Why a 50 min. Massage Booked Every Hour Makes Therapists Crazy and is Bad for Business!

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I’ve been a massage therapist for 20 years, and I’ve worked in just about every different setting a therapist can work in (except a cruise ship). A few years ago during my slow winter months I worked for a few months in a massage chain type of business. It was by far the most stressful massage job I have ever had. Every job has it’s good and bad parts, that is just life! This job however was stressful because it was almost impossible to do my best. If I do something, I WANT to to a great job, and make the most money that I can. I even really tried to help the place with my great suggestions! Anyway, here’s a typical day from my perspective, and why I was unable to do my best there.

8:40 am – I like to be early so I can get clocked, my table height adjusted, hot towels, and my room stocked for the day. Great plan, except the 20 year old receptionist with the key is late again!!

8:50 am – Good, clocked in, now to set up for the day. Booked solid, 5 clients!

8:58 am – I’m ready to go. Client breezes in, she’s new and has to fill out a health form. She does, and I take her back. Now she has to visit the bathroom, sure, no problem. It is now 9:05. I wait and we finally get to the room. I do a brief consultation, she wants extra work on her back. I leave her to get on the table and hurry to wash up. It is now 9:08. I need to get going!! I start the massage at 9:09. If I give her a full 50 minutes I will be late for my 10:00 client and my 11:00 client too. So either way I’m pretty much screwed. I give her the best 47 minute massage that I can, ending at 9:56. If she gets up fast maybe my next one will only start 5 minutes late. I grab a water cup, and wait. She leaves the massage room at 9:59. I walk her up front. She could really benefit from regular massage, and I quickly try to tell her this, but my mind is really on how fast I need to flip my room. It might possibly be the worst attempt at rebooking of my life. I’m already stressed and frazzled, a great state of mind for a massage therapist. My next client is waiting for me. It’s now 10:02. I should have started this client two minutes ago.

10:04 am – On my way to get client #2! I’m only a few minutes behind, it’ll be ok. He’s huge 6ft and at least 280, no problem, I’m good at deep tissue. I get him to the room and do my spiel as quickly as possible. He wants full body with pretty much extra work everywhere. Sure, no problem. I wash up and hurry back. It is now 10:08. I will give him the best 48 minute massage I possibly can because after my next client I have lunch, and I can get caught up then. He’s like a block of cement, I wonder if this guy drinks any water at all….. I’m using all my body weight, forearms, and elbows, and he keeps asking if I can go deeper. “Sure, I’ll do my best,” I say trying to, but I’m pretty sure he hates me and my massage. My stomach is growling! Why? I ate a big breakfast, oh yeah, that was three and a half hours ago. I hope cement guy can’t hear my stomach. I wonder if I could sneak snacks in here, quiet snacks….. or maybe a protien drink with a straw. I’m done at 10:56, he still has to get up and dressed, we get to the front desk at 11:00, the time I’m supposed to be STARTING my next client. I hate being late, it’s rude and disrespectful to my clients, something I would never be intentionally. I don’t make any recommendations, because, I don’t have time, and I don’t want to massage cement brick guy again anyway. A good therapist could probably take the time to explain the different types of massage and work with him, but this isn’t that kind of place. My next client is waiting….. Have I mentioned, I don’t like to make people wait?

11:05 My room is clean and I’m ready for client #3. She’s a sweet older lady, and with my lunch break next,  I have time for a proper consultation. We start at 11:10 and I give a full 50 minute massage. She loves me! We end at 12:00, and I recommend a massage every 2-4 weeks. She reschedules on the membership plan! Score! I love being able to actually do my job. Maybe I should talk to management about more time in between massages. Oh yeah, I’ve already done that and it would mean one less massage per day for the business, so it was a no go. Seems like happy rebooking clients would make more money in the long run, but what do I know? I’ve only been a therapist for 15 years.

12:10 My “lunch break”. Should I feed my starving belly or clean my room first? I have 20 minutes. I’ll clean my room. Then I can relax for 17 minutes. Glad I brought lunch or it would be break room peanut butter crackers again, there’s no time to even run next door for a slice of pizza.

