IDEA Personal Trainer Work Satisfaction Survey

by: Jim Gavin, PhD and F. Gauvin

You love your clients, but do you love your job? Personal Trainer IDEA Survey By Jim Gavin, PhD, and Francine Gauvin Work Satisfaction The characteristics of successful personal trainers are numerous: people skills, technical expertise, business or career acumen. But perhaps an equally important aspect is how happy they are in their work. Can trainers who are unhappy with their jobs reflect an upbeat and caring attitude to clients-- or that more intangible feeling that retains clients? How satisfying is the job of personal training? Survey Sample In 1998, IDEA Personal Trainer carried RESPONSES 175 the first international study of personal % WOMEN 82% 40.3 AVERAGE AGE trainers' work satisfaction. Conducted in AVERAGE YEARS IN INDUSTRY 11.2 late 1997, the survey showed that personal AVERAGE HOURS PAID PER WEEK 25.6 trainers have a remarkably high level of job % COLLEGE GRAD OR HIGHER 65% satisfaction (88%). This satisfaction level The survey form was mailed with the September 2000 issue of is significantly higher than other sectors of IDEA Health & Fitness Source. A total of 603 fitness professionals the American workforce (Gavin 1998). returned questionnaires, with 29% of the sample describing their primary fitness identity as "personal trainer." For more information on Since surveys offer time-specific snapsurvey results for all three categories, including "directors or owners" shots of attitudes, did these impressive and "fitness or group fitness instructors," see "Portrait of an Industry: rates hold up three years later? Read on The First Industry-Wide Work Satisfaction Study of Fitness Profesto discover how personal trainers described sionals" in the July-August 2001 issue of IDEA Health & Fitness Source. their jobs in an industry-wide survey conThe survey was largely developed from items provided by Genesee Survey Services Inc., an organization that conducts annual work ducted late in 2000. satisfaction studies of the American workforce. Genesee also allowed IDEA to use norms from its most recent studies involving approximately 4,000 employees from a wide range of occupations. These norms enabled the comparison of fitness industry professionals with American workforce standards. IDEA PERSONAL TRAINER JULY-AUGUST 2001 Survey Past and Present: The Global Picture The 2000 survey shows an 89% satisfaction rate among personal trainers, an increase of one percentage point compared to 1997. In fact, personal trainers have a higher level of satisfaction than national norms (67%). Trainers' Overall Satisfaction Based on Age and Gender MALE 100% 100% FEMALE Percent Satisfied 93% 90% 88% 87% 80% 90% Overall Work Satisfaction (% SATISFIED OR ANSWERED "YES") QUESTION U.S. NORMS PERSONAL TRAINERS How satisfied are you with your job overall? I like the kind of work I do. My work gives me a feeling of personal accomplishment. My job makes good use of my skills and abilities. The rewards for achieving the results expected of me are worth the effort. 67% 83% 83% 81% 54% 89% 97% 70% 69% 60% AGE 21-36 AGE 37-44 AGE 45+ 97% 91% 92% T h e I n t e r p e r s o n a l Wo r l d a t Wo r k In the 1997 survey, 95% of trainers were satisfied with their client relationships. That satisfaction then declined significantly to 68% for relations with other trainers. Questions in the recent survey are somewhat different, yet we can make reasonable comparisons. Personal trainers very highly rate the rewards reaped from their work. Perhaps the continuity of trainer-client relationships and the opportunity to directly witness the effects of their efforts on clients' personal and physical well-being account for their positive attitudes. For the most part, personal trainers' attitudes are similar regardless of biographical or work factors. One notable exception occurs with "overall satisfaction." Overall satisfaction is similarly high for both sexes in the 21 to 36 age group, but in the 37 to 44 age group, males show markedly lower satisfaction. However, males in the over 45 age group report 100% satisfaction compared to 90% for females. One hypothesis for this result is that males in Western society may experience the period of late 30s to early 40s as a time when they will either "make it big" or not. Perhaps in relation to their peers, they see themselves as "less successful," especially if success is measured in monetary terms. Males in the over 45 age group, however, may have come to some inner resolution where, for example, they now derive high levels of satisfaction from the nature of the work rather than their comparative incomes. Relations With Coworkers and Clients (% SATISFIED OR ANSWERED "YES") QUESTION U.S. NORMS PERSONAL TRAINERS The people I work with work together effectively as a team. The people I work with cooperate to get the job done. The people I work with are able to resolve conflicts among themselves. How satisfied are you with your involvement in decisions that affect your work? The people I work with treat me with respect. I know whether my clients are satisfied or dissatisfied with my work. I understand what my clients expect of me. 66% 73% 57% 55% 87% 82% 92% 50% 66% 47% 72% 88% 92% 98% As you can see, this year's survey data replicate earlier patterns. Trainers' satisfaction with coworker relationships falls below