A new client trying artificial nails for the first time mistakes a chip for an infection, returns to the salon in a panic, and starts screaming in front of everyone.

Another client makes an appointment for a fill and comes in with half her nails missing. Of course, you’re booked solid for the day and have allowed only 45 minutes for her service.

Then there is the client who nicks the polish on her first hand four times while you are working on her second hand. And what about the distraught client who shares all the depressing and intimate details of her divorce with you? No one ever told you you’d need a Ph.D. in psychology to do nails. By the end of the day you feel anxious, irritable, and unable to focus on your work. You’re stressed out.

Stress in the workplace is nothing new, but with its wider recognition have come many easy techniques to alleviate it. You can control the stress level in your life by practicing relaxation exercises and stress management or finding assistance from professionals. The important thing to realize is that job stress does not have to interfere with your job performance.

To manage job stress and preserve your career, health, and mental well being, it is important to recognize that no job in itself is necessarily stressful.

“People view stress in terms of some unpleasant external threat,” says Paul J. Rosch, M.D., president of the American Institute of Stress in Yonkers, N.Y. Often, it’s not the event itself that causes anxiety, but how you perceive it. “Observe people on a roller coaster – some with their eyes shut, white-knuckled as they clench the retaining bar, but thrill-seekers relish every steep plunge and can’t wait to get on the very next ride. So it’s not the roller coaster ride itself that is stressful, but what you make of it. And that’s something you can frequently change or control.”

Mark D. Foley of Mark D. Foley Enterprises Ltd., a salon consulting firm in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, points out that a certain degree of stress can be a positive element in the workplace. Most people benefit from, even need, that extra push to stretch themselves and reach for goals and new levels of achievement. Foley urges salon owners and technicians to keep busy.

“It is during free time when we are idle and allow our minds to wander, that we commiserate on the difficulties in our personal and professional lives, creating problems that aren’t even there. By focusing on productive, meaningful tasks, we can keep moving ahead and eliminate a great deal of stress,” Foley says.

Michael Cole, owner and president of Salon Development Corp., a salon consulting company in St. Paul, Minn., has developed a training module used to help people manage or eliminate stress in the salon. Cole explains, “The objective is to be able to take stressful situations in stride, to be in a stressful situation without being stressed.”

Cole’s step-by-step “personal awareness” program is geared to bring people to a level where they can manage their moods and emotions, take stressful situations in stride, and snap out of negative behavior more quickly.

Program participants are asked to recall past experiences and to analyze their feelings and reactions and the effect they had on others around them. For example, someone may recall that when a client showed up 10 minutes late for her appointment for the third time in a row, she felt over-whelmed, became snippy, and ended up bringing out the worst in her client. A positive situation, such as a fully booked schedule with no cancellations, could make the same person feel exhilarated, bringing her talents out and having a radiant influence on those around her.

Cole’s exercise enables participants to recognize the power of a positive attitude. Of course, no one could be happy 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, but when people are aware of how different situations affect their moods, they can minimize their negative reactions.

When a technician minimizes her stress, it benefits the client just as much as it benefits the technician. If the technician brings her personal problems to work with her or allows the stress of the workday to build up inside of her, the client will soak up the tension like a sponge.

“The client can sense tension in the salon and she in turn becomes more anxious,” says Estelle Wiersema, owner/operator of The Headliner in Jerome, Idaho. Says Wiersema, “When a client is tense, I can feel it in her hands, which makes it difficult to provide the service the way it should be done. When this happens, I give my client a good massage. This helps relax both of us. It is generally the client’s favorite part of the service.”

Wiersema understands the importance of keeping cool under fire and not letting the client know when she feels overwhelmed or down. “Sometimes I just have to step outside for a minute when things start to build up and I feel like I can’t handle it all,” she adds.

