What's It Like To Work At A Spa?

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••• You have to enjoy being the "giver" when you work at a spa. Getty Images: Steve Mason

Spas provide such a relaxed environment for guests that it's easy to think that spas would be a relaxing place to work. But all this serenity takes a lot of hard work. Think about all the effort that goes into creating a theatrical experience–you see the final result, not everything that goes on behind the scenes.  Likewise, spas require skilled professionals, a beautiful set and music to create a lovely experience of relaxation for the customer.

 

If you're thinking of a career in spas, remember that it is first and foremost a service business. You should enjoy taking care of people, no matter what position you're in. The primary jobs at a spa include:  

  • Entry level and support positions such as guest reception, reservationist, retail sales clerk, and locker room attendants.
  • Service providers such as  massage therapist or esthetician and nail technician. In some spas this might include personal trainers and fitness instructors.
  • Managerial positions such as spa director, assistant spa director, spa manager, retail manager, etc. 

Having a caring nature is especially important if you are a massage therapist or esthetician, who do hands-on work. But guests need to feel taken care of at every point of contact, including the front desk and locker room. The spa director has to be organized and know how to run a business, but also considerate enough to take care of the people who are taking care of the guests.

In the best of circumstances, working in a spa is highly rewarding. You help other people feel good, do work you love, and make a decent living.  When spas are poorly run, it can be difficult, distressing and not very well paid.

The Advantages of a Spa Career

  • Most spa employees find it gratifying to be able to do work that actually helps people.
  • Clients are often very appreciative.  
  • There is a strong emphasis on continuing education and training, which is great if you love to learn.  
  • When a spa is busy, it is a good way for therapists to make a living.  
  • There is an uplifting feeling of camaraderie in a well-run spa.
  • There are possibilities to learn more skills or get into management if you like that aspect. 
  • Over time, many therapists build up a private practice and make more money with fewer hours

The Disadvantages of a Spa Career

  • Massage therapy, in particular, is  physically demanding work, especially if you have to do five or six massages in a day with just ten minutes in between services. Many therapists wind up working just part-time to save their bodies. 
  • Therapists, support staff and even managers-on-duty often have to work an early or late shift since many spas (especially resort spas) have long hours.  
  • Weekends are the busiest time, which can interfere with fun and family life.
  • Support staff jobs are often minimum wage.  
  • Therapists only make real money when they are working, and might have to sit around between appointments. In recessions and slow times, your income can really drop.

The best employers tend to be the large hotel and resort spas managed by companies like Ritz-Carlton, Four Seasons, and Mandarin Oriental.

 These big properties understand the importance of excellence at every level, so they tend to hire managers who truly embody their service ethic. They usually provide a more supportive environment for employees and better benefits.

These jobs are usually highly sought after and turnover is slow. It is easiest to get hired when a spa is first opening and management has to hire a full staff. Sometimes these top-notch properties will hire talented beginners with the right education, personality and attitude, and train them to their standards.  More often they are looking for experience, especially from another luxury property.   

Day spas and spas at independent hotels are more unpredictable. It all depends on the personality, ethics of the owner. Day spas can be great places to work, but this is also where the horror stories happen.

 Sheets are turned over instead of changed between clients. Robes go into the dryer to fluff them up instead of the washing machine. If guests knew, they would run, and oftentimes therapists can't take it, either.

No matter what job you are looking for, you should be personable and well-groomed. The best spa employees have a commitment to excellence, and are reliable, warm and kind. As part of the job interview, therapists give a treatment to the spa director, manager or lead therapist, to show what they can do. The ideal situation you are hoping for looks like this: 

  • no matter what type of spa you work for, it is beautiful and well-run.
  • the owner or manager is considerate, competent, and respects your work.
  • the spa has enough bookings to keep busy, which, if you're a therapist, translates into making a living wage.

Good luck!