12:25 Just finished eating and my 12:30 client is here. Good, I’ll start early and hopefully my afternoon goes better. If I get behind now it really messes up the next shift of therapists……

And that was pretty much my typical day at the massage chain!! I only lasted three months. In my humble opinion the whole schedule and set up of these types of businesses, breeds poor quality service. We are worth so much more than that, and so are our clients! This is why I teach all of the classes that I teach. I want to empower massage therapists, to find or CREATE their own better jobs.

This Post Has 32 Comments

  1. Susan

    Amen! I too lasted three months. My last day – my ENOUGH! day – I had an 8 hour day with 7 deep tissue clients. From what I have seen these businesses don’t care about their employees. From what I’ve been told these businesses are strictly a membership business, not caring about the product the membership is for. I was very new to the massage therapy business – this was my first job out of school – but I knew this place would kill me, physically, mentally and spiritually.

  2. Vanessa

    Hi Gael, I signed up last night when do the classes start?

    1. Gael Wood

      Vanessa the 10K Club is going on right now, as a member you can take any class at any time. Just go to the member page for the links. If you are logged in everything will come up as free. Join our Facebook group too!

  3. Christina

    I worked as a massage therapist at what sounds like same the same chain as you. You described a typical shift perfectly!! I’m surprised people sign up for membership at that price for barely a 50 minute massage/month. Sounds like youre in a more relaxed, happier place, as am I ?

  4. Antoinette

    Loved reading your article. I’ve been a massage therapist for 17 years and have never worked in the membership businesses. I have worked in establishments that offer 50 and 80 min services. It’s a huge challenge. Also depending upon how far away the lounge or waiting area is from your treatment room can be a factor too. I’ve worked on cement guy, lol. I tell those folks straight out that I’m not the right therapist for them and refer them to someone else. The business of massage is multi-factored. More complex than it appears.

  5. Franny

    Wow! Couldn’t have said it better. I’ve been in this same situation for 3 years. Welcome to my hell. This describes my day to a tee at least 5 out of 7 days.

  6. Robin

    Hi Gael.
    I know this scenario as well. Only difference is that I was working in a Chiropractic office and they scheduled 30 minute massages every 30 minutes! Tell me how this is supposed to happen! I lasted less than 3 months.

  7. Niki

    First thing I noticed in this (a being a massage therapist for 15 years) you already started your day late by showing up at 10 minutes till. I work as a lead massage therapist and I expect therapists to show up no later than 15 minutes to their shift, that way they can take their client’s back early before their start time. Hands on them ON the hour, 50 minutes of hands on so you have 10 minutes to change over. If they show up late, has to fill out paperwork and usr restroom, that cuts into their time. I give them their remaining time. YOUR time is important as well. It is just as rude for a client to keep you waiting. I have no problem saying, “Hey, since you were late, I can only give you your remaining time because I have back to back appointments”. It teaches your client’s to come on early.

    1. Gael Wood

      I don’t consider a client arriving at their appointment time being late. In my example day I arrived 20 minutes early, and couldn’t get in the building, which was common at that location. 🙂

    2. M

      I know when I worked at a membership place like this the front desk did nothing to inform the client of showing up early to fill out paperwork or anything, most of the time they would tell them to show up at the appt time. We even discussed this issue at staff meetings and the therapists would told the business didn’t want them in the relaxation room before their appt time because they could make too much noise -_-
      However when I was a lead therapist at a nice spa we were very clear on showing up early to complete paperwork and change into a robe and that the appt time was when the massage started. It helped there too though that we had a steam room and heated pool so we encouraged them to show up up to an hour early to take advantage of the facility, but even if they didn’t want to, to make sure to show up 15-20 min early to fill out paperwork, change into a robe and enjoy a cup of tea.
      I also as a lead therapist expected my therapists to clocking in at least 15 min prior to their first appt, but I also showed up at least 30 min before opening to unlock and make sure things were set up, on busy days I was there an hour before opening to make sure things were set up and ready for the day. That is something most of this chains don’t allow for, when I worked at one the front desk often showed up AT opening I didn’t even get that 10 min window.

