Shanalie Wijesinghe, director of education at Boulevard, tackles the biggest misconceptions...

Shanalie Wijesinghe, director of education at Boulevard, tackles the biggest misconceptions owners have about The Great Resignation.

On the surface, the story of the Great Resignation seems fairly straightforward. Challenged by the pandemic to rethink their personal and professional lives, workers are quitting in record numbers, leaving businesses to grapple with significant staffing shortages. Wait times are long, services are scaled back, and clients are angry. Nowhere is this more evident than the salon industry, where owners and operators across the country are struggling to contain the upheaval.

Of course, many stories aren’t as straightforward as they initially seem. Pervasive trends are defined not by headlines but by nuance, and with the Great Resignation, the nuance is this: what ails salon owners isn’t necessarily a shortage of willing and available workers, but an understandable hesitation to adapt to the new realities of the COVID-era workforce.     

Before we go any further, let’s make one thing clear: for salon owners, the struggle to staff up is undeniably real. But so is this: right now, there are many misconceptions about exactly what’s driving the Great Resignation and how we as an industry can and should respond. With that in mind, let’s examine the five most pervasive of those misconceptions.

Misconception #1: There is a shortage of willing and available workers 

Let’s start with the biggest misconception of the bunch. Talk to a salon owner and they’ll likely tell you, plain and simple, there just isn’t anyone willing to work. Now, that might be how it feels to the person doing the hiring, but that simplistic assessment fails to get to the heart of what’s really going on. It’s not that there’s a shortage of professionals willing to work. It’s that there’s a shortage of professionals willing to adhere to traditional workplace constructs.

Beauty professionals are as passionate about working and making clients look and feel their best as they’ve ever been. They just want to do it as part of a balanced life, one where they have a modicum of control over their time. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that life is short and time is precious. Professionals today want a say in how theirs is spent. 

As a salon owner, if you’re still asking employees to keep to rigid hours and inflexible schedules, or if you still expect to exercise total control over how often and for how long your employees work, then your worldview is no longer compatible with many of the professionals you’re hoping to hire, and you’re going to continue having a heck of a time staffing up. If, however, you’re open to creating a more flexible and collaborative workplace and rethinking what the employer-employee relationship can and should be, you’re likely to find all the good help you need. 

Misconception #2: Work ethic isn’t what it used to be 

Don’t make the mistake of equating professionals’ desire for more flexibility and a healthier work-life balance with a lack of work ethic. Nothing can be further from the truth. Remember the part about the pandemic reminding us that life is short? Well, workers today have no interest in making it even shorter. They’re mindful of their health and well-being and they’re rightfully unwilling to sacrifice either to make a little more money. (Speaking of money, they’re also smarter about their finances and more diligent about saving than ever before, and they’ve figured out they can do just as well outside the rigid constructs of a traditional schedule as they can within them.) 

Look, we’ve all had our “back in my day” moments. But so too did the generation that came before you, and the generation that came before them. Progress is a good thing. A happy, healthy workforce is a good thing. Working oneself to exhaustion is not.

Misconception #3: Productivity and profitability directly correlate to hours worked 

The belief that productivity and profitability are a direct function of hours worked predates the pandemic and the Great Resignation (and just about everything else). What makes it so important today though is that it’s so often held up as the reason why we can’t embrace a more flexible work structure for our employees. We simply can’t risk the declines in productivity and profitability that are sure to come in the absence of a fixed schedule.

Only, there’s simply no evidence to suggest the two are actually correlated. For starters, successful salons aren’t the ones that are open longest. They’re the ones that best understand their clients and treat them to memorable experiences. If you’re not doing that, you can be open and staffed 24/7 and it won’t make a difference. Moreover, if you find your salon is always fully booked, rather than extending your hours to accommodate more clients, consider raising your rates instead. Being a stylist is a physically demanding job. There’s nothing wrong with working smarter instead of longer and harder.

Lastly, with the advent of modern software solutions that make online booking and overall business management more efficient than ever before, we can – and should – be better than ever at optimizing our schedules and getting the absolute most out of our staffed hours. It’s time to embrace the notion that employees can be every bit as productive and salons every bit as profitable in fewer hours than that to which you’re accustomed. 

Misconception #4: All this turnover is bad for the industry 

Losing an employee, especially a great one, is never easy, especially when it feels harder than ever to replace them. But painful as it is to lose someone great, turnover is essential to professional growth, and professional growth is essential to the long-term health of our industry. No one is saying you can’t or shouldn’t mourn the departure of a beloved team member. But remember two things: first, someone else probably mourned their departure before you did. Without turnover, that amazing professional wouldn’t have found their way to you in the first place. And more importantly, always remember that when professionals are growing and moving on to new opportunities, not only do they benefit, the industry does too. 

Misconception #5: The status quo is (always) worth protecting 

If you could drill down to the true emotional core of the issue, you’d likely find that what concerns salon owners most about the Great Resignation is that it threatens the status quo, something we instinctively seek to protect. 

But is it really worth protecting? Talk to a salon owner today and you’ll not only hear about how hiring is difficult, but how the competition is fierce, the hours are demanding, and the margins are thin. Why, exactly, are we fighting so hard to preserve the way things are? 

Instead of reacting to headwinds by seeking the comfort of the familiar, what if you embraced them as an opportunity to take risks and try new things? Maybe that means empowering your workers to collaborate with you on more flexible schedules. Maybe it means rethinking how often you need to be open to truly maximize profit. Maybe it means investing in new technology that can help you operate more efficiently and create better client experiences. Whatever the case, there has never been a better time to create a new status quo. 

New mindset, new opportunities 

If there’s a common thread that runs through each of the aforementioned misconceptions, it’s that they’re all perfectly understandable. That’s a great thing, too, because the first step to changing any misconception is to understand how you arrived at it in the first place. As far as the Great Resignation is concerned, it’s easy to see how so many misconceptions developed. Now here’s the best part of all: if you want to turn the challenges of the Great Resignation into a world of opportunity, a change of mindset may be all it takes.

About the Author: Shanalie Wijesinghe is the Director of Education at Boulevard, where she lends her industry and platform expertise to both in-house staff and partner salons and spas. A salon industry veteran with more than 14 years of experience working for high-end luxury salons such as Sally Hershberger and BENJAMIN, Wijesinghe was previously a sales engineer for Boulevard and blends her knowledge of the beauty and technology industries to help put the company’s partners and employees on the path to success. A Bay Area native and first-generation immigrant, Wijesinghe is a graduate of the Paul Mitchell School specializing in cosmetology, styling, and nail instruction.

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