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Are you employable?

don_suit.jpgWhile many massage therapists assume they will work as self-employed contractors, the marketplace is presenting new challenges. With more competition, higher costs to entry-level practice and the demand for sophisticated business skills, massage therapists (RMTs) are increasingly forging a career in corporations brokering massage therapy services. RMTs require training to ensure they are work-ready, and strong candidates will need to display a number of qualities to be considered highly employable.

November 18, 2014  By Don Dillon

How employable are you? Do have excellent qualifications? Aside from
your RMT registration, what other transferable skills or value do you
bring to the table? How about actual business experience in customer
service and sales?

Large businesses that broker RMT services
have multiple locations and considerable resources, and are looking for
skilled practitioners with a team spirit, passion for service and strong
customer service skills.

Many companies employ RMTs – LifeMark
(CentricHealth), Massage Addict, GoodLife Fitness, Hand & Stone
Massage and Facial Spa, and large spas like Elmwood Spa. These
corporations invest capital, provide strong branding in highly visible
commercial real estate, strong marketing campaigns and operating
systems, support staff and business expertise, and a long-term
commitment to see the business grow and evolve. These corporations have
multiple locations and considerable resources, and are looking for
skilled practitioners with a team spirit, passion for service and strong
customer service skills.

The marketplace has changed. Previously
conducive to sole practitioners, the marketplace increasingly asks for
convenience, lower cost or better value. Many people feel safer with the
recognition of a national brand and commercial site. Just like 3-D
printing is disrupting manufacturing, the Internet has disrupted media
and publishing and the smart phone disrupted just about everything, the
way people access RMT services is being disrupted, competition has
become fiercer and we are challenged to adapt to these new
circumstances. Consider that these large companies actually provide a
solution to a chronic problem in the RMT profession, that of providing a
well-managed, viable business to work in.


You might say, “I’d
rather be self-employed.” Wonderful. Do you have the capital to finance a
business start-up, and the money to keep it going until profitable? Do
you have a network of contacts that will show up at your door to
purchase services from you? Do you have real business experience and
competence in accounting, marketing, customer service and operations? Do
you possess the commitment necessary to work long hours and foster
growth in your enterprise? If not, you may not have the resources to
work for yourself. Four out of five businesses fail within five years of
start-up – the main reasons being negative cash flow and lack of owner
business experience/competence.

I’m not saying there is no place
for private practice. We will always need entrepreneurial types with
specialized skill sets to serve niche markets. I’m saying that it’s
harder now for an RMT to accumulate the resources needed to maintain a
sole practice. Our profession can learn something from these businesses
that broker opportunities for RMTs.

Benefits of employment
Why would an RMT consider these employment opportunities? Many of these corporations offer:

•    Incentives and bonuses

•    Comprehensive employee health and dental benefits package

•    Appointments booked and confirmed by support staff

•    All supplies provided

•    Extensive marketing campaigns to build your client/patient base

•    Paid training and professional development opportunities

•    Income tax/payroll deductions at source

•    Flexible schedules – work full or part-time

•    Electric tables/ergonomic aids

•    Team environment and collegiality

•    Computerized appointment and record-keeping system

•    Other employment positions (non-physical) within the company

What’s more, these businesses are already capitalized – no financial output required from the RMT.

businesses are highly sophisticated. They have researched their target
market, have catered service to be truly client/patient-centric, launch
frequent and targeted marketing campaigns, they know how to expand and
to mitigate risk, and have established branding and reputation.

Complaints from RMT employers
my discussions with owners/managers from several of these companies, I
have listened to criticisms and concerns about workplace readiness of
massage practitioners. Concerns include:

•    Practitioners see themselves as individuals and have trouble integrating into a team practice

 Practitioners demonstrate care for the client/patient, but are
inattentive to the larger client/patient experience re: workplace
cleanliness, freedom from clutter, first impressions

 Although well prepared in the academics of health sciences, regulatory
requirements and basic massage techniques, practitioners are frequently
untrained in critical skills of customer service, sales and promotion,
and business operations.

•    Practitioners fail to invest in
their practices, running between several locations, being unavailable
for more work at the primary location. One business owner said, “RMTs
need to temper their expectations of growth, and learn to cultivate
their practice in a primary location.”

•    Practitioners solicit
clients/patients from the business and steer them to the practitioner’s
home practice or other location, extorting the established relationship
and acquisition costs paid to acquire that client/patient by the
primary business.

