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What Do We Owe Our Employers?


Illustration of a head filled with gears and a wind up key at the back of head

By Allissa Haines

I talk to a lot of business owners and massage therapists, and I hear a lot of the same sentiments over and over again—employees are unhappy, but they do not take the steps to resolve their issues because they are making their decisions based on emotion or guilt.

I hear:

  • I want to quit my job, but the owner is really nice.
  • I know if I quit, they’re going to be really shorthanded and it will be hard for my colleagues who remain.
  • This employer gave me my first chance in massage, and I’ve learned so much here.

There is often a sense of loyalty either to coworkers or to the employer, even if the boss isn’t managing the place very well.

It’s normal (and good) to have an emotional connection to your workplace, especially if you love massage and you mostly like your coworkers and boss. But a sense of history or guilt is not a good reason to stay in a job that you no longer want or no longer serves you.

In situations like these, what do you actually owe your boss and colleagues?

You owe consistency and reliability. If you tell your boss you cannot work Monday mornings but they keep asking you to work Monday mornings and you do it . . . well that’s on you. By continuing to work Monday mornings, you are telling your boss you are available and you want to work. It’s your job to work the hours previously agreed upon and to do the tasks assigned to you to the best of your ability. That’s it.

You owe clarity. It’s your responsibility to be clear and honest with your boss and others about what you need and want. If your officemate is using an essential oil and it’s irritating your lungs every time you’re in that room, you owe your colleague clarity by saying, “The thing that you’re doing is a problem for me. It’s affecting me in this way. Can we work it out?” They don’t know it’s an issue until you tell them. You owe people clarity and a certain amount of thoughtful honesty on any given situation. Letting a situation grow until there is real conflict or resentment is a guarantee you will be unhappy in your work. It’s entirely possible you will approach a situation with total professionalism and it will still blow up and you won’t get the desired result or cooperation. We can’t control how other people react, nor are we responsible for those reactions. But we can control how we approach a situation, and kind clarity is usually best.

You owe people ethical behavior, even if they don’t display ethical behavior. You should always leave your massage room clean even if the therapist before you doesn’t show the same regard. You should be mindful of client confidentiality issues even if the boss and the business are not. You should be ethical even if people around you aren’t being ethical, not because you’re looking to martyr yourself or hold some imaginary moral high ground, but because it is the right thing to do.

What do you not owe anyone?

You do not owe anyone your soul, your happiness, or non-work time worrying in your head. It is not your job to worry on behalf of colleagues or bosses. It is not your job to feel bad that the boss has to cancel a customer because you cannot work Monday morning.

It is not your responsibility to be concerned about the boss being able to pay for the new massage table because the old one is dangerous. Do not make these things your burden, and do not allow your employer to force this worry on you.

When you are ready to move on, you don’t need to worry about what’s going to happen when you leave. You owe your employer the standard two-week notice. If you are working in an abusive or unsafe environment, you don’t even owe that; leave right away.

In that last two weeks, you are not responsible for finding another therapist to replace you, and you don’t owe your employer any extra work to wrap up loose ends that aren’t yours specifically.

Boundaries can be hard in the best of business situations and even harder when the workplace is dysfunctional or even the opposite—when you have loved your job for years but are ready to move on. It can be helpful to reevaluate what is and isn’t your responsibility. Consider what the protocols and expectations would be if it was some other kind of business, a retail shop versus a massage business, and let that more objective situation guide your decisions.

Perspective and thoughtful consideration will help you identify your actual obligations and let go of others’ responsibilities.

Allissa Haines is a practicing massage therapist and co-founder of, an online community and resource to help you attract more clients, make more money, and improve your quality of life.