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Creating a Code of Conduct

Clearly outline your expectations for employee behavior, and set a solid foundation for a standard operating procedure.

In the fitness business, where many personnel are part-time, employee conduct can easily be overlooked. Because of their schedules, some fitness facility employees may not even have contact with management. Continued success and growth depend on a code of conduct that goes beyond such basics as punctuality and appropriate dress. If your facility doesn’t have a standard operating procedure that governs staff conduct, now is the time to start one. The areas of concern dealt with in this article are some of the most important ones to be addressed.

Being a Role Model

We often view the inside of the facility as the “stage,” and we forget that the spotlight is on our employees from the time they get out of their cars. Imagine a member seeing a trainer smoking a cigarette in the parking lot and then tossing the butt on the ground. Such images are powerful, and staff members must remember that they represent the facility and its values as well as their own.

Think about your own imprint. Because you are the manager or director, your words and actions are greatly magnified and closely evaluated. So avoid gossip or negative exchanges about other employees, particularly with the facility’s clients. Take disciplinary action when staff members “trash-talk” or discredit other employees or members. If you hear a member talking negatively about staff members, club policies or decisions, don’t fuel the fire by joining the conversation. Even if you agree, it’s best to acknowledge the concern and direct the member through the proper channels.

Cell Phone Usage

While cell phones are more common in the workplace than pencils, staff cell phone use can detract from members’ experience. It can also create a safety issue. Mandate that employees call and text only on their personal time and only in designated areas, such as the lounge. Some clubs’ policies state that cell phone usage in public areas is grounds for dismissal. For example, disciplinary action was recently taken against a lifeguard who spent a shift curled in the corner with his smartphone, ignoring a pool full of patrons.

Social Media

Many facilities have developed their own fan pages on social media sites, where they advertise upcoming events and membership promos or highlight new equipment and classes. Typically, these sites are managed by a designated employee who serves as the gatekeeper. Employees’ personal sites may also need to be scrutinized. Staff must be aware that anything they post could become public knowledge. Make it clear that you expect professional behavior from your employees whenever they use social media. Their online conduct must mirror in-house policy and must be monitored by management.

Consider what would happen if an employee posted this: “Off to babysit those bratty kids at the gym. I hate those little snots!” Members who use the club’s daycare could easily read this post or hear about it. How comfortable would they be leaving their children in your care? Alternatively, what if an employee calls in sick at the last minute or doesn’t show up for an early Saturday morning class, but if you visit a social media site you see pictures of that person drinking shots and bragging about “getting wasted again.” If the employee is neglecting work commitments, such posts may provide management with ammunition for disciplinary action.

Remind staff that nothing online is private, regardless of whether employees restrict their pages to “friends.” Friends of friends or acquaintances may have access to an employee’s profile. There is no true privacy in social media.

Relationships Between Staff and Members

It’s easy for staff to become friends with patrons, but it’s imperative to keep things in perspective. Some members may be using employees to get a certain class at a certain time, or to get discounted training. Encourage staff to be friendly to all members and to keep personal relationships separate from the facility. Remind everyone that members pay dues and expect to be treated kindly and respectfully. Cliques and favoritism cannot be tolerated.

Classes should be all-inclusive, and instructors must avoid connecting with just their friends in class. When sharing praise, instructors need to look beyond their buddies. They also must refrain from teaching unscheduled classes to select friends. These “practice sessions,” as instructors call them, can send the wrong message and negatively affect others. In the same vein, personal trainers shouldn’t train friends for free or provide services for personal gain on company time.

Relationships between members and staff are not uncommon. Legally, you cannot dictate whom staff get involved with. But you should be aware of any relationship that has the potential to disrupt daily business operations. For example, an employee who is having an affair with a member could become the target of a jealous spouse. If such an issue crops up, discuss it immediately with that employee and involve human resources.

Boundaries are extremely important in any relationship between staff and members. Employees must understand that some company information is proprietary. Budgets, business plans and issues with personnel or specific members should never be shared.

Relationships Between Staff Members

When people of like minds and lifestyles work together, sometimes they forge bonds, both friendly and romantic. Remind your staff that the member experience always comes first, and let employees know that inappropriate socializing while on the clock will not be tolerated. For example, it does not make a good impression for two employees who are dating to engage in public displays of affection while on the floor. This may sound like common sense, but don’t underestimate the power of familiarity among employees who are dating. Even an innocent conversation between staff can give the impression that the customer does not come first.

Special relationships between employees and supervisors are often frowned upon, but of course they occur. As a supervisor you must be fair when doling out classes, hours or promotions. Consider all your staff, and use the same criteria for everyone when you’re evaluating performance. If you are dating a staff member who legitimately deserves a raise, document your decision in case another employee feels that your special relationship with that co-worker imparts an unfair advantage. Also be aware of employees who use your personal relationship with them as a way to climb the corporate ladder or who try to leverage your friendship for personal gain. Make it clear to friends that your duty, first and foremost, is to the facility and its functions.

Honor the Code

Every situation is unique, which is why many facilities may not have a written code of conduct. Leaving the rules unwritten allows decision-makers to assess issues individually and flexibly—and, in some cases, to consult Human Resources in order to deal with each incident fairly and legally. Whether your code of conduct is written or verbal, the code must be clear and must lay out the consequences of unprofessional behavior. Finally, with your management responsibility, it is paramount that you live up to your code and that you follow through with whatever punishment is associated with the fault.

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