The Smell of Bullshit, part 47: one woman’s experience of Lush training

I had an email a little while ago from a woman who had been employed by Lush and had a lot to say about how they had treated her. We had a long conversation on the phone and while I accept that people’s perceptions of situations often vary, and Lush might put forward a different perspective, I believe this woman was telling me the truth.

This is what she says

I began training with Lush Spa Poole on Monday the 6th of January 2014. Everything had been going really well up until Monday the 13th of January when I had a one on one meeting with Lush trainer M. This was a conversation about my progress and how I was getting on so far and it was standard – all of the trainees would have the same sort of meeting.

All was positive. M said that the clients I had been practising massage on said my consultation was really natural and that one client said it was one of the best synaesthesias she had ever received. As this was a confidential meeting and I was relaxed, I mentioned to M that I suffer from anxiety and OCD and am taking medication for it. I explained that I was feeling great and was very happy with how well I was doing, feeling good that I’d been picking things up. M assured me that everything is confidential and we went on to talking about accommodation, as my partner and I had planned on relocating to Poole to enable me to work at the Spa.

The only negative note I received was that M had asked me not to use the word “arse” when in the training room and to be more professional. I assured her that I would never say this when talking to a client and she said that she was aware of this but could I just use lighter language anyway. I apologised, took the note on board and happily went my way.

Later that morning we were all in the kitchen upstairs, I think it was someone’s birthday but I can’t remember. M was drinking out of a mug that had the words “I’m a twat” written on the bottom of it. She smiled while others laughed. This frustrated me, as she surely wasn’t setting a good example after the topic we had just discussed.

We were then told by S the head trainer (who all the trainees found intimidating) that when working on clients later, we would be watched by herself and G (the Alexander Technique teacher) for posture control during treatments. I was looking forward to this as I’ve studied Alexander Technique before. I found out that I had my treatment on a trainer called R. I was a little nervous but had performed a treatment on her before and she said that she was very impressed. As we began the treatment I could hear S whispering quite loudly to G and it was very off putting as I was trying to focus on the massage. Not only did I hear whispering but also S was constantly moving around and being very distracting. She has this aristocratic attitude, where she tries to assert her dominance. An example of this would be when she ripped our posters with the routine off the walls saying “you should all know it off by heart now.” At one point she came over to me to give me feedback “go slower.” I took that on board but then when she kept approaching my station whispering to R (the trainer I was working on) and then placed a massive heavy black throw in the middle of her body, this frustrated me.  I was also heavily sweating as I was even more nervous and was aware that I was being watched. I’m sure the fact that I had a cup of tea didn’t help but then M and S kept approaching me to ask if I was ok and do I need to stop and would I like a drink of water. This led to the whole massage crumbling, but I carried on until the end.

At the end of the treatment I took a glass of water and then cleaned up my work area. Afterwards R took me to another room, giving me her feedback from the massage and it was poor feedback. She told me that the massage was a mess. I was frustrated because I knew I could have done better without any interruptions. I explained to her that I was anxious and blamed my OCD as I was too frightened to tell her that it was S and the constant interruptions that had led to me performing badly. I was supposed to have a client immediately after and I honestly didn’t feel up to this because of the poor feedback. As I introduced myself I felt horrible surge of emotion come over me and I ran out back to find M asking if I could sit out. I then had a panic attack. M, instead of sitting with me, left me in a room and then K  (spa manager) sat with me to see if I was ok. She was very supportive and got me a glass of water. I calmed down very quickly and was less tense. I apologised profusely and explained that this had not happened in over a year. She assured me that it was ok.

I then sat in the staff room where S was perched and began general chit chat. S asked if I wanted to go home and I said yes. I was feeling very awkward at this point and often make jokes due to feeling on edge. They asked me if I was ok and I replied “oooohhh I’ll be fine I’ll just go and take anti-depressants.” Obviously that didn’t sound good but anybody who knows me would know that my sense of humour can often be a little strange. I went home that evening and rested.

The next day, the 14th of January, I was sitting with the other trainees when M asked if I would like to go upstairs for a chat. She explained that it was just a follow up from everybody’s one on ones from yesterday. I assumed that they were just going to do a check in on how I was feeling. Instead I saw S sitting looking smug on a chair and M joined her on the other one.

S began the meeting with “some concerns have arisen about you that we need to address.” She said “we’ve noticed some inappropriate behaviour and language coming from you”. She then told me I swore too often and that I behaved inappropriately in the workplace. M joined in with the comment about not saying “arse.” I pointed out that she had mentioned that yesterday, and apologised again, explaining that I would never joke or use relaxed language with a client. M said “I know, but let’s practice professionalism at all times,” which is fair enough but obviously doesn’t apply to her “I’m a twat” mug. I couldn’t help but feel intimidated and attacked by the two of them, there was a horrible bitchy vibe in the room and it wasn’t supportive. Then they asked if I needed to see somebody for my anxiety, offering a number of a lady “because you did say that you were going to go home and take anti-depressants.” I explained that that was my sense of humour and I do already take stable medication and have somebody to talk to. I feel that they only brought that up because they had to, and their attitudes seemed patronising.