•    Practitioners often don’t understand the
principles of cash flow and profit/loss or the costs of running a
sustainable business. They frequently demand financial terms that are
not in line with the assets they bring (or fail to bring) to the

Sure-fire ways to get fired

•    Complain to
clients/patients about dissatisfaction with pay or workload, or press
religious or political beliefs or personal issues while providing

•    Leave the therapy/spa room in a mess, and damage the quality and image of the business

•    Discuss client/patient personal information in public spaces

•    Steal, lie, cheat, harass fellow workers or patrons

•    Show up late, miss shifts, be unkempt in appearance and be unaccountable

in any relationship should be taken to the source – not vented through
the client/patient who has paid to receive professional services.
Workplace hygiene and safety is the responsibility of all employees, and
client/patient information should only be discussed in the confines of a
private space.  The offensiveness of the final two points is obvious.

Employment worries
may be cautious to seek employment. They fear giving up autonomy or
control over business variables, or they may be suspicious of the
intentions of business owners, particularly if they are not RMTs. Let’s
address some of the common misconceptions.

Inferior pay
Practitioners are convinced they’ll earn less income if employed.
Consider the Registered Massage Therapists’ Association of Ontario
(RMTAO) income surveys of 2009 and 2013, reporting average gross income
of $39,100 direct hands-on care ($38,500 in 2009). These stats are
largely reflective of RMTs who designate themselves “self-employed.” If
you compare the take-home pay (after business expenses taken off,
remaining money to live from), to an RMT employed in one of the
corporations mentioned, in an apples-to-apples comparison you may be
surprised who comes out on top. What matters is not what service fee is
charged, but what you take home at day’s end to live off.

many employed RMTs have access to equipment that lessens
strain/increases work capacity, incentives and bonuses and higher
traffic potential. While it’s true you can earn more working for
yourself (because you’re not paying someone to broker capital, contacts,
competence and commitment for you), will you, actually? You must have
sufficient amounts of the four Cs to launch and sustain a business.  

– Another argument I’ve read on social media is the belief that
RMTs who seek employment over self-employment are somehow defective.
“They must be inferior if they’re working at someone else’s business.”
I’ve met RMTs who have been eight, 15 and even 24 years registered that
happily work as employees. They recognize the advantages to employment
in these larger enterprises and prefer the resources and business savvy
these large companies offer. I’ve personally received excellent care at
several of these businesses.

Exploitation – Whenever you have to
work with other people, in any type of business sector or workplace,
exploitation is possible – even in small private practice settings. RMTs
used to complain (and still do) about chiropractors and
physiotherapists even before these large corporations entered the scene.
Let’s be clear – you are responsible for advocating for your interests
and to understand the full scope of your rights. Study labour laws, seek
counsel from lawyer on contract negotiations, press the RMTAO and RMT
schools to form functional relationships with major employers, utilize
the experiences of others on social media.  

If you sign a bad
contract or fail to assert yourself when there’s an attempt to take
advantage of you, that’s all on you. Educate yourself and assert your
professionalism. You can take steps to dramatically reduce the chance of

Become highly employable
If a practitioner
can bring value to the business in the form of high retention, drawing
business in, supporting other team members and contributing in positive
ways to the workplace, they will ultimately be rewarded with bonuses,
premium shifts, employee benefits and opportunities for advancement. 
Unlike private practice, working for a corporation provides alternatives
for generating income not directly related to hands-on care.

best employees demonstrate friendliness but are not over-bearing,
enthusiastic while being empathetic, show initiative and competence but
are not arrogant, and are authentic and gracious in service. They
recognize they are a part of a larger integrated team and strive to
accomplish goals common to the mission of the business while supporting
and encouraging fellow workers.

Here are some tangible ways of increasing your employability and value in a company:

•    Be well-dressed, engaging and do your research for your interview

•    Be prepared with questions to ask about the business

 RMT designation is not a guarantee of quality – employers will often
ask for a short demonstration of your skills and client/patient
engagement – be willing

•    Be prepared to commit to a trial and see how the relationship will work out

•    Ensure clients/patients feel safe, warm and comfortable in your presence ¬– always

 Empower patients/clients by letting them dictate comfortable and
tolerable pressure, temperature and other experience variables

 Look for ways to add value to the patient/client experience. As Disney
said, “Do your job so well they’ll want to come back to see you do it

•    Be gracious – lower table for an easy transition to standing post-session, provide water/recovery aid at the end of session

•    Focus on the primary issue and get results in that session.  

•    Design and present a plan to help patients/clients accomplish their long-term goals

•    Get a massage yourself, learn from others while investing in your own health and wellness

•    Share remedial exercises and helpful information – be a resource

•    Be a team player, show initiative in creating a better workspace for all

professional culture does a disservice in encouraging RMTs only to be
self-employed. Without the four Cs many are doomed to poor outcomes. I
encourage you to go and sit in interviews with as many of these
corporations as you can, learn about what they have to offer. You might
be surprised how attractive being an employee can be. And should you
accept a position, prepare to work hard to be as employable and
retainable as you can be.

Donald Quinn Dillon, RMT is a practitioner, author and speaker.  Find him at

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