Staffing for Success
Best Practices: How to hire and retain exceptional employees.
The high turnover rate among fitness industry staff is not news. In many cases, staff seem to be coming and going through a revolving door! Having a high-end fitness center with fancy amenities, décor and equipment is ideal, but if your staff is unable to meet client expectations, you will struggle to maintain memberships and meet your revenue goals. The good news is that your facility doesn't need to operate like this.
Your staff is the key to attracting members, making them feel welcome, providing motivation and helping members achieve results. Therefore, your staff’s qualities should reflect your members’ needs. The importance of hiring and retaining exceptional staff cannot be overemphasized. Below are some ideas—from novel to tried-and-true—for both hiring and retaining prize employees.
Hire the Right People
“Every person employed by a club strengthens or weakens a culture that either supports or depletes a club’s initiatives aimed at improving membership retention,” says John McCarthy in IHRSA’s Guide to Membership Retention: Industry Lessons on What–and What Not–to Do (McCarthy 2007). In other words, you can improve your facility’s overall morale and profit margin by getting the right staff on board.
Your first step should be to adopt proactive hiring practices, which means you are always recruiting. If you are continually on the lookout for talent, you may find great employees before you are in dire need of them (Harris 2009). Then, if you make the interview process a thoughtful one, you’ll have a better chance of determining whether an individual is a good fit for your organization and your organization is a good fit for the individual. You’ll have the opportunity to be selective.
The fitness industry is a unique field with specific staff needs. Generic interview questions may not suffice for determining whether a candidate possesses the appropriate qualities to help your business thrive. In addition to checking for stellar references, create questions that will inform you if the interviewee has these essential qualities:
- helpful, cooperative attitude
- excellent team-player attitude with experience working both with groups and independently
- excellent relationship-building experience
- appropriate training, experience and continuing education for the position
- superior customer-service skills
- strong conflict-resolution skills
Provide Appropriate Recognition
Regularly showing staff your appreciation keeps them motivated. To put it simply, when staff are happy with their jobs and feel appreciated, positions stay filled. People want to feel valued, and employee recognition programs don’t need to be elaborate or expensive.
To ensure employees get the recognition they deserve, take the time to personally thank and compliment them when they do a good job or go above and beyond their responsibilities. A simple “thank-you” goes a long way. In addition, include your staff in decision-making opportunities when possible. This will help them feel they are part of the bigger team. Offering regular rewards (e.g., gift cards, an extra day off, a night out on you), throwing quarterly staff social functions, featuring an employee each month in your newsletter and creating an “Employee of the Month” program are all ways to make staff feel they are appreciated and not taken for granted. A better work culture is what will keep good employees at your company (Rhodes 2008).
Communicate the Facility’s Mission
When staff members understand the direction in which your business is heading and know their particular roles in making desired outcomes happen, they can contribute more. If you haven’t done so, establish a facility mission statement that people feel good about supporting, and ensure that staff members know exactly where they fit into this mission. A mission statement can be a strong motivational statement for staff and employees, as well as a strong marketing and branding tool for reaching customers.
A mission statement is a written, easy-to-remember sentence or short paragraph illustrating your business's goals, values and purpose. It has one main function: to guide you and your employees in making critical decisions that affect the direction of your company. Your mission statement gives your staff a deeper understanding of your business and identifies your company to its potential customers, its vendors and the media. It is about providing solutions and adding value. A strong mission statement includes three main points:
- Why are we in business?
- What core values does our fitness center stand for?
- How do we demonstrate these core values?
Offer Advancement and Growth Opportunities
This area is important. Seeing a clear professional trajectory within your organization helps staff visualize a career at your facility. They can view their positions with you, not just as a temporary job, but as a long-term career. It is essential to afford staff the opportunity to grow and develop. Here are several ways you can achieve this goal:
- Offer regular trainings and/or pay for staff to attend offsite trainings.
- Promote from within when possible rather than bringing in an outsider to fill a position for which a current staff member may be qualified.
- Offer lateral moves for development and cross-training.
- Send staff to trade shows to learn more about the industry as a whole.
- Pay for staff to earn additional certifications (which will also benefit your business).
Be a Strong Leader
Employees won’t know what you expect from them unless you clearly communicate your vision. Make your expectations for each staff member very transparent, both verbally and in writing. Share your bigger vision for your facility with all your staff so that everyone can play a role in attaining that vision. You treat members the way you’d like your staff to treat members. Likewise, treat your staff the way you expect them to treat you—with respect.
Open communication with your staff is essential for a healthy work environment. Employees need to know that you are available to listen to their comments, complaints and suggestions. Provide opportunities for people to talk to you about policies and procedures. Recognize the impact of changes in factors like work hours, pay, benefits, dress codes, job requirements and work conditions. Before putting changes into effect, always discuss them with your staff and allow employees to voice any concerns they have.
The Place to Be: Your Facility
Talented employees are the foundation of any prospering business. With today’s fluctuating labor pool, you place yourself in a strong position by taking time to hire and retain excellent staff—and so avoid the hassle of high turnover. Not only will a positive workplace make your daily operations run smoothly; it will also be reflected in your staff’s commitment and your membership base, making your facility an excellent experience for all.
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Carefully consider compensation for each position you offer. Be sure it is competitive within your market. Research what other local facilities are offering for similar positions. A competitive, appropriate salary is essential for finding the right staff member. In addition, be sure you are offering competitive bonuses, benefits, health care, paid time off, sick leave, maternity/paternity leave and discounts on retail products.
Valerie Applebaum, MPH, CHES, is a certified health education specialist with a master’s degree in public health from the University of South Carolina. She currently resides in Connecticut, where she is a health writer for a variety of trade and consumer magazines. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Harris, A. 2009. The three Rs for staffing success. Club Industry (Feb. 10).
McCarthy, J. 2007. IHRSA’s guide to membership retention: Industry lessons on what—and what not—to do. Boston: International Health, Racquet, & Sportsclub Association.
Rhodes, R. 2008. Staffing—The ‘isssue’ is staffing. Athletic Business (May).
© 2011 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.
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