The average ‘lifespan’ of a therapist working in a spa is seven months. Not because they don’t like their jobs. Not because they aren’t excellent at what they do. But because the amount of stress put on these people who help us all keep our own stress in check, is simply too much. Now one lady has created an initiative to do something about it.
Sam Pearce is in a unique position to understand the challenges and impact of working in the spa world. This space that excels in the music, the sounds, the pace, the impression of tranquility, all designed to serve the client, often does so at the expense of its team. It’s a reality Sam knows all too well, and with the recent news about Caroline Flack casting a long and sad shadow, her voice is heavy with a deeply felt need to offer up a life raft for anyone in trouble.
Having done a degree in fashion at Central Saint Martins, training alongside the late Alexander McQueen, she found her way into the world of fashion PR, working at the same agency that the brilliantly satirical Absolutely Fabulous was rumoured to be based on. Following a whirlwind romance she eventually moved home, frustrated that the spa/salon industry was predictable and dare we say clinical, Sam founded The Potting Shed Spa, which to date has notched up 35 national and global awards. Having always felt the beauty world took itself just a little bit too seriously, her vision was clear. She wanted to create a space that was mindful, fun, happy and relaxed. Needless to say, it was a roaring success.
Fast forward 20 years however, and Sam was burnt out. Two decades of no lunch breaks, perennially speedy staff turnover, shouldering other peoples problems (both staff and clients), and never having a moment to herself, had left her exhausted and overwhelmed. The worst part being that she didn’t realise how bad things had become until she was truly and seriously unwell. It was this realisation that was the start of what was to become a new venture, now poised to make a change in the spa industry and the way spas look after their spa therapists and management teams, but not before things got significantly worse.
Signed off on sick leave, she did the responsible thing. She employed someone to take over Saturdays. The Saturdays she had not had to herself for 20 years. She interviewed a girl who came to her home, had lunch with her and, whom Sam embraced as a new member of her cherished team. Unfortunately, things went terribly wrong. The girl arrived at work for one half day, and wreaked the kind of havoc that thrillers are made of. Having managed to download information from Sam’s computers, she alienated staff, stole data, and managed to systematically destroy the business that Sam had worked the majority of her life to build.
By the time the girl was eventually arrested and charged with three counts of sabotage, computer misuse and harassment, Sam had gone from unwell to broken. At this lowest of ebbs, Sam’s three little dachshunds came to her rescue. Unable to find the words, unable to find the energy to articulate how she felt, these two dogs showed care and support, mimicking Sam’s low mood with empathetically low hanging ears in her presence.
This small but powerful signal of solidarity, without need for explanation or words, let Sam know someone understood, someone saw her. She realised that there was a need in the spa world for something similar; a barometer for the way we feel to allow us to check in with ourselves and one another, without the need to explain if we don’t want to, and before things get out of control, having literally nowhere to turn, embarrassed that she had been “trusting and gullible”, Low Ears was born.
As Sam tells me about the long and personal journey towards the creation of Low Ears, a uniquely simple and powerful tool for self-assessment as well as community support for spa workers, the emotion is palpable. She is her own best ambassador for the need to recognise that mental health, recovery, and emotional wellbeing is an ongoing journey rather than a destination; the intent behind Low Ears is heartfelt and has a determined sense of urgency to it.
She describes it as a traffic light system for spa therapists. When you log into your work station each day, a little dog icon requests you position its ears in accordance with your mood. It is wired into a community of other therapists, whom you can engage with or not. Either way, over time it gives you an overview of how you are feeling. Have your ears been low for a day, a week, a month, or longer? Is it every now and again, or is it ongoing? And has it gone on for long enough that there may be an underlying issue that’s more serious?
Set to launch imminently, Low Ears is a passion project but also an insightful one that challenges the status quo of the spa industry. This world of people, many of whom are very young, and whom everyone goes to as pseudo psychologists, despite no training to self-protect from the challenges of dealing with ‘OPS’ (other people’s s**t – as Sam calls it), needs a new way of supporting its people. If we want to keep good therapists in the spa industry, we need to start looking after them more. It’s an appeal we can all recognise in all areas of work and life. After all, if you’re looking after everyone, who out there is looking after you?
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