    3. Tina McMillan

      You’re blaming the victim here. The problem is the unrealistic bullshit scheduling practices of these idiotic membership places, not the therapist being 10 minutes early instead of 20. Nobody could adhere to this kind of nightmare schedule. The entire establishment is at the mercy of clients showing up on time and everything running perfectly, which of course is a nightmare and cannot happen.

    4. Brian

      She was there 20 min early. As it reads, the front desk girl was late opening the building.

    5. Tamara Felix, PhD LMT

      Sounds to me like someone didn’t read the article before criticizing. She was early but the 20 year old receptionist with the key was late. Guess the chain doesn’t trust their money makers with a key to ensure their timeliness

    6. ANGELA

      It was the “20 yr old” who had the key to open up shop that was late. Not her.

    7. CSM

      You can’t always depend on your clients being early. The system is flawed. It should be based on picking up your client at the top of the hour. There needs to be more space between appointments, but no business will do that because they value making more money the most.

  8. Cammy

    Just reading about your typical day made me feel stressed out. Glad I plan on trying my own business after I graduate. With even a single day of that mess I don’t think I would be able to come back for a second let alone stay for 3 months.

  9. Jessica

    I worked at a resort that did 50 min massages and after 10 years of working there and struggling with the same issue (although we had 1hr lunches) they changed their protocols to 1hr massages with 15 min clean up time..best decision they ever made considering people were paying $125 for a 50 min massage, crazy I know.
    After 12 years there I left to open my own practice were I work on my clients for 1 hour and have 15 min to check them out…it makes the world of difference to me and to the quality of my service. I’m able to focus my time on my clients and not on the clock.

    1. Nicole

      Jessica, i am the same…I work in my own business and allow plenty of time, i actually give 60 min per massage but also say to clients to allow for extra time..less stress for me and definitely relaxing for my clients..I allow 30 between appointments..thats to let my client rest for 5 min with a glass of water, re dress, rebook clients…clean and change room..ground myself and reconnect for next client..

  10. Jocelyn

    You described a regular day at a massage chain so perfectly! I worked at one for 5 yrs! I thought i was getting tiref of being a massage therapist. One of the therapist told me “no you are not… you are tired of this place!” I have now been an owner of my own massage clinic and i am back to loving what i do! 😉

  11. Janet Kos

    I got my first massage when I was 58-the day before I got married – the therapist was very nice not rushed and the room was clean and smelled nice. I am pretty sure she did deep tissue massage as the next day I had sore muscles and was miserable so I had to take vicoden before I got married. I suppose we both miscommunicated. I have fibromyalgia. If you have this- tell the therapist. If they are unfamiliar give her a quick description. I think she hit every pressure point I had. She was making me very uncomfortable and at times it just hurt- I was unfamiliar with massages and now realize I should have asked for a simple relaxing massage- not deep tissue- but I did want to offend her.

    1. P

      I feel for my clients when it happen. I have fibromyalgia myself and being a therapist it helps me to understand pain in a different way and i can better educate my clients about this condition. I used to have my own place but after doing online deals and working most days in 7 clients per day i decided to work for a chain 🙁 . I had 15-30 minutes in between clients and now only a few minutes and i sure miss my business.

  12. Corinne

    I attempted to work at different chains from 2009-2013. I understood that our economy was in trouble so, that’s why these sales people created this new format. I’ve been a LMT for almost 20 years now. I finally got to the point that I could either negotiate and be independent with an employer, then I started my own business 2 years later. I know that there are certain spas that also expected multiple treatments in a 50 min session. A lot of upscale spas are following the same chain format. All about making the sales and not the therapy. We also have the new corporate schools training therapists to work for these chains. I’m thankful for my massage organization with a mentor program though. I hope we veteran therapists can teach them the differences.

