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Don’t Be That Manager: High-Turnover

Prioritize retention and upward mobility.

Many personal trainers are promoted to manager or director solely on the basis of their success as a trainer and not necessarily because of their management skills. Now it’s your turn: you are the new personal training manager. You’re finding out how different being the manager is from working with clients on the floor.

This series explores common managerial types and how they affect you, your staff and your business. You will learn how you can make better choices to ensure you are not that manager! This fourth installment looks at the “high-turnover manager” and builds on the last three installments: the “invisible manager,” the “micromanager’’ and the “yes person.”

Behind the High-Turnover Manager

At the core of all successful personal training departments is a talented team. Its members spend a lot of time on the “front lines,” and each trainer is the face of the organization. These professionals build long-term relationships that keep clients coming back. Your department can’t be successful if staff turnover is high. That’s why your top priority is to ensure that your staff is committed, motivated and, most important, happy.

While some turnover is inevitable, even desirable, you have a problem when trainers have a shorter “shelf life” than the facility members do. Don’t underestimate the “trickle-down” effect caused by turnover. It’s not just business that’s negatively impacted; other trainers and clients are affected as well. If you’re a high-turnover manager, you rush to do damage control while juggling administrative fallout—and the cycle continues. Let’s take a look at the real-world costs and consequences of turnover and learn how to break the cycle!

Staff Impact

Turnover throws off team equilibrium, as in the following scenario: New-hire Jamie was recruited by Jennifer, a top-producing trainer. Although Jennifer loves her clients and the facility, she’s fed up with her manager and she submits her 2-week notice. Jennifer’s departure also leaves a vacancy within Jamie, whose morale drops as she grows resentful of the manager. Jamie’s connection to the department is lost, and she considers leaving to join her mentor.

As we know from the popular game Jenga®, the removal of even one wooden block can bring the tallest of towers crumbling down. Why? Because the foundation has been altered. To avoid situations like the one described above, build a strong foundation of communication and trust early on.

Client Impact

The trainer-client partnership is a unique bond. Clients invest their time, money and emotions in the relationship. It’s a long-term commitment to themselves and to the personal trainer. Imagine how it might feel to be fitness newbie Robert. He wants “to take back control” of his health and weight. After having two impressive introductory sessions, he purchases a 24-pack with personal trainer Andrew. Over the next month, Robert has eight sessions and gains momentum toward his goals. Suddenly, Andrew announces he is going back to graduate school and will be training part-time at another facility. With 16 sessions left on his package and without Andrew—who helped him begin his fitness journey—Robert feels lost and abandoned emotionally and financially. His routine flatlines.

Business Impact

Keeping a good trainer is cheaper than hiring a new one. High turnover is a profit killer! It has been estimated that, on average, a company spends one-third of a new hire’s annual salary to replace an employee. Therefore, at minimum wage, the cost to replace an employee is about $3,700 (Mushrush 2002). According to the Bureau of National Affairs, the average employee turnover rate is 14.4% annually, which can really add up (Mushrush 2002).

There are two types of costs associated with turnover in a personal training department: hard and soft. Hard costs are easily quantified, direct expenses. Examples include cost of advertising and recruiting and dollars spent training a new employee. If you dig a little deeper, you’ll find even more hard costs connected to a trainer’s departure, such as

  • staff overtime to cover the departed trainer’s work;
  • interview time;
  • reference checking, done externally or internally;
  • drug testing fees; and
  • new-trainer orientation and on-the-job training.

There are also soft costs, which may be more difficult to quantify but need to be addressed. These indirect costs include

  • lost productivity;
  • co-workers’ lost productivity (time spent gossiping, additional work);
  • you—the manager—taking up the slack; and
  • loss of potential revenue (Kakes 2010).

Five Steps to Retention

The consequences of high turnover are clear. Following are five steps to create a culture of trainer retention.

1. Hire Right

Improve the selection process by using thorough behavior and personality-based testing and competency screenings (such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® test). Another key factor in hiring today is that many trainers are 20-somethings. Educate yourself about generational differences—you’ll need to motivate a 20-year-old differently than you would a 30-year-old.

2. Create a Career, Not a Job

Launch career tracks for both personal training and management. Staff must see that there is a career path within a personal training department. Create professional tiers such as “master trainer,” which can be obtained through certification, additional education and experience. Provide upward-mobility opportunities and incentives, and you will retain staff.

3. Offer Strategic Compensation Packages

Think outside the box and beyond the hourly training rate. Compensation does impact a trainer’s perceived value and worth. A $3 raise won’t necessarily encourage trainers to stay put, but the following ideas might:

  • Offer tuition reimbursement for conferences, workshops and online courses.
  • Provide paid sick leave and vacation hours for meeting monthly training goals.
  • Partner with online education platforms and certifying organizations for discounted memberships and group discounts.
  • Create quarterly in-house professional development sessions to explore innovative training techniques, client management and exercise programming.
  • Roll out new equipment every quarter.
  • Give employee discounts on services and products within the facility, such as food, beverages, clothing, equipment, spa services and yoga, Pilates or fitness training.
  • Reward staff with team dinners, events and functions for meeting annual and monthly goals.

4. Take Responsibility!

Don’t point the finger at external organizational issues when it comes to trainer attrition. Instead, take personal responsibility for retaining top trainers. This should be a priority. Consider every interaction with your trainers as an opportunity to reinforce their commitment and motivation.

5. Remember: Prevention Is the Best Medicine

Keeping in mind the high cost of turnover, be proactive and dedicate time and energy to prevention. All too often, managers are caught by surprise when a trainer resigns, though open dialogue could have prevented the resignation in the first place. Regular communication is key. The decision to resign is not usually a spur-of-the-moment act.

Schedule bimonthly, one-on-one meetings with each trainer. These are great opportunities for your trainers to give you valuable feedback and to air their concerns and frustrations. Use the following questions to gauge commitment and motivation:

  1. Where do you see yourself with the company and department in 1, 2 or 3 years?
  2. What one thing creates the most frustration for you?
  3. What gets in the way of your success?
  4. How could I help you?

Not a Foregone Conclusion

Costs are high—both financially and emotionally—for each personal trainer who departs. Recognize that high turnover is not a foregone conclusion. You can break the cycle. Acknowledge the value of each personal trainer, and accept responsibility for retaining top trainers. Hire with precision, and create a career path so that trainers know they are valued.

Are You a High-Turnover Manager?

It’s time to face the facts. Answer the following questions to determine whether you are a high-turnover manager.

  1. How many trainers have left your department in the past year?
  2. How many times per year do you focus on hiring trainers?
  3. What percentage of your training team has been working at your facility for 3 or more years?
  4. What’s the average length of employment for your last five hires?
  5. Have your supervisors ever brought up trainer turnover?


Kakes, L. 2010. Understanding employee turnover. Effortless HR (July 28). www.effortlesshr.com/blog/employee-issues/understanding-employee-turnover/; retrieved Feb. 23, 2011.

Mushrush, W. 2002. Reducing employee turnover. Creating Quality. www.missouribusiness.net/sbtdc/docs/reducing_employee_turnover.asp; retrieved Feb. 23, 2011.

Lance Breger, MS

Lance J. Breger, MS, is a fitness and wellness consultant and a 2010 IDEA Program Director of the Year finalist. He is the president of Infinity Wellness Foundation, a nonprofit organization that delivers its WELLKIDS program to students and teachers in the Washington, DC, public school system. Breger is also the head private trainer at MINT in Washington, DC.

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