The Pay Rate Debate

Programs: Consider several different factors when determining how to compensate group fitness instructors.

If you’ve managed a group fitness department long enough, you’ve probably felt like the “red-headed stepchild” more than once. If your facility is like others, your department isn’t considered a separate profit center, but rather a part of membership. Since group exercise doesn’t usually have a “home” on the profit and loss statement, payroll is often the only line item attributed to it. When cuts have to be made, guess which department is most often flagged!

Many facilities want to maximize their payroll, particularly in group exercise. Management wants to ensure that studios are packed, because members’ dues affect the bottom line through retention. Group fitness is also a lifeline to sales and often serves as a referral stream. How do you adequately compensate your instructors and also get a return on investment?

Many business models base instructor compensation on two things: teaching experience and education. The thinking behind this model is that the more experience or credentials your instructors have, the more they should get paid, while newer instructors make significantly less. But are those two factors the only compensation benchmarks you should use? After all, new instructors may be able to fill classes and bring new ideas and excitement to your program. In contrast, some veteran instructors may have become complacent—regardless of their experience or education.

How do you determine a person’s value or worth and compensate accordingly? Balance your pay scales by considering the following factors.

Education, Experience and KPIs

Education and experience are still critical indicators of someone’s value to your team. However, they should not be the only determining factors in compensation talks. Tenure doesn’t necessarily indicate instructor value, nor does number of certifications. Many veterans rely on information gleaned from degrees or certifications that are 20 years old. These instructors may have great personal skills, but they may also be teaching outdated—and, in some cases, contraindicated—movements.

On the other hand, instructors who have less experience but who have gone through a recent certification and have the right drive may be of greater value to your staff. While the weary veterans see their class sizes dwindle, the newer instructors lead with determination, cutting-edge education and commitment to participants’ success.

When rebalancing your pay scale, think about key performance indicators (KPIs) for a successful group exercise program: cost per head, studio capacity and space maximization. New instructors may be just as valuable as veterans based on these metrics. Do instructors consistently maximize the group exercise studio space? Do they pull in new people and direct members to other classes and areas of the club? Often, a fresh face on your team, armed with passion and a new approach, can lead this rally.

The next KPI brings up a critical question: How do you determine pay when “prime time” and “downtime” are both valid—but not equal—slots on the schedule? The solution is simple. Base the target attendance on overall traffic in each time slot. For example, it’s not fair to expect the same attendance at a 6:00 AM class as you would at a 6:00 PM class. If you get only 40 member check-ins during the early time slot and 250 in the later time slot, it makes sense to weigh each target based on the potential to fill a class. You could give instructors who meet their attendance target a bonus, and not base your assessment solely on how many people are in class.

Exclusivity

Goal- and success-oriented instructors who dedicate their time solely to your facility are incredibly valuable. They become more in-tune with your members, and they focus on making member experiences better and better. Take care of the people who take care of your business, and consider their loyalty when you’re determining compensation.

Instructors who teach at several clubs may possess great teaching skills and personality, or even be able to pack a class; however, they may lack other valuable qualities. If they're busy traveling around town teaching various classes, do they have energy or time left to learn or create programming that’s suitable for your members? Further, these same instructors may not have the flexibility to sub for their co-workers or to create relationships with your members—a key component in retention. Also, could instructors who have ties to other clubs, maybe even to a competitor, quit and take your members with them? It’s something to think about.

Multiple Formats

Who has greater value: an instructor who teaches an abundance of formats, or an instructor who teaches one format? If you know your staff and you consider the aforementioned factors, it will be easier to assess each instructor’s value.

Instructors who teach more than one format may be able to cover classes or reach a more diverse population. For example, someone who teaches both aquatics and indoor cycling may be connecting with older participants in the water as well as exercise enthusiasts or athletes in your cycling studio. They may direct members to a variety of classes or to other areas of the facility, such as personal training. In addition, instructors who are educated and skilled in different forms of movement may be able to “connect the dots” and use information and education obtained from one format to enhance the experience in another. A word of caution: Instructors who take on too many formats may not deliver a quality experience because they are juggling too much.

Instructors who teach just one format can be equally valuable. Their passion for that format shines through. They strive to know their craft in great detail. Although they may not teach other formats, they should understand their importance to your program and support your mission.

Teamwork

When determining compensation, consider each person’s ability to be part of a team and interact with staff. Is this person a leader who steps up to help others? Does he see the big picture and support the entire club and not just group exercise? A great team member wants to be a part of something big. She is willing to put forth extra effort to assist other employees, management and members. This gift strengthens your team, your program and the entire club. A person who is not willing to help others or does not believe in your product or vision may not be valuable to you—no matter what their skills.

As in any job, attitude trumps aptitude. This positive attitude and team-oriented approach are critical when you are determining compensation and value. For example, it doesn’t make sense to overcompensate someone who has the education and fills classes but discourages members from participating in other programs or classes.

Multiple Factors

It’s not fair to base compensation on a single factor. Just because an instructor packs a class doesn’t mean she has the education to back up her moves. Consider what you get from your instructors. Your goal is to build business, move forward and ensure that the right people are in the right place. Once you’re able to show that group exercise affects member retention, the budget line items shift and so does the perception about your department.

Group exercise can be viewed like any other profit center in your facility, such as sales or personal training. Would you offer top wages to salespeople or trainers who haven’t yet proved their worth? Use a variety of criteria—not just the length of employment, but accomplishments throughout the employee’s tenure—and adjust accordingly.

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Peggy Gregor, AFAA, ACE

IDEA Author/Presenter
Peggy Gregor is the group exercise director at Healthtrax® Fitness & Wellness in Bethel P... more less
October 2011

© 2011 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

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