The rest of the day went badly for me. I felt that I wasn’t supported by any of the therapists and was embarrassed about the situation. I felt a bit discriminated against for having anxiety. I bit my lip even while others around me swore and used relaxed language.

The rest of the week seemed to plod along slowly with awkwardness.

The next week everything was better. My client feedback was good, I had a meeting with K. I still felt uncomfortable about the fact that I had a mental disorder, although she assured me that everything was ok and asked if I was enjoying the course. I had been working really hard for the rest of the week and had had great feedback from clients, one of which that said, “this is better than the treatment I had in the spa.” Then I found out that I hadn’t received my date for sign off (the final assessment saying trainees are competent at what they have learned so they can move on to the next stage) and the other trainees had. The weekend came with me still not knowing if I would be signed off, so I texted R explaining that I was worried. She then replied saying….

Hello sweetie please don’t worry but I honestly can’t say until we sort a plan of action on Monday xx

I want you to as much as you can have a rest this weekend and come in Monday fresh as a daisy and full of beans xx

As your aware we have a very tight schedule we need to follow and we do need to start sound back on Tuesday so have a think and if you feel over the weekend that you can listen to all the feedback we’ve given and do a flawless trainer treatment then we MAY be able to make sometime for this to determine if your ready x Sign Offs are a hard process and we cannot put you forward if were not 100% sure your ready as directors are extremely busy and they don’t like to have there time wasted we get in trouble xxx So please don’t panic but have a long hard think as to whether you are able to reach the standard we’ve set for everyone by Monday and we can have a chat and go from there I’m sorry I can’t be more helpful but we have told everyone from the beginning that we have really high expectations and standards so by now you need to be proving this to us xxx keep your chin up xxx

Sugar coated message and a half!!

I spent the whole weekend looking for accommodation, and went in on the Monday morning to be sacked. Not straight away, of course. They allowed me to set my station up and be intimidated by S while she flicked through my papers and then asked me to come upstairs for a “chat”. It was K and S. K said to me that I wasn’t picking up any of the treatments and not receiving feedback or criticism very well and so they would have to say goodbye to me. I professionally thanked them for their time, knowing that this was a blatant lie and that I had proof from client feedback that I was a good massage therapist,  and they just saw me as a liability for having a mental disorder. They also mentioned that they would give me a good reference. If I was that bad then why is this the case? S was smiling throughout and I couldn’t help but feel that she was glad. K was very nervous.

I must also mention that there were at least 4 days where a trainer wasn’t present and we had to learn from a trainee. Another girl had had 5 weeks to learn this treatment and in a video we had watched on day one a lady had explained that sometimes not all treatments are suitable for each person in which case they can just try the other ones. Also R and M weren’t qualified for the first week of training us, they took their exams during one of our classes. I hadn’t signed any contract either. I know I was only there for 3 weeks but to be honest having worked for the company for nearly two years before I thought that they would have treated me better than this!

What a horrible story. Employee without a contract – probably no statement of terms and conditions either. Trainees trained by unqualified staff, then criticised for not picking up the massage routines quickly enough. Trainees criticised for unprofessional behaviour in the workplace, while trainers behave the same way. Assessors who know a trainee has an anxiety problem, but behave in a deliberately off-putting, if not downright intimidating manner, during an assessed practice. Lush staff sending out patronising, saccharine texts with awful, incorrect grammar and spelling while complaining that other people aren’t professional. Assessors telling a trainee her work is of a poor standard, when all the feedback says it’s great. No acknowledgement that reasonable adjustments might be required to accommodate the trainee’s difficulty. No indication of any offer of more training, or another chance at the assessment. Trainers and assessors offering the phone number of a woman to talk to, with no idea if she would be appropriate to help this person’s particular problems. Oh, and there’s leaving assessment notes lying around with “[Trainee] is a twat” scribbled out at the top.

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It’s too late for this particular Lush ex-employee now – she’s left and she’s well out of it. But for anyone else in a similar position, my advice is

– make sure you have a  contract

– if your post has a probationary term, and requires you to pass certain tests or meet certain standards before you are made a permanent employee, make sure you know what the required standards are. Ask for written copies. Make sure you know who will assess you, what they will be assessing, and what the arrangements are for appeals and re-sits.

– join the appropriate union for your workplace, as soon as you start your job, and get their advice and help if you think you are being treated unfairly. Don’t wait until trouble starts before you join; you might not be entitled to representation for an issue that started before you were a member. Join today!

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11 thoughts on “The Smell of Bullshit, part 47: one woman’s experience of Lush training

  1. I would like to say, and I think I have mentioned it once or twice before, that Constantine himself has spoken of why ’employment doesn’t work out’ on the forum some months ago. For convenience, I re-quote:

    “Let me be clear about when I say ‘it didn’t work out’? … it could be the chemistry in that part of the company at that time, it could be that our combined ambition is greater than the ability at that time. It could be that something domestic is a major distraction for the employee, their may be physical or mental health issues, it could be that the effort becomes too much. What it is not, in my opinion, is that the person is a failure. Purely at that time in that job at that stage of their lives it did or did not work out.”

