When you are an employee, your massage job or workplace can pose challenges. Let’s consider the nature of each common workplace problem and explore potential solutions.
Massage therapists work in diverse settings, and often choose employment rather than assume the risks of opening an office or being an independent contractor. However, many employed massage therapists experience a variety of challenges in the workplace.
As co-owners of Eagan Massage Center, my business partner and I have made it a priority to cultivate a positive, supportive work environment that addresses issues proactively. This article is for both massage therapists and those who employ them.
In 14-plus years of professional practice, I’ve noticed certain questions and concerns are voiced over and over, at conferences and networking events, and on social media. As an educator and mentor, I’ve discussed all of these issues with many massage therapists.
There is no single answer to these questions. Let’s start by considering the nature of each common workplace problem and exploring potential solutions.
Massage Job Problem: Basic Customer Complaint
• Clients have complained about the music played during their massage sessions.
• Clients have complained about hearing too much noise from outside the massage room during their sessions.
• Clients have complained about prices or how services are provided.
Massage Job Solution: Speak up! These are simple problems that smart business managers and owners want to know about as soon as possible. They can figure out how to address each complaint and whether any changes should be made to improve customer satisfaction.
Massage Job Problem: Basic Business Operations Issue
• The business seems to be low on supplies (clean linens, hand soap, toilet paper), which could negatively impact operations or the client experience.
• Clients report difficulty with making online appointments or otherwise interacting with the business online.
• There seems to be a water leak somewhere, or a door closes but doesn’t latch properly to stay closed, or light bulbs in a particular area keep burning out.
Massage Job Solution: Speak up! These are issues that may be relatively easy to fix, but which sometimes require more time and money. Business owners and managers want to know about them right away because they tend to become bigger problems if not addressed quickly.
Massage Job Problem: Inappropriate Client Behavior
• A client makes inappropriate, sexual comments about you during their session, or asks inappropriate questions about your private life.
• A client attempts to touch you, or succeeds in touching you, during their session.
Massage Job Solution: Immediately end the session, tell the client to get dressed and pay on their way out, then leave the room. Inform the owner or manager and any reception staff about what happened so they can handle it appropriately.
Include everything that was said and done, in your SOAP notes. Also write an incident report right away. Owners and managers who value their employees will not permit that client to interact with you again and will ban that person from the business. If management doesn’t support you, it might be time to find different employers.
If the client physically touched you without consent, that is assault, and you may also file a police report. It is important to write what happened and then make a police report while the details are still fresh in your mind.
Massage Job Problem: Conflict with Coworker(s)
• An entitled coworker treats clients or coworkers poorly.
• A coworker routinely violates company policies and procedures.
Massage Job Advice: Competent managers and owners want to know about these things, but it’s important to bring them up in confidence. If the coworker has supervisory responsibility, you might start with a diplomatic conversation with that person. If it doesn’t go well, bring it to a manager or possibly the business owner.
Sometimes these issues arise due to poor training or something else that seems like a rational excuse — and in most cases, other employees will share your concerns.
Depending on that person, a little diplomacy might make a world of difference, but be prepared to take it to someone above them. What they do with clients (or in front of clients) impacts the reputation of the business, and that could indirectly impact your income. If clients aren’t aware of what they do, it might still impact business operations, profitability, or risks of legal consequences.
There isn’t always a quick fix to these issues, but nothing will improve if management doesn’t address it, and some managers or owners need a little extra push to understand it’s time to prioritize resolution of the problem(s).
If the manager or owner is the one creating the problem, you may need to find alternate employment. If it violates massage therapy regulations that apply to the business, or is potentially a criminal matter, document the issues and whatever evidence you have, and report it to the relevant authority.
Massage Job Problem: Incorrect Pay, Unpaid Work or Lack of Raises
• You find a discrepancy (or several) on your paycheck, or on multiple paychecks.
• You are asked to do unpaid work, or work that falls outside of your job description.
Massage Job Advice: Report it to management ASAP! Good managers and owners want payroll to accurately reflect the work that was done. Honest mistakes are possible, and your employer will be glad you reported the error so they can correct it, often with an apology. This is an important aspect to maintaining good team morale so people want to continue working there, and it’s a legal requirement.
If managers and owners habitually make similar errors, such as retaining your tips or failing to pay you for all of your hours, especially if they are slow to correct the errors, it’s possible the errors may not be entirely unintentional, or they are somehow failing to learn from prior mistakes. Both are indications you might want to seek work elsewhere.
At the very minimum, they can review how they calculate what you should be paid, look for the source(s) of the errors, and have another person learn the payroll process well enough to double check and correct it before paychecks are issued.
Being forced to do unpaid work is illegal and you should report it to your state department of commerce or labor board.
If a supervisor attempts to force you to perform additional tasks that are not part of your job description, you have the right to refuse. It’s appropriate to be firm in your refusal, and you can cite your job description as grounds for refusal. If they persist, involve someone higher up. Wise employers know what you have been hired to do, and they will not normally ask you to do other things.
If it has been more than a year since your last performance review or pay increase, don’t be shy about asking. Contact the person responsible for these things, state that it has been more than a year, and ask for a review and consideration of a pay raise.
Some employers have formal processes for this, but many do not. If you have not asked for a review or pay raise before, start by asking what the process is so you know whom to talk to and how to go about it.
It’s important you be open to critical feedback, and not assume you will receive a raise just because you asked for one. Employers may delay giving reviews and raises because you were late too many times, or because of a customer complaint, or for some other reason.
A review should include both positive and negative comments about your performance and attendance, and state how that impacts whether or not you will receive a raise at this time — or when you will be eligible for raises or benefits. Ask questions about anything you don’t understand or that doesn’t seem correct.
Is it Time to Move On?
The advice provided above includes some suggestions about when it might be time to move on from your massage job. Employees who advocate for respect and fair treatment are more likely to receive it, and they will be more successful partly because they are authentic and true to themselves.
Look for employers who will treat you well and provide the kind of support you need to feel safe and cared for at work. This will eliminate distractions and stresses that can interfere with your ability to be your best self.
About the Author:
Jason Erickson, BCTMB, CPT, BBA, co-owns and practices at Eagan Massage Center. A former chronic pain patient, Jason is an internationally recognized continuing education provider teaching classes on pain science, dermoneuromodulation, sports massage, research literacy and more. His articles and podcast appearances are widely featured. For current information on his CE classes, visit healthartes.com.