Most massage therapists are required to have ethics training, both as part of their school program and as continuing education hours for their state licensing. The majority of this training focuses on client ethics (boundaries, procedures and policies) or business ethics (standards, truth in advertising, etc.). But for some reason, the topic of interpersonal ethics involving co-workers and employers is rarely mentioned.
Many people who go to massage school plan on having their own office; however, most of the massage therapists I talked with all started out at a spa, clinic or resort before opening a practice. Why aren't we getting training on interpersonal relationships—working as a team, cooperative goals, resolving problems? Dating clients is a big "no," but how about dating co-workers? If you see someone you work with violating your personal ethics, do you ignore it, talk with them or go to your supervisor?
I recently asked 20 massage therapists for their ideas about what new massage therapists need to know to succeed in this business. Two long-time massage therapists surprised me when they said work ethics is the one thing that really bothered them—and they gave me an earful about what they'd seen, heard or experienced while working with other massage therapists at spas or resorts.
Here are some examples:
- Favoritism. Scheduling one massage therapist over another because the receptionist "likes" that one better; inviting everyone out to lunch except one person; keeping only favorite employees in the loop about specials or promotions; and offering perks, such as free classes or training, to certain employees but not others.
- Stealing clients. Actively taking regular clients away from co-workers, including "bad-mouthing" co-workers; calling clients on the phone, giving out personal business cards and/or home phone numbers to spa clients; and taking their client base with them when they leave the spa or clinic.
- Offering services/incentives for free. Giving clients extra or add-on services, such as aromatherapy or hot stones, for free while other massage therapists in the same spa charge for them; going over time limits (for example, adding an extra 15 minutes to a one-hour massage) as a special incentive to clients; and giving clients free products to take home.
- Taking advantage of other massage therapists. Using sheets, oils, music, etc., set up by other massage therapists without replacing them; not cleaning up after services, leaving trash around, keeping dirty sheets on the table; and hoarding products, including that massage cream with arnica, props (those special pillows) and CDs, so other massage therapists don't have access to them.
- Stretching boundaries. Having after-hours parties that include alcohol; taking extended breaks that sometimes last twice as long as scheduled; and showing up late for work, even when clients are scheduled.
Sure, most of these situations should be dealt with by managers or supervisors. But on many occasions, these examples were kept "under the radar" by co-workers; no one wants to be a snitch. I know I've been guilty of this, having talked to another employee instead of the boss about a problem I was having with someone. And what if the problem is the boss?
What can we do as co-workers and employers to stop these unethical, unprofessional behaviors? As a former retail and nonprofit manager with more than 20 years of experience, I've been on both sides of the desk. Here are some simple steps you can take to prevent situations like these from happening—and to stop them from spreading.
If you're an employer:
1. Clear expectations
Ethics are about values—company principles, personal guidelines and community standards. Each person has her own values, which doesn't always match up with business or community ones. Because of this, each company should be clear about its standards, including what's tolerated and what's not. From day one, a new employee should know what principles and boundaries are expected. In fact, these should be discussed during the interview process and reinforced as much as possible.
2. Policies and procedures handbook
A policies and procedures handbook explains who's who, what's what and where to go if there's a problem. It gives each person a clear understanding about what the business is about. Be sure to include how to ask for days off, when pay day is (and how a paycheck is figured) and general clinic overview. Again, these need to be reinforced.
3. Job descriptions
Many massage therapists simply want to providing healing relief to clients. As one spa owner told me, "A happy employee makes a happy client." A great idea is to include a "Before You Leave Each Day" or "How to Set Up a Room" checklist, listing the responsibilities employees should perform each day. Be sure to review these points verbally, and do not just have someone sign a statement saying he or she read and understood it (this goes for the policies and procedures handbook, too).
4. Set up a mentoring program
Team up new employees with ones who have been there for several seasons. Mentors are great go-betweens, and can often answer questions and resolve problems without involving management. These conversations can be confidential, if needed. Be sure you're both on the same page about policies and procedures before someone is appointed a mentor. This added responsibility could include a pay rate bump or another incentive for the massage therapist. However, be sure to monitor this relationship. On more than one occasion, I've been teamed up with a senior employee only to be ignored.
5. Staff meetings
Staff meetings should occur at least every quarter. Agendas should be posted in advance, with room for suggestions added by staff. Make sure everyone is paid for their time, and ordering pizza or other food for the meeting is a nice touch, too.
6. Talk on a one-on-one basis with every employee
This simple suggestion is a great way to remind staff you care about what they have to say and are keeping an eye on them. Remember to give immediate feedback, including positive comments from clients, noticing how clean they keep their room, etc. Follow through on any observations you've seen, being sure to state these in a positive (not accusatory) manner.
Have cake for birthdays, anniversaries and holidays. Also, have a "Take an Employee to Lunch" day each month, and include people you don't always get along with. If you meet your quarterly goals, make sure everyone knows about it, and give small gifts if possible. Offer discounts on products your spa uses or sells.
Keeping staff morale high stops ethics violations.
However, if you're an employee:
1. Follow the golden rule
Treat people how you want to be treated. This goes for relationships with clients, co-workers and bosses.
2. Find your personal standards and stick with them
Discover your personal integrity and what lines you won't cross. If what you're doing doesn't feel good in your gut, then don't do it, even if everyone else is. This may include having a discussion with the spa owner/manager about your boundaries.
3. Talk with your fellow employees
Notice I said with, not at, about or to. Have a conversation, not a lecture. Ask questions about policies you don't understand or modalities you weren't taught. Be friendly with everyone.
4. Don't be afraid to talk with the boss
This could be about clarifying something or discussing a problem you've noted; names of co-workers don't have to be mentioned. Bosses wear a lot of hats and do a lot of different things at the same time, so make sure your conversations are short and private.
5. If it doesn't work, then leave with dignity
No temper tantrums; no walking out the door throwing things; no backstabbing. If possible, give your two-week notice and leave on the last day, not before. There might even be a farewell party for you.
These ideas just touch the tip of the iceberg about interpersonal relations at work. I'd love to hear your suggestions about what works—and what doesn't work.