Some practical guidelines for determining starting wages and fair increases.
This second in a series of articles covering various challenges facing personal training directors examines trainers’ wages. Determining a fair, easily administered wage scale can be tricky. Many elements must be factored in, including trainers’ skills and backgrounds, motivation styles and your facility’s budget limitations.
Before you can set wages, you must first clarify the tools you will use for measuring a trainer’s value. Consider both objective measures, such as education, certification and experience, and subjective measures, such as attitude and the ability to work with others. Subjective measures, although important, can be difficult to evaluate. As a result, wage scales often focus initially on objective measurement criteria and then, once a base has been set, take subjective factors into consideration.
The next step is to gain a solid understanding of the wage range for personal trainers in your area. Call the directors of nearby facilities to find out how much they pay their trainers and what benefits, if any, they provide. Since benefits—such as complimentary fitness memberships, uniforms, discounts toward workshops, monthly in-services and insurance coverage—are an expense to your organization, they should be assigned a monetary value and taken into consideration in the wage structure.
Most directors will be willing to answer your questions, especially if you agree to share your findings with them. Knowing you are on track with local industry standards prepares you to answer trainers who question what your facility pays.
After completing the background work, decide on an equitable wage scale and put it in writing. Your scale should provide consistency and fairness for all new hires. (See “Sample Wage Scale” on page 15.)
Once you have determined a starting wage, develop guidelines for regular increases and communicate these guidelines to all new hires. Basing wage increases on easily measurable items—like completing administrative responsibilities, training a certain number of hours or attaining goals set at performance reviews—will make the salary review go more smoothly. (See “Sample Wage Increase Guidelines” on page 15.) Compose a list of criteria to be reviewed and give all new hires a copy. The first review should be conducted within 3 months of hiring.
You can choose from a number of different payment systems, depending on the needs and background of your facility. Consider the following options and select the one that is most likely to motivate your team and is easiest for you to administer.
Set Amount per Client or Training Hour. Many clubs pay their trainers a set rate based on the number of hours worked or clients trained. This is one of the simplest systems to implement.
Lower Wage With Guaranteed Hours. The next option is to pay a lower base wage but guarantee a set number of hours. For example, trainers may work 4-hour shifts 5 days per week and get paid whether or not they have clients. When they are not with clients, trainers perform other tasks, such as cleaning the weight room or making phone calls. In addition, trainers may receive a bonus of $2–$5 or more for each client they train. This strategy provides an incentive to take on more clients.
Set Amount per Client, Based on Classification Level. Sometimes trainers’ pay is based on their skill level, education and experience. For example, you might have “gold-level” trainers who are extremely qualified and “bronze-level” trainers who are new to the business. Administering this type of system can be challenging. You must first decide if you will require clients to pay a higher fee for more experienced trainers. In addition, if one of your experienced trainers takes time off, you will need to find a substitute who is equally qualified. Classification systems appear fair, but can cause competition within a training team if not administered properly.
Bonus System. Another strategy is to pay trainers based on the number of hours they train and/or the amount of revenue they bring in. Not all trainers are motivated by bonus systems, so you need to determine what motivates your staff. Also, tracking which numbers to base a bonus on, how and when to make the payout, and who is eligible can be tricky. Bonuses based on achieving a given number of training hours are often the easiest to administer. You could start a trainer at a fairly low hourly wage but include a quarterly performance bonus based on an agreed goal. For example:
September 1–December 31: Reach 400 hours, get $200, paid out in January.
January 1–April 30: Reach 800-plus hours, get $250, paid out in May.
May 1–August 31: Reach 1,200-plus hours, get $300, paid out in September.
Total Bonus: $750
Another option is to set a team goal and base the bonus on the amount each individual contributes to the goal. Regardless of the type of bonus system you implement, to cover your expenses, the goals you set must be above baseline requirements.
Percentage Split. The last option is to use a percentage split between the personal trainer and facility. For example, if the client pays $60 per hour and you choose a 60/40 trainer/facility split, for each client trained, the trainer receives $36 and the facility receives $24. You should base the percentage of the split on the expenses your facility absorbs for its trainers. For example, a facility that provides trainers with uniforms, employment insurance and marketing would get a higher percentage of the training fee than a facility that provides less.
Whichever wage scale you choose, ensure excellent accountability by having both client and trainer sign a document stating that the session actually occurred.
Once you decide what and how to pay your trainers, make sure everything is clearly defined and put in writing. Use a written wage agreement when you interview new hires or conduct performance reviews, and include it in the contract of each of your trainers.
Spending time up front developing a fair, consistent, easy-to-administer wage system—or revamping your current system—creates a win-win situation and makes it easier to manage your team.