People loudly chatting on cell phones, empty water bottles left on equipment and used towels littering the locker room floor. These are just three examples of members showing poor etiquette. The good news is that you can do a great deal to promote and enforce appropriate member etiquette, therefore keeping clients happy and encouraging long-term retention.

To maintain an atmosphere in which all people feel comfortable, you must insist on certain standards of behavior from members. Promoting gym etiquette can break down barriers that prevent members from using a facility. Enforcing reasonable policies can ensure a comfortable, professional environment for everyone.

Why Bother?

Facilities must have rules in place to make sure everyone has a positive and safe workout experience. Intimidation occurs—particularly for new members—when others behave inappropriately. The new members may not return, leading to attrition. Many times, individuals arrive at the gym with limited time and a get-out-of-my-way attitude. You need to remind them that they can’t toss aside proper manners once they walk through your front door.

Besides improving the social environment, imposing proper gym etiquette has important safety ramifications. For example, if someone leaves a dumbbell on the ground in a high traffic area, it is a falling hazard and may lead to accidental injury.

Model Appropriate Behavior

Appropriate member etiquette begins with appropriate staff etiquette. All employees should behave as you would prefer your members to behave. A good place to start is with respect: respect for the conventions of the gym, and respect for members and fellow staff. If employees are rude or apathetic to members or to each other, you cannot expect members to be on their best behavior either. Staff should strive to be warm, friendly and accommodating. Little gestures of respect go a long way—for example, standing and welcoming members when they enter the facility; thanking them when they leave; and escorting them to their destination, rather than just giving verbal directions. It is especially important that employees treat each other with the same courtesy as they do your members, making for a friendly atmosphere to work and work out in (Scanlin 2004).

“Specific conduct and practices will vary from facility to facility,” explains John Spencer Ellis, EdD, chief executive officer of the National Exercise and Sports Trainers Association. “However, there are some universal rules that must apply in all health club settings. First, examples of [good] conduct must be exemplified by the staff, beginning with the front desk. All staff must be well groomed and use etiquette similar to [that used at] an upscale hotel. When the staff sets these examples, it is much more likely the members will follow suit.”

On the Gym Floor

Put into place the following policies regarding preferred behavior in the fitness area and class studio.

Cell Phones. Whenever possible, do not allow members to carry cell phones onto the gym floor. Cell phones are disruptive to others for many reasons—loud ring tones, extensive conversations and the possibility of camera phones. If someone must carry a cell phone, ensure that he or she keeps it on vibrate and, if a call comes in, ask the member to step away from the class or gym floor so as not to disturb others with his conversation (Asp 2008).

Suitable Clothing. To ensure that people wear suitable gym attire, require a dress code. Many individuals come to the gym in attire that does not offer adequate coverage. When a member walks around your facility in revealing clothing, it makes the gym look bad and causes other members to feel either distracted or intimidated (Asp 2008). If a member is immodestly dressed, lend her appropriate attire for the day, or if you must, ask the person to leave and return wearing proper clothing.

Arrival Time. Enforce a rule that individuals must arrive on time for group fitness classes and group training sessions. Many people don’t think twice about walking into a fitness class 5 or 10 minutes late. However, this tardiness is a disruption to the rest of the class and to the instructor or personal trainer.

In the Locker Room

The locker room is one area where bad etiquette can lead to awkward encounters. Some people are perfectly comfortable with nudity, while others are completely offended by it. Suggest that members cover themselves with a towel when changing. If necessary, remind members that even though they may feel at ease in the buff, those around them may not feel the same way.

In addition, make it easy for members to maintain cleanliness in the locker room. Set up bins for used towels so they are not left on the floor. Provide plenty of trash cans so that paper towels, gum and other garbage can be disposed of properly. Post signs throughout the locker room requesting that members clean up after themselves, as a courtesy to fellow members.

Administering Your Policies

Enforcing your policies is necessary for courtesy, health and retention purposes. Members can become frustrated if they must always remove plates before using a piece of equipment. In fact, over time they might get frustrated enough to find another place to work out. The success of your policies depends largely on how you present and enforce them.

Post Signs. Post signs throughout the gym and locker rooms, clearly stating your etiquette policies. Print and frame the policies professionally. Don’t use photocopies or handwritten fliers, as people may not take these signs seriously. Make your signs easy to read and don’t surround them with clutter or other signage.

Educate Members. In addition, educate new members about etiquette. Include your regulations in their contracts, provide a handout of the rules in each new-member packet, and point out the posted rules throughout the gym during orientation (McDonnell 2000). Update your policies whenever new issues arise, and clearly communicate rule changes to members.

Monitor Members. Ask staff to regularly conduct walk-throughs of the gym to observe member behavior. If someone is breaking a rule, the staff member should politely remind the person of the etiquette policies.

Members are more likely to follow the rules if they know they are being supervised. It is not easy to approach members who are being discourteous, but it can make a difference. If you are concerned about embarrassing people, discreetly pull them into an office and speak to them quietly and professionally. By maintaining respect and professionalism in your communication, you can easily resolve most issues.

Some individuals will always bend the rules and violate facility etiquette. However, if you do your best to enforce your policies consistently and model appropriate behavior, the health club experience will be pleasant for both members and staff, and retention will ultimately increase. Watch your members’ manners improve and your profits will, too.