One of the most challenging aspects of fitness management is inspiring part-time staff to remain focused and invested. Many part-time fitness jobs are mundane, and even the most motivated staff member can feel unappreciated after folding endless stacks of towels or repeating the facility rules yet again. To avoid burnout and turnover—or even worse, dissension among the ranks—take the time to truly inspire your part-time staff. You won’t need to do much to see a difference, but it will require some planning and effort. Check out these tried-and-true methods.

Be Present and In Touch

My management career has landed me at four different facilities over the past 8 years. Each time, I’ve made an effort to “check in” with every single staff member. The number-one complaint I’ve heard about prior management is that the manager was out of touch. I’ve regularly heard, “He didn’t know what I did. He couldn’t have done my job if he’d tried. Then, he would make decisions that negatively affected my work or undermined the decisions I made based on the circumstances I was facing.” Ouch. Who wants to be that guy?

The fact is, you’re busy. You have much more on your plate as a manager than your frontline people know, but it’s not their job to understand what you’re dealing with. It’s their job to staff the floor, excel at customer service and help keep the facility clean. One of your primary duties is to make sure they feel supported. If they never see you, or if they feel like you’re out of touch with the reality of their jobs, it’s only a matter of time before their motivation fizzles.

So what’s the solution? Be present.

Even if the facility hours are long, plan your days so that you can physically interact with each member of your staff at least every few weeks. This may mean rolling out of bed at 5:00 am some days, or staying up late so you can hang out with the night crew, but the effort will be worth it. Do not spend these extra hours holed up in your office. Get out on the floor, or work the front desk. Fold a few towels, wipe down machines and offer to answer the phones; not only will your staff appreciate the fact that you’re pitching in. You’ll also model the behavior you expect from them, and they’ll learn to respect your knowledge.

Take an Interest

Depending on your facility, you may have two part-timers or 100 part-timers, but you can bet that every single one of them wants to feel that he or she is important and is known to management. Think back to the days when you were working part-time. How important did you feel when your manager called you by name, asked you a question about your life and genuinely showed an interest? It’s these little things that can turn an okay job into an excellent one. It’s not always easy to forge this kind of relationship, especially if you have a large staff, but there are some simple ways to make it easier:

  1. Before walking through your facility, review the staff schedule to see which employees are working so that you can call them by their names.
  2. Take just a few minutes with every staff member, and ask the following:
    • How is work going?
    • Have you run into any problems I can help with?
    • How are things with your (school, sports leagues, family, etc.)?
  3. Finish by telling them how much you appreciate their work and that they can always stop by your office if they have ideas for improving the workplace.

In 5 minutes or less, you’ve shown that you know them, you’re interested in them and you appreciate their work and ideas. Isn’t that what every employee wants from a manager? When your employees feel that you care, they’ll be more likely to invest in their jobs and less likely to jump ship at the first hint of an opportunity elsewhere.

Delegate Wisely

Believe it or not, delegating more work to your part-time crew is an excellent way to inspire them. When you delegate an important task, you intimate that you trust the person’s judgment and ability to do a good job, which promotes confidence and pride. The problem is that managers often delegate tasks without considering employees’ strengths. For instance, if you delegate statistics reporting to someone who hates numbers, both you and your employee are bound to end up feeling frustrated. Truly successful managers match tasks with skills in a way that promotes success and inspiration.

One of the benefits of being present and taking an interest in your part-time staff is that you start to see where they thrive. If you have a creative college student who is studying exercise science and you know you need to develop new programs, why not ask that person to put together a few new ideas? Ask the part-timer who is great at organization to help with scheduling. If certain staff members demonstrate strong leadership potential, ask them to plan staff training days or team-building meetings. When you delegate tasks with employee skills in mind, you give those people the opportunity to feel empowered, invested and proud of their work.

Meet Up, Have Fun, Show Appreciation

Most part-time staff decide to work at fitness facilities because they think it will be fun. One of the best ways to keep staff inspired is to offer enjoyable experiences on a regular basis. Plan special events, organize engaging staff meetings or offer unexpected prizes for exceptional service.

“Fun” means different things to different people, which is why getting to know your staff is so important. For instance, while I was working at a university fitness center, I started each of my monthly staff meetings with a non-work-related activity like pumpkin carving, dodge ball or an Easter egg hunt. We also held two annual trainings that included everything from digital-camera scavenger hunts to messy relay races. While these were great activities for college students, they wouldn’t work at every facility. This is why tailoring your events to your audience is important. For an older or more serious crowd, schedule an off-site happy hour or a company-sponsored dinner. Set up a fitness competition between staff members, or organize a rafting trip. The options are practically endless, and if you don’t know where to start, go to the source! Poll your employees to see what they’d most like to do as a group.

You may also discover that many of your staff members are more motivated by money or status than by developing relationships. Cater to this bunch by coming up with new ways to show appreciation. Employee of the Month awards are great, but don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Randomly hand out $5 coffee gift cards to employees “caught” going above and beyond their job description. Set up a reward system for customer service, and offer company swag for meeting certain goals. Most important, be honest about opportunities for promotion, and support your staff whenever possible by providing outlets for continuing education.

Don’t Be Afraid to Let Someone Go

It’s unfortunate, but sometimes there are “inspiration black holes” among your staff. Maybe people like this have a perpetual bad attitude, constantly gossip or simply don’t pull their weight. By allowing such people to stay, you send a message to others that poor performance and negativity are okay. Take the time to work with these employees to see if the situation can be resolved, but if your counseling fails, it’s best to cut your losses. As the saying goes, you’re only as strong as your weakest link. So make sure that all your links remain strong.

Laura Williams, MS

Laura Williams, MS, has a master's degree in exercise science and 8 years of fitness management experience spanning public, private, university and nonprofit settings. Laura also writes for a variety of outlets, including her own website:

Leave a Comment

When you buy something using the retail links in our content, we may earn a small commission. IDEA Health and Fitness Association does not accept money for editorial reviews. Read more about our Terms & Conditions and our Privacy Policy.