    I won’t go on and on about all of the huge problems in this post. I shall sum it up quickly – this man is a cretinous piece of turd.

    That diatribe of his above is victim-blaming. It’s never the company, it’s always the employee. As it says above, he thinks mental or physical illness is a reason for a job to ‘not work out’. He doesn’t know about things like Occupational Health support at work (because Lush don’t have such a department), he doesn’t understand that supporting an employee increases productivity. It’s easier to say it ‘didn’t work out’ and move them on. He can do that, you see, as he is King of his Poole Castle. The Family own the company – not shareholders, not the state. So yeah, if it ‘doesn’t work out’ then bye bye. Lush like to do things the easy, sloppy way. Look at their ‘melt & pour soaps’ (buy the noodles, melt, add perfume and colour. Handmade at its best) for a prima facie case. Quick, easy, profitable,

    To the person who wrote the email above, I am sorry you were treated in such a way. Sorry, not surprised. You can now blossom, be cherished, developed and valued by an employer worthy of your talents. Be glad you’ve left the land of ambitious-ladder-climbing-at-any-cost behind. There are workplaces out there that are warm, clean and there isn’t a cloud of fear hanging around. There are employers out there who will see your talents and treat you like gold. (Gold) (Always believe in your soul.)

    To any Lush employees reading this – join a union today (USDAW for shop workers). You may never have to call on their services, but the more of you who join, the better. Lush pay you to work and with that comes responsibility to look after you whilst in their employ; you don’t have to put up with dirty workplaces, cold shops, feeling discriminated against. You don’t. You DO have a choice, you can do something about it. They cannot stop you joining a union, and you cannot be discriminated against for being a union member. And students and part time workers do get a reduced rate.

    Power to the People!

  2. I hope the writer realizes what a narrow escape they’ve had and that it is good fortune to be well done with that place. Imagine having to work there daily under those horrible circumstances. Providing massage therapy should be fulfilling work, and I hope the writer will find a good position soon.

  3. Since leaving Lush, every day has been like this:

    There is a great life outside Lush. Find it, go for it, don’t look back. I never have.

  4. Someone emailed me a comment today which said
    “Hello Southside Socialist,

    I read the above post with interest. I have never been a Spa therapist but I have worked for Lush and I remember that potential therapists went through a lot to get that coveted position in a Spa store.

    If a candidate was successful at interview, they were invited to live in Poole for about 12 weeks whilst they undertook the training.

    This could have changed since I worked at Lush, but if it’s still the same, therapists were expected to live in the Market Street Flats; think Student Halls but less cosy, less clean and with no home comforts. They really were disgusting. But, they had to pay rent to live there. Fair enough you may think, but most people have homes which they either rent or pay a mortgage on, so for a £15k job (that is the salary currently advertised for Lush therapists on the Lush website) they were expected to pay double rent for 12 weeks, whilst forgoing their home life. Yes, you put your life on hold for Lush.

    If that doesn’t ring warning bells to the most sensible of people, then nothing will. It perfectly encapsulates a “Lush Working Life” in my opinion – shafted on pay, expected to give your life over to the Lush gods, expected to have no life unless it is centred around Lush. And guess what, the 12 week residency is no guarantee of a job (as the post above proves) so that is one hell of a gamble. I grant, most workplaces have a 3 month probationary period, but not one where you effectively give up your life to live in a dirt encrusted hovel for 3 months, whilst having to massage company directors day in, day out. I can tell you, I wouldn’t want to sit next to any of the nefarious bastards, let alone massage them.

    However, it could all have changed now. I hope it has, for trainee therapists’ sakes.

    Yours,

    anon”

  5. I can attest to the truth of this story as I know the girl in question and have had Lush discriminate against me on grounds of mental health issues.
    They’re on a very slippery slope and this many ex employees coming forward should speak volumes on how they mistreat their staffs and how hypocritical they are.

  6. If for nothing else, and there is plenty, the staff member who wrote the assessment notes and ‘xx is a twat’ should be fired. I’ve never seen anything so unprofessional. How can anyone become effective under this kind of regime?

  7. We had a lush trainer come to our store for our new Manager’s “New manager training week”. He tried to coach one of the keyholders to be more aggressive by saying “Stop lurking behind your customer, it looks like you’re going to stab and rape them! HAHAHAHA”
    Disgusting.

  8. I could tell my story but all I can advise current staff is to JOIN A UNION. It’s too late for me but this is one of my biggest regrets with working for this company.

  9. Has anyone written to Lush? Or started a petition? This is disgusting, and as much as people are saying to just walk away while you can, a better attitude to have would be one of action. Lush’s ideals are based on ethics, and while middle management seem to be pure evil, if we can get this word through the top, it could hopefully change everything, and also encourage the majority of the workforce to join a union. After all, if this is true, Lush have broken an ethics law, which would be bad press in any case, and that would force them to give in to the demands.

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