’s how to manage a toxic employee in your spa.

Detox your work environment

Is your spa work environment being poisoned by a toxic employee?

Signs of a toxic work environment include drama, infighting, low morale, and tensions among employees. Toxicity also results in low productivity and high absenteeism, and can cost a company dearly.

A spa’s business in particular can suffer from a toxic environment because a spa environment is expected to be a calming and nurturing atmosphere. Customers can sense negativity and will respond accordingly, maybe by taking their business elsewhere.

There can be several causes of a toxic work environment, including broken communication lines and an unhealthy management style. But sometimes, that toxicity is coming from one person. If that’s the case, you’re going to have to address it.

Signs of a toxic employee in your spa

A toxic employee may display one or several of the following behaviors…

Doesn’t listen or follow the rules Toxic employees might not listen to you or anyone else because they think they know best. They might do their own thing, despite company rules and guidelines, because they believe their way is better. A disregard and disrespect for authority is not something you need in your workplace.

Gossips – Gossip will poison any atmosphere and should be discouraged in all circumstances. An employee who gossips is always going to cause problems. Toxic employees may thrive on talking about people behind their backs and creating an “us against them” atmosphere.

Causes tension and drama – If it feels like tensions tend to mount and fall on a regular basis, look to see if there is a common denominator. If the tension is around one person whenever they are present, that’s a potentially toxic employee. People who enjoy drama for drama’s sake are a problem in a workplace.

Refuses to take responsibility – When things go wrong, a toxic employee might be quick to blame someone else or make excuses. The ability to take responsibility is a key trait in a desirable employee.

Says “that’s not my job” – In a successful business of any type, everyone works together to do what needs to be done. People who refuse to do anything extra or outside of their scope of work because it’s “not their job” –  take phone calls, clean up a mess they didn’t make, or update social media, for example – don’t fit into this scenario, are not assets to your team, and may be toxic employees.

Has an overall negative attitude – Life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows and sometimes you need a good grousing session. But people who complain constantly and are always in a negative state will poison the atmosphere, which is the very definition of toxicity.

Isn’t asked for by customers – Spa guests often choose a favorite service provider and will request that person specifically. If nobody is requesting a specific employee, there may be a reason for that and that person may be causing problems for your business.

There are other signs of a toxic employee and you probably will be able to spot one when you see one. But what can you do about it?

How to manage a toxic employee

Have a conversation. Open communication is imperative. Take the employee aside and ask whether they are unhappy at work and why. Explain why you are asking without being accusatory and point out the behavior(s) that are cause for concern. Sometimes people simply have no idea how they are coming across and impacting others. There may be a reason for the behavior that can be addressed. Or, if they are unaware of how they are behaving, you may be able to help them address that too. Be supportive above all things.

Make it about the behavior and not about the person. Make it clear that this issue is not with the person but what they are doing and that this is something they can change. Be specific in how you address the behavior and keep that separate from the individual. If you can help the employee to not take things personally, you will have better chances of rectifying the situation

Offer feedback and the opportunity to change. As this Harvard Business Review article suggests, “Give concrete, specific feedback and offer the opportunity to change.” Once you have identified the problem areas you can come up with a plan to change things. Set a timeline and actionable goals, like better relationships with team members and a specific number of client requests. Have regular check-ins to make sure things are progressing.

Be prepared to take responsibility yourself. There might be a very good reason for what’s happening and you might be contributing to the problem. If the employee feels unsupported or is lacking resources, for example, this may be a situation to which you have contributed. There may be something you need to address about your management or communication style, or something else you have to work on, and you have to be willing to do so.

Document everything. Even when you’re working towards fixing things, it’s important to document everything in case you ultimately have to let the person go. Keep track of the behavior, its impact, and your response, so that if you are called upon to justify a decision to fire the toxic employee, you can do so.

Know when to let them go. You want to avoid firing people for a few reasons. These include wanting to make things work for the business and for the employee, and the cost of replacing them. But sometimes you have to know when to say goodbye. If you have tried supporting the employee and offering the opportunity to change, and it’s not happening over the set time period, the time may have come to say goodbye.

Stop a toxic work culture from developing in the first place by making sure employees are supported and that they feel heard. Avoid hiring a problematic employee by not rushing the hiring process or taking shortcuts. Watch for signs of a toxic personality like high levels of self regard, overconfidence, and blaming others for their problems, like saying they left their previous job because of something someone else did, or trash talking their previous boss.

It’s up to leadership to cultivate a positive work environment. Toxicity affects everyone in a workplace. Stop it before it starts.


Spa Executive is published by Book4Time, the leader in guest management, revenue and mobile solutions for the most exclusive spas, hotels, and resorts around the globe. Learn more at

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