  13. Tanji

    Hi Janet, as a LMT I can honesty say that if the massage session isn’t comfortable or relaxing as in therapeutic, NEVER feel as if you are a bother with expressing pain or discomfort for something YOU are paying for. Sometimes it helps if when there’s a conversation with the MT within the first 5-10minutes, that way there’s a comfort zone established to say certain things.

  14. Leslie

    It is analogous to gymn yoga. Not true yoga but some abbreviated version of the original. . Sad for the professionals who have so much more to offer
    and sad for the clients who need and deserve so many pieces missing from that which these money machine chains allow their employees to deliver.

  15. Anastasia

    While reading this article, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry – you PERFECTLY described my six months at the massage chain I think we all are not-so-“enviously” describing here. 😛

    After graduating from one of the top massage schools in the country, I realized that even the best training cannot provide enough hands-on experience. So, I joined one of the franchises with the goal of getting precisely that: bodies to practice on and perfect my massage technique. I will always be grateful to them for that (and ONLY that!).

    I am a meticulous record-keeper so I will share some stats with you:

    I worked six months to the day at the chain. During that time, I performed a grand total of 460 fifty-minute massages. 460!!!

    Compare that to my next job, which was 11 months at a very high-end spa. In almost double the time, I only performed 254 sixty-minute massages.

    I have been fully (and happily) self-employed since April 2012. During that time, I have performed 1,456 hours of massage.

    Conclusion: I am happy I started my career at a high-volume massage factory where I could place my hands on a variety of bodies and gain invaluable experience. It has helped me become the jmuch more experienced therapist I am today. HOWEVER, I also learned from the management at that chain how NOT to treat your employees, and how NOT to run a spa that truly cares about their clients’ health and well-being. Would I do it again the same way? Yes, in a heartbeat. But I’d probably have stayed closer to three months, not six…

  16. Sean

    This was my exact day today. I was behind the first half of my shift cuz the client was late. And i have only 50 minutes to work my magic on them while I have them.
    I have been a massage therapist for well over a decade. And, I can attest, to the stress and frustration I feel working in such a chain (which is where I currently work). I’m often booked back to back & have to hurry to fetch my next client (even when I arrive early. And I do, I arrive 30 minutes before the start of my shift). Sometimes I have to work through my “hour” long break in order to do a full 50 minutes on a client.

    I feel stifled and not as able to help people as I work like becuz of this rules or that rule. And I don’t have the time to properly educate people when they come in asking for a light swedish massage & then tell me that they have tension in their neck.

    First of all,, I am a deep tissue therapist (it’s what I love to do) & second I don’t believe a light swedish massage is going to get out a knot or muscle tension as the client hopes. I do the best that I can; however, I would much prefer to have my own private practice where I can make the rules & truly help my clients whilst doing the massage modalities I love.

  17. AM6583

    Yep, been there, done that. I lasted a whole seven months. My “last straw” was during a mandatory meeting and we were told that we, the therapists, needed to start pushing the new Murad products. When one of the LMT’s spoke up and said that we are not estheticians the owner of the franchise said, “Well, you can you can certainly recommend the sunblock, or refer your client to one of our estheticians.” Then went on to rant about how we need to push the enhancements more as well. So glad I’m not there anymore. I’m now working with a chiropractor who let me add spa type services (hot stones, aromatherapy, etc) AND I’m in complete control of my schedule. I’m a much happier therapist these days.

  18. JJ

    Obviously those chains exploit employees. I took a job there knowing they would underpay me but thinking it would be a decent trade-off because you get experience and they keep you booked. The thing you figure out after a while is that they not only don’t care a bit about their employees, they ALSO don’t give a crap about their customers! No care at all for actually providing decent therapy to people for the money they pay. Just get ’em in the door so you can sell them add-ons, memberships, and products (yes, in that five minutes you have to flip your room, you’re also supposed to get the clients to buy some lotion or bath salts)….all with an ever-rotating staff of therapists (oh, you joined because you really liked your therapist and wanted to see her regularly? -sorry, she’s gone, but you’re locked into your membership) and a massage on a table with a gross blanket (sheets are changed between clients….blankets stay on all day, or several days.)

