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You’re not the boss of me… oh wait, yes, you are!

Massage therapists fall into one of two obvious categories – we are either fiercely independent, or the ultimate team player hungry for networking in a multi-disciplinary environment. Some of us wander down both career arteries to find what's best in sync with our mission and mantra. Others know before having completed the board exam that it's self-employment or bust.

July 12, 2016  By Jules Torti

Sometimes the “indies” end up cross-armed on a team due to geography or a slump in home-based business clientele numbers. Consistency of clientele is a chronic battle with an ever-changing pattern. Seeking employment at popular spas and jazzy hotels can help pad a slim independent contractor paycheque. On the flip side, eager team players are nudged into the convenience and flexibility of a home-based operation and feel isolated and defragmented without a crew of coworkers to bounce ideas and concerns back and forth with.

For employers, trying to build a cohesive team can mirror constructing a house of cards. Building a strong team culture relies on all employees being committed to the place, not just the job. How can RMTs be best engaged? (Do we even know ourselves?)

The common denominator is that employees universally desire choices in line with their values and job culture. Companies with strong culture automatically brag about pride in their brand. They are walking ambassadors for their workplace. However, the big bosses have other sticky targets to hit that go beyond the random pizza party and free cupcakes just-because days. There is a profit to be made, revenue and shareholder pressure. Stuff we don’t often consider as employees as we work out a taut iliopsoas in the dim light of our treatment rooms to strains of Pachebel.

LinkedIn posts a constant stream of articles on company culture and team branding. Recently, Zappos (an online shoe and clothing shop) turned heads by advertising that they would pay individuals one month’s salary to quit if they didn’t love the company culture after the first three months. They chose customer service as their ultimate purpose and made delivering happiness the pinnacle. The shift actually resulted in a 25 per cent loss of revenue, but the happiness mission jumped positively on the scale.


At Morning Star (a tomato processing and packing company), they have been fully self-managed since the early ’90s. There is no hierarchy, no managers. Self-management has fuelled employee empowerment. Their concept lies in an examination of our decision-making process. We all make big decisions in our lives every day; big, life-changing decisions. And we do it all without a boss. So, why does this change in the workplace?

For employers, establishing where the organization, spa, hotel, clinic or yoga studio is heading and why is paramount. Employees need to know the mission and whether it jives with theirs. You should have just as many questions for your potential employer as they do for you. Generic interview questions have changed to become more insightful and engaging. Gone is “Where do you see yourself in five years?”—the new line of questioning is “What was the last subject you Googled?” “Who would you want to sit beside on a trans-Atlantic flight?”

I’ve run the gamut from self-employment to working at hotels, with chiropractors to a stint at a chair massage company to a women-only hydrotherapy circuit spa. Each position helped refine my needs and wants as a massage therapist. Every boss introduced a different style of management and approach to success.

At the Rosedale Wellness Clinic in Toronto, chiropractor Dr. Bryan Sher took full advantage of his team. As the owner of a multi-disciplinary clinic (with sleep specialists, naturopaths, osteopaths in training, yoga, spin classes, physiotherapists, RMTs and an adjoining dental office), he provides clients with a SWAT team approach to wellness, all at one convenient location. Through weekly rounds (mandatory for all staff), he achieved a symbiosis in employee goals. Emphasis was placed on in-house client referrals, allowing for an exceptional treatment plan approach. A client presenting with TMJ dysfunction could have cold laser therapy with a physiotherapist, visit the dentist for a custom night guard, chat with the naturopath about homeopathic pain relief options and have a massage treatment and upper thoracic and cervical adjustment. And, if their sleep patterns were disturbed – well, Sher had a specialist for that too.

For RMTs accustomed to self-employment, joining a team often includes different demands like product knowledge and retail sales. It was a hot debate in massage college. We weren’t sales reps! Our work was hands on, not to hit sales targets and be swayed by commission incentives. Here’s the inside scoop of what two employers have to say about their staff expectations.

Julie Simcox, spa director at Langdon Hall Country House Spa and Hotel, Blair, Ont.
Expectations: “Everyone has responsibilities outside of their treatment room – regardless of job title,” she says. Reception, massage therapists and estheticians are all responsible for emptying garbage cans, putting used robes and towels in the laundry bins, sanitizing sandals for guests, vacuuming if need be and other tasks as necessary. Curiously, she notes that the “estheticians tend to keep their treatment rooms orderly for the next person. This is not the case with the RMTs. Team meetings are held at least once a quarter and training is offered for any additional new services,” often at the workplace for convenience.

Perks: “Staff can use whatever products they prefer,” Simcox says. She’s also open to bringing in any new lines. Holiday requests are met as often as possible as Simcox wants staff to feel like they can have a life outside of work. Employees receive stat, vacation and sick pay, benefits, spa and hotel discounts and can trade services with other staff off-the-clock.

Obstacle course: Although Simcox admits that RMT resistance to retail sales seems to be waning, it’s still a roadblock despite handsome commissions being offered. And, a new booking order initiative in 2015 has shifted concepts of seniority and staff expectation. Instead of basing seniority on logged time with the company as most industries operate, the booking order destabilizes this security with its constant analysis of employee performance. Therapists are reviewed and ranked by client requests, punctuality, motivation, pursuit of new modalities, like Thai Stem, and sales among other targets. Every four months the booking order is altered as necessary and is intended to keep long-term employee performance levels on par with the enthusiasm of new staff.

Philosophy 101: Simcox is tuned in to the latest twists in mentoring and is always game to try new tactics with employees. She has conducted meetings in a more casual format – outside, while walking the trails of the hotel’s woodsy property. The idea is based on shaking up the hierarchy, making communication level and void of typical power roles in a boardroom setting.

Christina McDougall, spa director, The Spa at The Old Mill, Toronto
Expectations: “First and foremost, outstanding customer service and excellent technical skills are critical. It is important that staff are familiar with all services, hours and policies at the spa. Attendance is mandatory for all spa-related training, and participation is noted. At the spa we have specialists in each department. RMTs are responsible for only providing the service they are trained for (massage) and I have other staff who are responsible for phones, cleaning, etc.”

Employee perks: “All staff including RMTs are able to purchase products at cost. They are the brand ambassadors and I don’t feel we (the company) should profit from them. All staff are also entitled to complimentary services on their days off.”

Obstacle course: McDougall also admits her difficulty in convincing RMTs to retail. “It’s something I can’t explain considering they recommend Epsom salts from the drug store when the spa carries a similar product.”

Philosophy 101: My philosophy isn’t just keeping my RMTs happy, it’s keeping ALL my staff happy, and this is the reason why my turnover is so low. I have a six-plus year turnover rate which is unheard of. Five of my RMTs have been with me over nine years. Happiness comes from creating a positive work environment, competitive wages and always making your employees feel appreciated with an open door policy to management.”

If you are searching for a job right now, search inside yourself first. Do you want the free cupcake days and camaraderie, or are you best designed to play your own soundtrack, make your own schedule and plot your own course?

Jules Torti has been an RMT since 1999 and a freelance writer since age six. In between massage engagements, she travels to Africa to be with chimpanzees and writes about her zany travels for Matador Network.

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