Michael Tompkins on how spas can better attract and retain employees

Michael Tompkins of Hutchinson Consulting, former CEO of Miraval and Hilton Head, shares insights on how spas can attract and retain employees.

The spa and hospitality staffing crisis continues and shows no signs of abating. Many people have left the sector in the last couple of years, fed up with rigid scheduling, insufficient wages, and lack of appreciation, and they don’t have plans to return.

What can spas do to turn things around, attract new talent, and retain the people you already have? We spoke with Michael G. Tompkins of Hutchinson Consulting, a firm specializing in executive recruiting, consulting, and marketing solutions for the wellness and hospitality industry.

Tompkins has extensive experience in hospitality and wellness. He has held CEO positions with Miraval Resorts, Hilton Head Health, and PALM Health, and executive positions with Canyon Ranch Health Resorts. He is also a past Chairman of the International Spa Association (ISPA). At Hutchinson, Tompkins builds executive management teams who excel in efficiency while building culture for guests and staff.

Here’s what he had to say about how spas can better attract and retain employees in today’s climate: 

By Michael Tompkins, Partner
Hutchinson Consulting

michael tompkins hutchinson consultingThe Great Resignation and how it has affected the spa industry

When it comes to what is most current in today’s climate, we’re seeing some of the same issues across the United States, Europe, and South America. The Great Resignation has hit the hospitality sector hard and people all over the world have quit their jobs and are not returning to work.

What happened was that a first wave of people left the hotel and spa industry to go into other sectors during the pandemic and now they’re doing something completely different. A lot of women held on through that first year and now they’re leaving and  starting to look at other opportunities. Women make up a large majority of our population of skilled workers in this sector, so this has really hindered our ability to retain good employees. I’ve been saying, every time I speak at an event, “Hold onto your female employees, because there’s a huge value to them right now.” The third group that is resigning is older workers, people aged 55 and over.

Flexible scheduling

So, how can we fix the problem? The number one thing that people are looking for is flexible scheduling, particularly women with children who need to be with their families.

Spa is a service industry job that requires you to work on site. You can’t actually give a massage from home if you work in a resort or spa. And, recently,  people have started to think more about their families and how they’re spending their time – having to go to work every day, as opposed to being able to stay home and do part-time work as a massage therapist or esthetician, where you control your schedule.

We’re finding that spas that are more flexible around employee schedules are retaining more people than those who are saying, “Sorry, the spa world is Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and you have to work every weekend.” Those spas that are sticking to rigid schedules are finding it very difficult to continue to retain staff.

Spas should think about how they can apply flexible scheduling to keep employees. For example, this may mean split days, where employees go in for three hours one day and four hours the next.  

Including employees on business metrics and goals

The second piece to this puzzle is including employees on business metrics and goals. People often go to work in a spa and they don’t understand budgets. They don’t understand that they are a part of the big picture. Spa directors who are sharing their financials, their goals, and their metrics with their team are more likely to get buy-in from employees who understand that we’re all in this together. Particularly with the millennial generation. That generation wants to work as a team and they want to be able to share with each other, to do better. Managers who are including their staff on goals and financial metrics are getting that team cohesion that’s needed in today’s environment.

Clear concise compensation

Another issue that we talk about in spa until we’re blue in the face is clear, concise compensation. This has been such a deterrent in the industry, for massage therapists and estheticians in particular. They get one rate when they’re at work and they get commission, then if they do upgrades, they get a $5 or $10 kicker, but it’s very difficult for them to get benefits sometimes and if they decide to take vacation, they get paid a training rate, which is much less than their usual compensation. So let’s say a therapist works 32 hours a week and averages $50 an hour but their training wage is minimum wage. When they go to take vacation, they’re being paid the training wage instead of their blended average rate. That’s a touchy subject now with massage therapists and estheticians being in such demand. In other industries, you get paid vacations, at least in the US, and I think people are starting to ask why they don’t deserve the same.

Offering fair and clear concise compensation will be a requirement to retain team members going forward.

Provide a sense of purpose

Finally, employees are looking for a sense of purpose in their lives and in their work. A lot of people are resigning from jobs because they are looking for an employer with purpose. They want a job that is meaningful and where they are working with people with shared values and purpose, like working with charities or DE&I initiatives, things that not only tell the story of your brand, but also of the team and the people who work there.

There is already a solid foundation for this in spa & wellness. People usually go into this industry as therapists and service providers because they believe in what they do and that they are making a valuable contribution to people’s lives. It’s up to management to nurture that.

If you can get people working together and to understand the purpose of what they do and how this plays a role in the world and in your business, you can build a solid community where people are more apt to stay, and that shared purpose is a big part of that experience.


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 book4time.com


  1. This is a great read There are still industry specific recruiters like myself that help allay concerns and find suitable placements I concur w what Michael Thompkins has said, there are other factors as well. Utilization, ie, percentage of time being booked is the paradigm I try to instill with all my employer partners

  2. Great article. Mike has always had his finger on the pulse of the industry.
    I would like to add that in my experience most spas do not provide the type of employee education that allows their practitioners to maximize their income through retail sales. When a fair commission is paid for retail sales, it can change an employee’s pay from a poverty wage to a livable one.
    Ironically while so many spas also struggle with customer retention, a practioner who can guide guests on homecare selection is more likely to build a stronger relationship with their clients thus insuring a more robust return rate.

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