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How to Manage Employee Performance Issues During a Crisis

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With the pressures of reopening upon their shoulders, the last thing spa managers need is a continuance of pre-shutdown problematic behaviors. But keeping the end game of total customer satisfaction as the goal,  management should approach staff performance issues with empathy and an open mind — while making sure to follow codes of ethics and conduct.

Addressing an employee performance issue is never an easy task. During a crisis, speaking to a team member about low productivity, inappropriate behavior, or a bad attitude can feel even more daunting. Conversations around employee performance are still necessary in a crisis, but your approach should evolve depending on the severity of the issue and the nature of the crisis. Here’s what the experts say about managing a performance issue during difficult times.

Lead with empathy

Brian Dosal, CEO at Strety, told CO— that it’s important to approach an issue from a place of understanding and patience.

“Be empathetic. Don’t assume the worst right now. In a crisis, everyone is truly ‘in this together.’ Communicate empathetically with whatever issues need to be worked through and be patient and understanding if improvements are needed. These are not normal times and, therefore, normal expectations should go out the window,” he said.

Start with an open mind and encourage clear communication. “Ask questions with positive intent. The goal is to understand the employee’s perspective. Always assume positive intent on the employee’s behalf until you are proven otherwise,” Heather R. Wilson, owner, and consultant at SagePros told CO—. Speak to the team member in private to make sure you have the full context for what might be causing the performance issue before you take the next step.

Assess how the issue will impact your business

In my blogpost When Spas Reopen Will Your Elephant Be First In?, I recommend that pre-opening management meetings include pre-COVID 19 employee performance assessments. Training is never a wasted effort and managers conducting remedial training is a smart way to bring low performers up to speed. Even high performing therapists can use a refresher course on customer engagement and reselling after spending weeks away from the job.

Spas are in a fragile state right now; competition is high and customers are not guaranteed. Each person who walks through the door is entrusting you to provide a comfortable safe level of service. It is better to invest the time ensuring that your team feels confident in their tasks and customer interactions than to assume that they do.

A crisis is a time to show some grace and flexibility. Personally, I have encountered very few therapists who deliberately under-perform. It is usually due to lack of training. The manager should share their observations and listen to the employee’s response. After reopening training if poor performance becomes a pattern, then the leader should pivot to the organization’s formal performance management system.”

Some performance issues are more serious than others. An employee who shows up late is different than an employee skimming money from the cash register. Your response should be proportional to the issue at hand.

“In a crisis, an organization should never ignore any actions or behaviors that could be grounds for immediate termination,” listing violating ethics and the code of conduct, displaying violence, stealing money or property, and lying as things that should be addressed immediately. “Consequences should follow company policy,” said Wilson.

In a customer-facing business, any questionable performance issue, observable by the guests, should be addressed privately in the moment. That is always best practice no matter how “small” the performance concern is.

Communicate empathetically with whatever issues need to be worked through and be patient and understanding if improvements are needed.

Thanks to Emily Heaslip


Linda Harding-Bond
Linda Harding-Bond is shifting the paradigm on spa retail training. Her Express Online Retail Training Course is exactly what's needed for post-COVID-19 spa re-openings. Designed to bring your therapists' retail skills up to speed, it will quickly position retail as a robust alternate revenue stream. Linda has provided training for many world-class organizations including The Oberoi Group, St. Regis Hotel, Anantara Hotels & Resorts, Shangri-La Hotels, The Resort at Pedregal, GoldenEye Resort and Spa and Six Senses Resorts. She is author of "Listen, Engage, Sell!: The Foolproof Method for Increasing Spa Sales in 7 Days or Less" and "The New Esthy Handbook: an Essential Guide for Novice or Nervous Estheticians". Connect with her at Linda@Moontideconsulting.com .
Linda Harding-Bond

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