Managing Employees in a Gym Setting


Tips for Managing Employees in a Gym Setting

How to keep your employees motivated and working hard.

I have spent many years working at various gyms across the country, and currently own a gym in North Carolina. I have spent countless time reading business based articles and living the actual experience of working for managers and owners of all types. I have personally worked with dozens of other trainers in similar situations, and have experienced and heard all the issues employees have with their employers.  I have talked to 100+ gym owners and have listened to their experiences. This is a list of things you, as an owner or future owner of a facility, should keep in mind when hiring, managing and maintaining employees.

And before you get into the “they should shut up and work because I am paying them mentality”, please step out of the stone age and understand the modern day work force and what will make them do an excellent job for you, instead of doing the bare minimum to not get fired.

  1. A paycheck isn’t everything.

Yes, employees work FOR a paycheck. That’s the whole reason they are there, because they need to provide for themselves, their family and lifestyle. But that’s not the only reason. Personal development and experience are huge reasons employees often take jobs in this industry, because they want to learn something they can use at their next position or eventually open their own facility.

  1. Value your employees home-life and time

This one is the most under appreciated aspect of managing employees: understand that your employees want time to unwind and be away from the job. Respect that time, keep work related activities confined to the walls of the facility as much as possible. Trainers inherently work long hours, it’s the nature of the industry due to the split openings of other peoples schedules. Try to maximize your employees time at home instead of maximize their face time at the gym. They will be happier and more refreshed, you will get a higher quality trainer, and everyone wins. Side note: employees that want to be home more often are not lazy, understand and respect that their life does not revolve around the facility!

  1. Value their input on your business

Your trainers usually spend as much or more time training and handling the service of your facility as you do. If they have input on how the company can improve and ultimately become better and more profitable, allow them the opportunity to voice that with an open mind, and reward them if the feedback results in positive changes to the company.

  1. As you evaluate them, have them evaluate you

Employees can give great feedback if given the opportunity. Managers are very quick to point out what their subordinates are doing wrong, but unwilling to look at themselves and where they can personally develop. Do not be a boss thats unwilling to listen to critical feedback, and worse, don’t justify being a poor boss, manager and leader because you write the checks. Value the feedback they give you, it will only help your industry.

  1. Small perks go a long way
  2. Many gym owners NEVER worked at a private facility. They went straight to opening one themselves and never experienced the grind. Those who did know it’s a tough job being a trainer or strength coach at a gym, and small perks are appreciated beyond words. Buy them lunch one day, throw them a bonus check after a good week, let them go home early to spend time with their family or just refresh for the next day. These small, inexpensive things will go a LONG way towards creating employee happiness and cohesion. It may not positively contribute to the bottom line immediately, but reducing turnover and having energized, motivated trainers ALWAYS contributes too the bottom line over time. You want your employees to work WITH you to create a better company, little things help build that bond.
    1. Empower them to lead, teach and learn

    One of the biggest mistakes coaches make in teaching others is they want those employees to learn “their methods.” If you are aiming to build replicable robots, this is a great method. If you are trying to build a great coach that can contribute, teach them the underlying concepts of what you are doing. Encourage them to research and try new protocols to become a progressive training company, and even lead a staff teaching session on what they found. If you are doing the same training you did 3 years ago, its time to rethink your philosophy.

    1. Make the job fun, not a grind.

    This one is not always possible we know that. But don’t require excessive gym time if it can be avoided. Offer to cover a class so they can go home early some day, show you are willing to put the work in as well. Burnout in this industry is a big issue, and one reason is the expectation that trainers work open to close. Break this cycle and figure out your scheduling in a smarter way. And yes, working split shifts burns people out as much as working open to close straight.

    1. View the job from their perspective

    Instead of making a list of job demands and things you want done, view the job from the perspective of the person you are asking to perform those things. Is it possible to do it all with quality results? Are they being compensated fairly for the list of things you are asking for? Are you increasing compensation as their list of job demands grows? Is there a true opportunity for advancement if they do a good job?

    1. Do not give them reasons to leave your gym for something better, give them reasons to stay.

    The benefits and perks of your job need to outweigh the benefits of another job or even starting their own facility. Having someone at the gym for 50-60 hours a week plus weekends, while only paying hourly during training sessions or a low salary, as a 1099 with no benefits is quite literally the opposite of giving an employee a reason to stay, beyond a paycheck. And very large percentages of gyms in the country do this! Break the cycle.  Offer a REAL opportunity for advancement, in both title and pay.  If you don’t, someone else will.

    1. Lead by example.

    Don’t give an employee work you are unwilling to do yourself. No explanation needed here.

    1. Do not expect your employees to work as much as you do.

    Expect quality work when they are there, rest and recovery when they are not. An unrested employee cannot give quality training, and your business depends on that. It’s your business; employees ultimately are hired to provide future value for you and your business. Viewing them as a tool to get you where you want, rather than an asset in which you can both benefit from, will ultimately lead to your own personal and business setbacks. If you think having high turnover and unhappy, unproductive employees is a good business model, I implore you to do more research on this topic.

    1. If they quit, its your fault.

About the author 

Steve Olson, MS, CSCS

Steve is a strength and conditioning coach, gym owner, and founder and CEO of Strength Coach Pro. Prior to founding SCP, Steve owned Excel Training Designs, a company created to help coaches better learn and use Excel for programming. Steve also owns a strength and conditioning gym in Cary, NC, and has his bachelors and masters in Exercise Science.

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