national norms. With client relationships, however, their attitudes improve, climbing above national norms for the statement, "I understand what my clients expect of me." Furthermore, trainers feel they are treated with respect. Getting to the bottom of interpersonal dissatisfaction with coworkers may require industry-wide discussions. We can only surmise from the 1997 survey data that a major source of dissatisfaction comes from "unprofessional behavior" of other trainers and the highly competitive atmosphere IDEA PERSONAL TRAINER JULY-AUGUST 2001 among trainers who vie for clients. From the recent survey data, we can more finely pinpoint interpersonal dissatisfaction through some of the biographical questions. When age and gender are considered, we found that across age groups female trainers show some consistency in their dissatisfaction, but male trainers in the 21 to 36 age group show a remarkably low satisfaction level (38%) compared to males in the over 45 age group (89%). Younger male trainers experience an exceptionally low level of interpersonal cooperation at work. Again, this finding may reflect cultural differences between males and females regarding careers and competition. Younger male trainers may have a strong need to carve their niche in the fitness world, yet feel "unfairly" disadvantaged in comparison to older and more established trainers. Though younger trainers may be well educated, they may not know the "tricks of the trade" for getting and keeping clients. As they struggle for limited resources, they may experience antagonism toward their more successful colleagues. Work Resources: Training, Tools and Time (% SATISFIED OR ANSWERED "YES") QUESTION U.S. NORMS PERSONAL TRAINERS How satisfied are you with the training you received for your present job? I have the tools and resources to do my job well. I have adequate time to do my job well. I have received enough training to do a quality job. In the last 12 months I was able to take advantage of opportunities to enhance my skills. How satisfied are you with your physical working conditions? Conditions in my job allow me to be as productive as I can be. 56% 70% 64% 78% 54% 66% 53% 79% 90% 94% 91% 83% 80% 66% Tr a i n e r s ' R a t i n g s o f C o w o r k e r Cooperation Based on Age and Gender 100% 90% FEMALE MALE 89% Percent Satisfied 80% 75% 70% 60% 50% 40% 30% 63% 67% 63% 38% AGE 21-36 AGE 37-44 AGE 45+ To o l s o f t h e Tr a d e To do the job well, personal trainers need adequate training, time and a work environment with adequate resources. Trainers have a high level of satisfaction with their training and report that their work conditions allow them to be maximally productive. Similarly, they are likely to say they have adequate time to do a quality job. In all comparisons, trainers' ratings are well above national norms. These results are consistent with findings from the 1997 survey in which trainers expressed a 78% satisfaction level with work conditions (80% in 2000). When we consider background factors, a trainer's age had some bearing on satisfaction levels with current job training. The lowest satisfaction is found in the 21 to 36 age group (67%), the highest in the 37 to 44 age group (88%) and an intermediate level in the over 45 age group (79%). An even more intriguing pattern is revealed when age and gender are considered for the question "I have received enough training to do a quality job." Male trainers in the 21 to 36 age group show the lowest satisfaction level, yet for each succeeding age group, male trainers' attitudes improve. Female trainers, on the other hand, have a consistently high attitude toward training in the two younger groups, but a decline in attitude is seen within the oldest group. If our earlier assumption about the strong competitive nature and career focus of younger male trainers is correct, then we might have a clue about their more negative attitudes toward job training. Perhaps they enter their careers with higher expectations about their employers' obligations to provide training or the accessibility of low-cost educational options. If, for example, they are struggling to establish themselves, then attending continuing education programs may be prohibitively expensive. In this light, their negative attitudes are less about the content of the training and more about its accessibility. Older female trainers, on the other hand, indicate a declining attitude about job training both in comparison to older male trainers and younger female trainers. Could this represent a bias against older female trainers reflected in lessening opportunities, or does it suggest an attitude of "been there, done that"? IDEA PERSONAL TRAINER JULY-AUGUST 2001 Survey Trainers' Attitudes Toward Training Based on Age and Gender FEMALE MALE 100% 98% 93% 85% 80% 85% 100% 90% 70% 67% 60% AGE 21-36 AGE 37-44 AGE 45+ Economic and Psychic Rewards Most North American employees express lower satisfaction levels for pay and benefits than for other aspects of their work. Personal trainers are no exception. Of the 20 questions on work attitudes in the 1997 survey, satisfaction with "total income from personal training" ranked last at 49%. For some reason, trainers who answered the 2000 survey were more positive about their pay, and their attitudes were significantly better than the national norm. An IDEA Readership