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Unhappy Employees? How You Can Help

Why are some employees happy and others miserable? Answering that question is on the mind of every leader, manager and business owner who is trying to reduce staff turnover and improve productivity.

This is the first of a four-part series on becoming a leadership mastermind. In each part, we will review a business-leadership book and apply its guidance to the fitness profession. Our first title is The Three Signs of a Miserable Job: A Fable for Managers (And Their Employees) by Patrick Lencioni (Jossey-Bass 2007). The author identifies three principal reasons why employees are unhappy, and he offers guidance on helping them become happy and productive.

Fitness professionals tend to be upbeat by nature, so fitness managers have it better than leaders in other industries. Yet we still have disgruntled employees who become negative as their enthusiasm, passion and energy run dry. Learning to be better managers can help us create a more positive working environment, which is good for everybody in our business.

First Sign of a Miserable Job—Irrelevance

Employees who cannot see how their work improves someone’s life very likely cannot enjoy their jobs. They need to feel that their work is relevant to the lives of the people they encounter in their workday—their co-workers, customers and managers.

This might seem like a minor issue in the fitness industry, because so much of what we do objectively improves people’s lives. But we can always do better. Here are a few tips to fight irrelevance in your gym or studio:

  • Post “Client of the Month” success stories at your facility and on your website and social media pages. Be sure to identify the specific team members who were pivotal to your clients’ accomplishments.
  • Forward clients’ complimentary emails, letters or cards to everybody on your team.
  • Conduct quarterly client surveys, and pass along any accolades the clients give to specific employees.
  • Thank your administrative staff. They don’t get as much positive reinforcement from clients as your fitness staff does. For example:
    • Tell your front-desk staff that they set the mood for the facility, making clients’ lives easier simply by answering their questions correctly and getting them what they need quickly and efficiently.

No matter what the position, your team members need to understand individually how they are changing people’s lives for the better.

Second Sign of a Miserable Job—Anonymity

Employees have a hard time loving their job if they think their managers do not know them as people or care about their interests, dreams and goals. Employees need to feel they are valued by their direct supervisors and by others in leadership positions.

This is such a simple and low-cost management technique, but many managers fail to recognize its importance or practice it regularly. I saw this firsthand as a fitness industry consultant. Whenever a facility hired me to revamp its personal training department, I would interview the owner/manager(s), and then I would interview the staff.

The staff at facilities with the greatest issues would say things like this:

  • “I’ve worked here for 10 years and she’s never even given me a birthday card.”
  • “I’ve been teaching classes here for 8 years and my boss doesn’t even know whether I have kids—let alone, know their names!”

Owners/managers often felt that their employees were a bunch of deadbeats, but nine times out of 10, the issues sprang from managers’ lack of care and attention for their team.

Fitness managers can do simple things to ensure that team members don’t suffer from anonymity.

  • Host team get-togethers. Regularly host team outings like hiking, go-cart racing, indoor rock-climbing, bowling and snowshoeing, or parties where everyone can just hang out and get to know one another. Strive for an environment where trainers who are thinking about leaving their jobs see that they will also be leaving great friendships.
  • Recognize immediately. Most people enjoy being patted on the back by their direct supervisor for a job well done. Better yet, publicly recognizing employees in meetings or praising them via email goes a long way. If you see something amazing, comment on it immediately and make sure other people know about it.

For more insights into this topic, please see “Leadership Series, Part One: Three Signs of a Miserable Job” in the online IDEA Library (see the March 2014 issue of IDEA Fitness Manager). If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at (800) 999-4332, ext. 7.

Sherri McMillan, MS

Sherri McMillan, MSc, has been inspiring the world to adopt a fitness lifestyle for 30 years, and has received numerous industry awards, including the 2010 canfitpro International Fitness Presenter of the Year, 2006 IDEA Fitness Director of the Year, 1998 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year and 1998 canfitpro Fitness Presenter of the Year. She is an international fitness presenter, personal trainer, fitness columnist for various magazines and newspapers, author of five books and manuals, including Go For Fit: The Winning Way to Fat Loss, Fit Over Forty, and The Successful Trainers Guide to Marketing, and a featured presenter in various fitness DVDs.

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