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Negotiating Compensation in a Recession

by Ronale Tucker Rhodes, MS on Sep 24, 2009

Whether you’re preparing for a performance evaluation or you’ve scheduled a salary review meeting, you need to know how your current salary or hourly rate compares with the industry average. A lot of variables go into that comparison, including your job title, the region where you work, the type of facility you work for and the number of members your facility serves. The perks you receive—such as benefits, cash incentives and educational assistance—can also affect your compensation.

A number of websites provide salary comparison charts for different industries; for example,’s Salary Wizard at In addition, you can find out where you stand by referring to the 2008 IDEA Fitness Industry Compensation Survey, which breaks down the average hourly rates and salaries in each job category. (Complete, detailed results of this survey are available to members in the online IDEA Library and in January 2009 IDEA Fitness Journal.) A comparison of the Kiplinger salary comparison chart for personal trainers was right in line with IDEA’s survey findings.

Getting Paid for Performance

Fitness facility managers and owners have different ways of determining whether to increase an employee’s wages. Many provide a review process either at the end of the year or at each anniversary of an employee’s hire date. Typically, these reviews determine whether the associate has performed adequately to merit either a cost-of-living increase or a set increase predetermined by management.

Other facility owners determine compensation increases based on a change in job title or the level an employee has reached in the company, which leaves little room for negotiating higher pay. Other operators don’t negotiate salary at all. Instead, employees earn additional wages based on net income for the facility.

What You Need to Bring to the Table

If your facility is negotiation-friendly, the burden is on your shoulders to successfully garner a raise. There are two common ways facility operators determine pay increases: merit and income production. So, while you may believe you deserve to be making more money, you’ll need to demonstrate why to your employer. Even more important, you’ll need to show how your pay increase will benefit the facility.

The Negotiation Process

The time to negotiate is when your performance and contribution have gone beyond expectations. If you want a raise—that’s not based on inflation—you have to ask for it. To better your chances of success, make sure your timing is right and your preparation impeccable. Be sure to go in with the mindset that your eligibility for a pay raise is based on your contribution to the company.

Timing is especially important if you have annual performance reviews and you’re broaching the subject at a time other than that. If this is the case, try scheduling a time to negotiate a raise after you’ve taken on additional responsibilities or you’ve created a new program that brings in additional revenue.

Don’t be locked into asking for money. Consider benefits and perks when negotiating, especially during a recession. Right now, many independent club operators are forgoing their own paychecks because of declines in membership. If that’s the case, your chances of receiving more money are slim. So, for now, consider vacation time, flexible work hours or even reimbursement for the costs of education and training.

For more tips on negotiating a wage increase, please see the full article, “Negotiating Compensation (in a Recession),” in the online IDEA Library or in July–August 2009 IDEA Fitness Journal.

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About the Author

Ronale Tucker Rhodes, MS IDEA Author/Presenter