Survey conducted in 1999 (Beta Research West 1999) offers another potential explanation. Survey results showed that the average annual income from personal training was $21,000, while the annual household income for these same trainers was $78,000. These numbers suggest that training income may not be the primary source of support for many trainers. Where this is the case, satisfaction with pay may be based on a sense of equity about the compensation one receives rather than one's total training income. Yet another explanation comes from a deeper investigation of the recent survey data. When we divide trainers into three groups based on their pay structure, we find significant differences. Trainers paid as salaried employees have a 75% satisfaction rate with pay and trainers paid per session/client have a 72% satisfaction level. In contrast, trainers who are paid an hourly rate by their club or organization have a significantly lower satisfaction rate (55%). Percent Satisfied Trainers' Attitudes Toward Compensation (% SATISFIED OR ANSWERED "YES") BASED ON STATUS PAID BY SALARY PAID PER CLIENT/ SESSION PAID HOURLY How do you rate the amount of pay you get on your job? How do you rate your total benefits program? How satisfied are you with the recognition you receive for doing a good job? 1-15 HOURS PER WEEK 75% 75% 72% 18% 55% 29% The Rewards--Pay, Benefits and Recognition (% SATISFIED OR ANSWERED "YES") QUESTION U.S. NORMS PERSONAL TRAINERS 75% 16-24 HOURS PER WEEK 68% 25-34 HOURS PER WEEK 59% 35+ HOURS PER WEEK How do you rate the amount of pay you get on your job? How do you rate your total benefits program? How satisfied are you with the recognition you receive for doing a good job? 48% 59% 49% 65% 26% 64% BASED ON HOURS WORKED How do you rate the amount of pay you get on your job? How do you rate your total benefits program? How satisfied are you with the recognition you receive for doing a good job? 61% 28% 68% 6% 63% 22% 68% 39% When we explore background factors, data show that female trainers are as satisfied as male trainers, and younger trainers are as satisfied as older ones. While trainers with graduate degrees tend to be more satisfied than trainers with less education, this trend was not statistically significant. The 1997 survey indicated that only 37% of personal trainers described themselves as full-time (25 hours/week or more), although 56% of the trainers from the 2000 survey are full-time. While at first we thought this difference could explain the improved attitudes, our analysis of pay satisfaction based on the number of hours worked disproved this theory. Trainers who work less than 15 hours per week are as likely to be satisfied with their pay as those who work more than 35 hours per week. 61% 65% 62% 69% When we look at benefits, the satisfaction rate for personal trainers declines below the national norm. The problem is clearly pinpointed by an analysis of trainers' attitudes based on whether they are salaried or paid on an hourly or client/session basis. Salaried trainers, who probably also IDEA PERSONAL TRAINER JULY-AUGUST 2001 receive a benefits package as part of their employment, report a 75% satisfaction level with benefits. Contrast this rate with the 29% satisfaction level for hourly trainers and the 18% satisfaction level of trainers who work on a client/session basis. We can further narrow this problem by examining attitudes toward benefits based on the number of hours these personal trainers work. Four groups formed: 1 to 15 hours per week, 16 to 24 hours per week, 25 to 34 hours per week and more than 35 hours per week. Those who work the least number of hours (and who may be covered under another family member's benefit plan) report a 28% satisfaction level. At the opposite extreme, trainers who work more than 35 hours per week (and who may be covered under their companies' benefits plan) report a 39% satisfaction level. The intermediate group with 25 to 34 hours per week weighs in with a 22% satisfaction level, but those who work between 15 to 24 hours have an astonishingly low rate of 6% satisfaction--or 94% dissatisfaction! As suggested in IDEA's 2000 compensation report (Ryan 2001), full-time employees of fitness organizations are likely to receive certain benefits, while those who work on an hourly basis are less likely to be compensated in this manner. Moreover, freelance trainers are not offered traditional benefits packages, at least in the United States, because they are not employees. The degree to which this becomes a factor in a trainer's decision to continue his or her professional career may depend on whether another family member has a benefits program that can be extended to cover the trainer--or whether the trainer's income allows the purchase of a private plan for health and insurance needs. A final consideration concerns trainers' satisfaction with the recognition they receive on the job. Their ratings indicate a satisfaction level higher than the U.S. national norm. While the trend doesn't reach statistical significance, it is nonetheless noteworthy that trainers who are salaried express the highest satisfaction level with recognition (75%), while those who are employed on an hourly basis report the lowest (59%). Career Advancement, Development and Security (% SATISFIED OR ANSWERED "YES") QUESTION U.S. NORMS PERSONAL TRAINERS I am willing to do what it takes to advance as high as possible in my career. I am able to maintain a healthy balance between my work life and my home life. There is a clear career path for people in my job. How do you rate your opportunity to make fitness a full-time career? How satisfied are you with your opportunity to get a better job in your company? How satisfied are you with your opportunity to get a better job in the industry? How do you rate your company in providing job security for people like yourself? How do you rate the industry in providing job security for people like yourself? 