Every business is different; each has its own unique workplace culture, which is initially defined by the owner or manager and shaped by the employees and their experiences at work.
For example, the culture of one workplace can support growth, learning and teamwork, while the culture of another can promote excessive competition, frustration and lack of excitement about the work.
In the massage therapy business, who is responsible for creating a great workplace culture—the therapists, the support staff, or the owner or manager? If you answered “all three,” you are correct. It takes a team to create a great culture; however, it all begins with a strong leader.
Who’s in Charge?
If you are a massage practice owner or manager, you can affect your workplace culture and the success of your business by taking ownership and demonstrating leadership.
Leadership, to me, means setting expectations, inspiring action and helping others grow personally and professionally. Being consistent and fair are also keys to effective management.
In any business, employees want to be seen, heard, validated and respected. Connect with your team members around their passion for massage. Try to understand the challenges they face each day.
For example, one thing I have heard from therapists across the U.S. is that they become upset when their manager or owner does not come in and receive massage from one of them.
If you are someone who does not receive massages, or you do not feel comfortable getting one from one of your employees, please do yourself and your team a favor: With the employee’s and client’s permission, take 90 minutes out of your day to stand (not sit) without your phone (in silence) and observe a therapist giving a massage.
You will be amazed at the focus and energy it takes to be present with a client for 90 minutes—and your employees will appreciate that you took the time to understand how they work.
How Massage Therapists Contribute to Workplace Culture
As a massage therapist, you can affect your environment with your professionalism, emotions, energy and focus.
Professionalism, to me, means arriving in uniform prior to my first appointment, so that I have time to ground myself for my clients. It also involves me leaving my personal issues at home and being 100 percent present for my client on the table.
Even if you find your job challenging because you have an ineffective boss, you can still impact your clients in a positive way. Be present with your client and yourself during every massage.
Support Staff Make an Impact
If you’re a member of a massage practice’s support staff—a front desk person, for example—your role and your connection with clients is so important. You are the first and the last person they interact with.
Know that greeting a client with a smile on your face is noticed; even on the phone, a smile can be heard. You are the calming energy that warmly invites clients in and wishes them well as they leave.
5 Positive Principles
At the age of 35 and as a divorced mom raising two teenagers, I opened my own massage business. My intention was to create a supportive and grounded place for therapists to work. Here are five principles on which I built my first business culture.
1. Foundation of Respect
Aim to create a culture where your employees or contract massage therapists know they are cared about and respected; this starts with human connection and then a connection around your shared passion for massage. Understand, care and connect.
I know a massage business owner who has a waiting list of therapists who want to work for him. Why? Because he cares, he connects, he leads and he empowers. All these components add up to respect.
2. Set and Know Expectations
If you are a manager or owner, it is your responsibility to set the expectations you have for your business and your employees—in the employment interview. If you do not discuss your culture in the interview, you are setting yourself and your potential employee up for failure.
You will benefit from setting the expectations during interviewing and orientation. You must then continue to reinforce these expectations on a daily basis.
As an employee, it’s your responsibility to know your employer’s expectations and fulfill them. However, not all managers or owners are great communicators.
I recall going to work in an office when I was 23. The boss at this office told me very little about my job when I started—but for the next two months she sure let me know that “We don’t do it that way here” or “That’s not right” when I unknowingly made a mistake. I was so frustrated I quit. She could have kept me as an employee by telling me what to do instead of only what not to do.
If you find that you are thrown into a job without orientation, it is important to ask for clarification: “When will I be oriented to my job and this company?”
Another good question to ask is, “What are my responsibilities and duties, and is this written down?” The person in charge will probably appreciate that you have an interest in doing your best for the business.
3. Ask Questions
In my favorite book, The Four Agreements, don Miguel Ruiz implores us not to make assumptions, but to ask questions instead. If you aren’t sure what your boss or employee is expecting of you or you feel that person might be unhappy with you, don’t let that feeling linger.
Step up and ask, “Hey, I’m feeling something and not sure what it is. Are you unhappy with me or something I did here at work?” Ask, clarify—and bring peace.
4. Encourage Mistakes
Mistakes provide opportunity for growth; and we are all human. We are going to make mistakes. Always discuss the mistake and share the learning, and plan how it will not occur again.
As a manager, let your employees know if you see the same mistake repeated and you are now seeing a pattern. Discuss the pattern and give them one more opportunity to learn before disciplinary action is taken.
5. Bring Your Best Self to Work
Create the environment you want to work in! Who wants to go to work with a bunch of complainers or whiners? Not me. I want to work in an environment that enhances my grounded-ness, my massage and my energy.
I want to work in a place that is fun and focused on massage and bodywork—because where there is healing and support, there is hope.
About the Author
Michele Merhib Maruniak, R.M.T., is the founder of the Elements Massage franchise. A massage therapist for 17 years, she currently consults with Elements on massage therapist recruiting and retention. She also has a boutique business in Colorado that provides massage for children and young adults with special needs.