Hiring in the Fitness Industry: Effective Employee Engagement & Retention Strategy

Hiring in the fitness industry is quite a challenge and the best way to get good employees may be to keep the ones you already have. Here are some strategies for employee engagement and retention that you can use to do just that.

The fitness industry has gone through many transformations and challenges over the decades. Gym businesses face difficulties keeping their members as lower-cost gyms open up in their vicinity. Not only do they lose members due to low prices, but they also find it difficult to get talented trainers to join and stay in their ranks. As unemployment rates fall lower in the fitness industry, businesses do not have as much power as they used to and employee job-hopping has become a normal thing.

The challenge that gyms face with membership drops and impermanent employees also coincides with the challenge of fostering employee engagement within the gym. This is a challenge that puts pressure on gym owners as they deal with the problem of impermanence and the inability to hold on to members in a gym. Many gyms have tried different tactics to figure out why it is so hard to keep their staff and trainers engaged and have gotten discouraging results.

The truth of the matter, however, is that these challenges feed into each other almost directly. Regardless of the industry (fitness, hospitality, finance, etc.), businesses that are unable to properly engage their staff in the positions they are employed for will see their staff leave for more promising jobs (which is easier in the age of job-hopping). Also, gyms and businesses alike that are unable to hold on to quality employees will definitely be unable to offer the quality level of service that will keep members or clients returning for an experience. Any solution offered must be systematic; offering staff and trainers the necessary incentives to stay loyal to the gym even when the market tempts them to leave.

To successfully carry this out, gym owners must either put their HR hats on or hire professional consultants who can formulate and execute a full-scale plan to properly engage and retain gym staff. Such a plan must be aimed at creating a total transformation of culture across the business if it is to be successful. This article looks at the features every successful employee engagement and retention strategy has, which gym owners can use for their businesses today.

Find the Right Metrics to Measure

One of the biggest errors that gym owners and HR teams make when developing and executing strategies for employee engagement and retention is failing to capture the right data which will inform the decisions made to alter procedures and policies as they relate to employees. Without the benefit of appropriate metrics, gym owners or the HR consultants that work on them typically make the wrong types of changes, which of course end up failing when held up to reality.

Some erroneous metrics used might include things like classes a trainer teaches in a certain period, or the number of new members staff can attract to the gym. These metrics are not very helpful and simply put pressure on employees. More realistic and important metrics to track when considering staff and trainer engagement in a gym include things like how staff perceive the owner of the gym, how satisfied they are with the job, how many opportunities for growth they are getting and taking, what their health is like, and how well developed their relationships with co-workers.

These metrics, while a little challenging to collect, can be gotten by way of carefully created surveys and purposeful one-on-one sessions with HR. In situations where gym owners are unable to collect the data themselves due to a lack of skill, there is a plethora of HR and gym management software that can be used to capture the necessary data with ease. With the data collected, gym owners will be able to figure out what is going wrong in their gyms as regards employee engagement and retention and to refocus their efforts towards what is important.

Invest in Employee Development

For the employer looking to increase engagement among the employees at his/her gym, employee development is one of the most useful metrics to measure and its improvement thereof can be one of the best ways to boost employee engagement and retention in a gym. A recent survey conducted by LinkedIn showed that in general, 94% of employees would happily stay in their present place of employment if the business would invest in their development. This shows that any serious gym owner must invest the money necessary to develop employees if they truly hope to keep them engaged.

2018 Workplace Learning Report | Source: LinkedIn
2018 Workplace Learning Report | Source: LinkedIn

Professional development in the fitness industry usually comes by way of courses which can be taken online or in-person as well as intensive workshops where hands-on training is provided. Gym owners can offer their trainers a plan where they are reimbursed for any relevant courses or training programs that they complete in their own time. This gives employees the flexibility to learn, knowing their bills will be covered if they pass the course. Another way to encourage development is to factor in employee development into the schedule at the gym.

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To do this, gym owners have to create pockets of time when trainers do not need to work with clients and can dedicate that time to their development. Gym owners who have the relevant experience can take those pockets of time to teach their staff or can hire experts to hold workshops. They can also create online learning accounts where their trainers can go to learn and build on their expertise. All staff in the gym must understand the importance of employee development and must constantly work to upgrade their skills; whether it is in the area of strength training or gym floor management.

Another option that gym owners with successful employee engagement strategies employ, is to create custom development plans for their trainers to follow. Depending on the goals of the gym, a particular type of development may be required for trainers and a curriculum can be created by partnering with learning bodies to take staff through this curriculum.

Some may criticize this approach, claiming that staff will simply leave for greener pastures after taking valuable training resources from the gym. But this is not the case. Employees who benefit from development programs typically channel their new learning to being the best at their jobs and to create better experiences for gym customers.

Open Channels of Communication

Among employees and teams, levels of morale are often closely tied to the individual’s ability to communicate clearly and freely. When a gym employee experiences a sense of dissonance when comparing what she expected to learn and do on the gym floor to what her daily tasks are, an established framework that permits open communication will help resolve this dissonance instead of resulting in the loss of a valued employee.