63% 65% 35% N/A 34% N/A 62% N/A 67% 77% 45% 65% 37% 60% 32% 25% What Lies Ahead In 1997, 79% of trainers were satisfied with prospects for continuing work as a trainer. Satisfaction with opportunities for professional advancement, however, was an exceptionally low 50%. Trainers who wrote comments said they worried that they would have to relinquish this satisfying line of work for other work roles if they wanted to earn more money. While questions in the 2000 survey were worded differently, the general trend may have worsened. Trainers seem highly committed to advancing their careers, yet only 45% clearly see a career path for themselves, and barely 25% give the industry a favorable rating for providing job security. Paradoxically, 60% are optimistic about getting a better job in the industry. This feeling may not be specific to personal training; managers and group fitness instructors reported similar findings. In line with our hypothesis about males' culturally reinforced identification with career success, male trainers (77%) express more willingness than female trainers (64%) to do whatever it takes to get ahead in their careers. Congruent with this result, 80% of female versus 66% of male trainers feel they are able to maintain a healthy balance between work and home life. For most other items concerning advancement opportunities, security or career paths, the trainer's gender or age made little difference. A notable exception was for the question concerning industry-wide opportunities for advancement. While female trainers show a consistency across age groups in their satisfaction levels, male trainers vary considerably. Men in the 21 to 36 age group report an exceptionally low satisfaction rate (33%), while those in the 37 to 44 age group have a remarkably high satisfaction rate (83%) and those in the over 45 age group report more moderate satisfaction levels (56%). A few other findings are noteworthy. When we divide the personal trainers into groups based on the number of hours they work, a clear trend emerges: The more hours people work, the more willing they are to do whatever it takes to get ahead. Only 49% of those who work 1 to 15 hours per IDEA PERSONAL TRAINER JULY-AUGUST 2001 Survey week are willing to do whatever it takes, while 80% of those who work more than 35 hours per week express such willingness. Correspondingly, those working fewer hours are less optimistic about their opportunities for making fitness a full-time career. Of those working 1 to 15 hours per week, 39% give a favorable rating to their career opportunities, while 76% of those working more than 35 hours per week did so. W h a t M a k e s Tr a i n e r s Q u i t ? Ultimately, trainers' attitudes about work impact both performance and their willingness to stay on a particular career path. Our survey contained 14 questions asked in a hypothetical way: "If you were to leave your job in the next year, how important would each of the following factors be in causing that departure?" The higher the percentage, the more important the factor is in determining a trainer's career choices. The trainer group differs from the U.S. norm group in the values placed on serving others, spouses' needs, family obligations and personal development. Trainers' Opinions of Career Advancement Based on Hours Worked (% SATISFIED OR ANSWERED "YES") WORK 1-15 HOURS PER WEEK WORK 35+ HOURS PER WEEK Importance of 14 Reasons for Leaving One's Job (% IMPORTANCE) QUESTION U.S. NORMS PERSONAL TRAINERS I am willing to do what it takes to advance as high as possible in my career. How do you rate your opportunity to make fitness a full-time career? 49% 39% 80% 76% Balance in life (e.g., better balance between work and home life, better work hours) Personal satisfaction (e.g., more likely to enjoy work and home life, better work hours) Serving others (e.g., better opportunity to serve or help others, greater contribution to society) Money (e.g., better pay or potential earnings) Confidence (e.g., better use of skills, more likely to enjoy work or be happier at work) Stability (e.g., increased job security) Development (e.g., return to school, job training opportunities) 65% 76% 49% 74% 55% 63% 43% 42% 51% 44% 28% 44% 46% 22% 81% 79% 79% 75% 70% 69% 66% 61% 59% 58% 58% 47% 39% 39% Understanding Job Performance and Evaluation Compared to others in the fitness industry and to U.S. national norms, personal trainers seem to be quite clear about their job responsibilities and reasonably clear about how their performance is evaluated. Job Responsibilities and Performance (% SATISFIED OR ANSWERED "YES") QUESTION U.S. NORMS PERSONAL TRAINERS Family obligations (e.g., care of parents, children) Recognition/status (e.g., better opportunities for recognition or promotion) Control/power (e.g., greater control and independence) Spouse/significant other (e.g., spouse has to move) Responsibility (e.g., greater work responsibilities) Circumstances allow you the choice not to work Social (e.g., new coworkers, peers or social interaction) My job responsibilities are clear to me. I have a clear understanding of how my performance is evaluated. My performance is evaluated on how well I meet my clients' needs. 