  19. Josh

    Currently transitioning from one of these chains into another with a similar business model. I really like the experience I’m getting, and perfecting what I do, but this thread describes all my concerns to a “T”.

    Hoping the new place works out better.

  20. Tamara Felix, PhD LMT

    Thank you so much for writing this article. It was informative and eye-opening. I’ve wondered for years how you make a 50-minute session work. And to hear LMTs say they are happy at their chain and some stay for years just boggles my mind. Military efficiency in a pretty but cold atmosphere without the support needed to make those back to back transitions. I have thought, like at a chiropractic chain where the chiropractor hops from treatment room for a 10 minute adjustment and on to the next treatment room while a CA gets rooms set up and cleaned up, bringing patients back to room and doing the little “extras” like electrical stimulation, ultrasound and such, that these massage chains would be similar in that an MTA would handle the set up, clean up and pushing products while the LMT finishes with a client and has just enough time to go to the restroom, wash up and into the next room with client on the table. Perhaps that is where they are heading. Good article

  21. Melissa

    Yes Gael I know exactly what you mean! Doing massages over 15 years now too. I don’t like those cookie cutter businesses! It’s a ripoff to licensed massage therapists and the clients. I got sick of it and started my own mobile business to treat the client right! No shortcuts! 😊

  22. CSM

    I know this was written almost 3 years ago but I just had to respond. I have been a therapist for 10 years and have only worked doing these insane 50 min massages. Granted there are 80 min massages too, which are much more manageable but the 50 min one’s make me crazy. I worked for a high end fancy spa, an acupuncture place, and now a chain massage place.

    My current days are even worse. The place I work requires you do a thorough intake, check in before you turn them over and a check in at 10 min left ( so a good possibility they will ask for more when you actually DON’T have any more time!), and you are required to wrap up at the end after they get dressed, say what you found, recommendations, etc. You are required to give a full 50 min of hands on, unless they are late. This pretty much always puts you up to the top of the hour, or later, when you should be picking up your next client. To top this off they want you to try to get them to do add ons too and they have a new health form for liability that you are supposed to go over with each client once per year, and everyone is filling them out now, so all of my appointments the last two weeks have been running very late.

    In the last 6 months they have also asked the therapists to “help out” with laundry. We don’t have any free time. So often when you come in early to set up, there are no sheet sets ready to go , and no clean face cradle covers. So coming in early to get all set up often isn’t as helpful as it should be. I am not going to come in even earlier and stay later to work for free doing laundry.

    This place in general has been more organized than the high end spa I worked for, but with the intake, check ins, findings and suggestions….I am always running late. We also have to enter SOAP notes too into the computer, so by the time you get your break you are already almost 10 min into it just getting the last client out, then you need to do your soap notes, then you have maybe 10-15 min for your break. If you had any add ons, you have to clean up extra or set up the next one, so maybe you get a 5-10 min break.

    I get so stressed out by all of this. I dread going in. I really love my clients but often my state of mind is just to get through my shift. Constantly checking the clock for timing. Feeling I can never get it all in or I just go over to give them a full massage and that later biting me in the ass.

    I remember one meeting where they were getting on our asses to stay on time!!!! Really? This coming from the lead massage therapist who often hops rooms because she has no time to change the sheets.

    Then there is the whole chain mentality and business model that pays therapists poorly and relies on the client to make some of it up with a tip. If the business model was adjusted they could afford to pay us more! The price we pay from them offering affordable massages is that the running of business gets more attention than the livelihood of the therapists and somehow this has been accepted as the new norm. I just don’t get it because we are their bread and butter.

    I have had a small private practice, which is much more relaxing, but I feel that the stress and strain from day one of being a massage therapist working for others doing multiple 50 min massages a day has me now associating my career with the stress and pressure to get the massage done….I keep planning on quitting working for others but haven’t quite gotten brave enough to do it. Almost there.

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