Weirsema has the luxury of a private yard behind the salon and says that just taking a minute to stretch her shoulders, shake her head, and separate herself from the activity inside the salon lets her return to the salon with a positive attitude and renewed energy to tackle the day ahead. “The key is learning to deal with the challenges of the day without taking it out on the client,” says Wiersema.

Linda Hamilton, director of education at Gene Juarez Salons in Seattle, Wash., agrees that a technician’s stress can translate into client stress. Hamilton, a technician herself, instructs beginning technicians to show confidence at all times. Beginners face the difficulty of proving their skill to new clients who may interrupt their service by trying to monitor the technician’s work.


“Any technician, whether new or well-established, must demonstrate her confidence up-front with the client,” advises Hamilton. “A client can tell a lot by how a technician holds her hands and files her nails. The technician must be firm and efficient, yet gentle. By displaying confidence, the technician will raise the client’s confidence,” Hamilton adds.

Most technicians will agree that one of the most stressful aspects of doing nails is not having enough time to finish a service before the next client arrives, whether it is because there are more repairs than expected, a client comes in without an appointment, or the technician is simply not fast enough.

“The importance of a well-educated front desk should not be underestimated,” says Hamilton. “Receptionists can be trained so that they are prepared with the right questions when they answer the phone.

“For example, if a client is coming in for a pedicure, the receptionist will be able to instruct her to bring a pair of open-toed shoes and to be prepared to relax for 45 minutes after the service.

But no matter what safeguards you implement, you just can’t be prepared for every situation. Sometimes it is just a matter of knowing how to deal with different personalities.

Tricia Wilson, owner and operator of Distinctive Nails in Sun City, Ariz., was put to the test when a first-time acrylic client mistook a chip on her nail for fungus. Having recently heard some negative information about acrylics, the client panicked. When she returned to the salon she started screaming in front of Wilson’s other clients. Although Wilson was working on another client, she sat the distraught client down and explained that nothing was wrong and that she had just chipped a nail. She promised that as soon as she was finished with her first client she would fix the nail and repolish it. “Not only did I save the client, but I gained two new ones who were impressed by the way I handled the situation,” says Wilson.

“No matter what the situation is, you’re on stage. Everyone’s watching you and you have to demonstrate that you’re concerned and that you will fix any problem to the best of your ability,” she continues.

Wilson also changed her attitude toward clients who scrutinize their first hand while the other one is being manicured. “I will turn the situation into a positive one before the client has a chance to do anything else,” says Wilson. “I’ll ask the customer if I missed something, if she likes the color, if she approves of the length, etc.

“Most of the time, the client will say ‘They’re beautiful,’ or ‘I can’t believe how pretty they are,’ and I’ll realize that I was just acting on my own internalized fear,” she explains.

There’s a fine line between wanting to placate your clients and knowing when you’re being taken advantage of. Wiersema makes the time for a regular client who walks in without an appointment. If she senses frustration or displeasure from the client she is working on, she excuses herself for a minute to see when she has an opening in her schedule.

Whether she is a loyal regular or walk-in, Wiersema likes to acknowledge every person who enters the salon. “I’ll smile and try to be personable and put the client at ease, “Wiersema, who knows that if there is no client, there is no business. “If I can’t fit them into the schedule, I’ll do my best to let them know why and try to schedule another appointment.”

There is sure to be that day when everything goes wrong. You work straight through the day listening to the soap-opera melodramas and complaints of every client, you don’t seem able to make anyone happy, and you have to turn away a walk-in.

Don’t despair! Realize that it’s just one of those days. If you have any plans for the evening, cancel them. You have a more important date … with yourself. If you haven’t eaten, make sure you have a well balanced dinner (or a midnight snack if it was a particularly long day). Then do whatever it is that makes you feel happy and calm. Whether it is listening to music, reading, exercising to a videotape, or doing absolutely nothing, just do it. In the morning you’ll be ready to begin again.

The author, Jenay Root, is a freelance writer in Redondo Beach, Calif.

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