91% 67% 56% 93% 67% 63% Those who work 16 to 24 hours per week (95%) or 25 to 34 hours per week (100%) are significantly clearer about their job responsibilities than either those who work more (35+ hours/week--88% clarity) or less hours (1-15 hours/week--87% clarity). A further finding based on trainers' pay structures may come as no surprise. Only 51% of trainers who are paid on an hourly basis agree with the statement that their performance is evaluated on how well they meet their clients' needs, while 75% of trainers who are paid on a per client/session basis agree with this statement. Within the trainer group, we detected some important differences. Males place greater importance on responsibility (66% males, 43% females) and on stability (81% males, 66% females). However, the issue of pursuing added job responsibility is further complicated by age considerations. An extreme discrepancy exists between male and female trainers in the 37 to 44 age group. Males in this group attribute an 85% importance rating to this factor, while females rate it at only 28%. Perhaps this reflects the possibility that many female trainers in this age group may be IDEA PERSONAL TRAINER JULY-AUGUST 2001 taking major responsibility for family matters, while their male counterparts are devoting increased energies to enhancing their careers. Some other breakdowns were significant. Younger trainers (21-36) attribute more importance to finding better opportunities to use their skills (78%) than do those in either the 37 to 44 age group (69%) or the over 45 age group (60%). When educational level is considered, money is least important to trainers who have graduate degrees or postbaccalaureate education (67%) compared to those with bachelor's degrees (79%) or lower levels of education (73%). However, as might be expected, the less formal education the trainer has, the more likely he or she is to leave for development purposes. Those with graduate education give this reason for leaving a 52% rating, while those who have less than a bachelor's degree give it a 69% rating. Analyzing trainers' attitudes based on the hours they work is also revealing. Money, for example, holds a 90% importance rating for trainers who work more than 35 hours per week, but only a 64% rating for those who work less than 15 hours per week. Correspondingly, stability received an 82% importance rating from trainers who work more than 35 hours per week, while those who work less than 15 hours per week gave it a 59% rating. ground analyses enable us to more closely pinpoint pockets of high distress. With such information, hopefully solutions will begin to emerge. It is indeed a time for celebration. These results bolster the image of the profession and serve as a tribute to all who dedicate themselves to enhancing their clients' lives through personal training. Yet, these findings also offer useful tools for the future. In one respect, they create a proud profile that should be widely circulated within educational systems to encourage students to consider this career path. A second and no less important application is to foster dialogue within the profession and the broader fitness industry so that the roots of this profile are reinforced and problematic areas are appropriately addressed. As you complete your reading of this report, note your thoughts. Ask yourself what actions you can take. How can you help IDEA spread its code of ethics to other trainers in the industry? What role will you play in enhancing the image and reality of the personal training profession? Jim Gavin, PhD, is a professor of applied human sciences at Concordia University in Montreal. He holds a doctorate in psychology from New York University and specializes in clinical, health and exercise psychology. The author of Body Moves, The Exercise Habit and Psychology for Health Fitness Professionals, he is the current chair of the IDEA Mind-Body Committee and an IDEA contributing editor. Francine Gauvin is a graduate student in counseling psychology at McGill University in Montreal, a marathon runner and an intrepid explorer of the fitness world. Trainers' Satisfaction with Career Advancement Based on Age and Gender 90% 83% 80% FEMALE MALE Percent Satisfied 70% 64% 60% 57% 50% 56% 63% The authors and IDEA are extremely grateful to Genesee Survey Services Inc. of Rochester, New York, for generously permitting them to reproduce parts of its questionnaire and allowing them free access to its extensive norm base.

IDEA Personal Trainer , Volume 2002, Issue 7

© 2001 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

About the Authors

Jim Gavin, PhD

Jim Gavin, PhD IDEA Author/Presenter

Jim Gavin, PhD, is a professor of applied human sciences at Concordia University and has been involved in the practice of counseling and health promotion over the past 35 years.

F. Gauvin IDEA Author/Presenter

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