So, we’ve got all that legacy email, phone messages, texts, messages from half a dozen social media apps … and now, some of us can’t even remember where important conversations started or ended

Open communications may have been more challenging back in the days preceding digital communication tech, but now it is as easy as it can be imagined. Gym owners can make use of different applications meant to foster communications; from advanced texting services like WhatsApp and Telegram to full-on collaboration tools like Slack – which offers features like messaging across teams and file sharing.

Of course, in a gym setting these tools should not take the place of an old-fashioned face-to-face conversation between employees and the gym owner or manager. However, in the end, ensuring that employees can speak their truth in the workplace is a necessity to keeping them engaged. Clear and respectful communication between trainers and customers should also be fostered and encouraged so as to build good relationships between the gym and its members.

Help Foster a Healthy Work-Life Balance

Although compensation and benefits play a big role in a trainer’s decision to join or leave a particular gym, many trainers – especially those of younger generations – are more interested in improving the quality of lives they lead and finding happiness.

For an employee, finding happiness is often tied inexorably to having a healthy work-life balance. This means that a trainer at a gym will all too easily leave his current place of employment for another gym if it allows him to have a healthier balance in life. To prevent an employee exodus, gym owners must be flexible enough to help their staff create a balance between work obligations and their life goals.

This flexibility might manifest itself in different ways, from creating flexible training schedules that give trainers time to rest and work on personal projects, to allowing non-training staff to work from home when they need to or to work alternative hours if they cannot do the typical nine-to-five. Staff should also be allowed to make use of the gym facilities so they can stay healthy and co-curricular interactions should be encouraged so that employees can develop strong bonds among themselves.

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Some might imagine that this type of flexibility would be a disruption to the workspace, but many studies on employment spaces have shown that the results of a rigid workspace with little wiggle room for employee happiness is failure. Employees would rather work in a place where they are paid less but offered a better work-life balance.

Make Involvement Part of the Culture

When channels of communication are opened up so as to drive employee engagement, the expected outcome is a shift in the culture of the gym that fully embraces involvement between individuals. The gym owner should be involved in the work that her managers are doing and in how their lives are going just as the gym managers should be actively aware – within reasonable limits – of what is happening in their team’s work and lives. This is important because nobody works in isolation and will always need help or support to carry on.

This habit of being involved and looking out for the next person in the workspace creates a circle of interdependence and generosity throughout the gym. All employees will feel connected to each other and mutually responsible for each other’s success.

Another way to take the spirit of involvement further is to get involved with the community. As a gym, this could take the form of hosting classes in the gym for charity or taking trainers to places where people could benefit from their work and volunteer their services at no charge.

Many studies have shown that employees appreciate working for companies who are involved in charitable activities and believe that they are better to work for than companies who do not get involved.

This spirit of involvement and interdependence will, of course, have a positive impact on customer’s experience as they will feel the friendliness and positive energy whenever they walk into the gym.

Acknowledge Your Performers In a Timely Manner

Even though they may be getting paid to do their jobs, staff and trainers in a gym setting put in a lot of effort to do good work and would definitely benefit from some positive recognition. In successful gyms that have a good retention rate for trainers, a common thread among them is a consistent recognition of the good work done by their star performers. Some studies have shown that recognizing employees who do good work adds a 27% increase to the chances that they will stay with their current company for another year.

There are multiple ways by which a gym owner can recognize her trainers for their good work. The gestures can be big or small and can be in the form of a reward or simple appreciation. Gym owners can appreciate staff by publicly acknowledging them on staff notice boards, email communications or in team meetings. Extra acknowledgment can be given by talking to members about star trainers and sending more client opportunities their way. Team members that offer vital support should also not be left out and should be rewarded for acting in a team-centric fashion even when they do not take point on a class or project.

At the end of the day, the benefits of publicly acknowledging good work and making employees feel valued cannot be understated. As a tool for employee engagement, it is very effective even in small, almost insignificant doses. It is also very easy and cost-effective to implement.

Conclusion on Employee Engagement & Retention

Although many gyms are finding it harder to survive in this competitive age, those who take special care regarding engagement and retention of their staff and trainers are most likely to survive. The guidelines above can be implemented easily enough and are bound to keep staff engaged, in a proper balance of life and work, and far away from the exit door to another company. This manner of operations is the most rewarding path to follow for any gym owner or manager looking to create a lasting team with members that are loyal.

It is also worth mentioning again that effective employee engagement and retention not only positively affects employees but carries over positively into the customer experience. Staff who are happy are more likely to treat customers well by offering their best work. And customers who are treated well are more likely to stay as members of the gym. If you are a gym owner looking to make your employees and your members happy and loyal to you, use the guidelines above to create an effective employee engagement and retention strategy.

Andrej is a dedicated writer and digital evangelist. He is a contributor to a wide range of technology-focused publications, where he may be found discussing everything from neural networks and natural language processing to the latest in smart home IoT devices.

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