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Managing Fitness Employees: a Comprehensive Guide


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  • Managing fitness employees starts with a self-aware manager.
  • Great managers build trust and respect with their staff through good listening and communication.
  • Recognizing and affirming employees for their hard work goes a long way!
  • A fitness manager must always be learning and keeping up with new trends.

Almost everyone is striving to climb the corporate ladder, and the fitness world is no exception. Many personal trainers want to own their own businesses and in the meantime, they vie for management positions to gain experience.

It sounds pretty perfect. You’re the boss; you don’t have to answer to anyone, you make your own hours, and you get a large chunk of the profit.

But when you own or manage a gym or fitness club, the tables are turned. Instead of being the boss, you quickly realize that your clients are the boss of you!

Successful managers realize their clients are the ones who keep them in business. They model this mindset and require it of their employees. If the whole staff doesn’t deliver excellent customer service, clients will quickly join the next gym down the street.

How does a manager juggle their administrative duties and prioritize excellent customer service? Keep reading to discover how to create a welcoming fitness environment for employees and customers and how Exercise.com can handle the administrative tasks so you can get back to providing quality customer service. Book a demo to try our All-in-One Business Software today!

A Great Company Starts with a Great Manager

As the manager, you’re the team captain. You set and enforce the rules, hold employees accountable, and inspire productivity. While this is a thrilling privilege, it comes with tremendous responsibility.

You’re in charge of the livelihood of your employees, the satisfaction of your customers, and the safety of your clients. Ultimately, the business fails or succeeds through your efforts.

For that reason, before we can talk about fostering a productive work environment or how to effectively manage your employees, we first need to talk about you as a manager!

— The Basics of a Great Manager

Even with business management education, managers need practical experience to apply their knowledge. Many wonderful managers don’t have any secondary education and have simply been trained well by other intentional supervisors.

Regardless of formal education, every manager needs foundational interpersonal and administrative skills in order to be successful. Learn more about balancing these skills in the video below:

— Listen

Listen to everybody: current clients, previous clients, employees, and members at other gyms. If you listen attentively, their perspective gives you insight on how to improve your business.

Tense situations will inevitably arise under your management. It might be between employees, a client and employee, or other parties. You may need to confront an employee over their laziness or explain a misunderstood policy to a customer.

People will look to you as the manager to resolve these complications. The best way to diffuse hard feelings, solve problems, or reach an agreeable compromise is by listening carefully.

But good listening goes beyond waiting for your turn to speak. Employ some of these approaches to more fully understand all parties involved and reach the best decision:

  • Restate what you heard before continuing with your own thoughts. This ensures the speaker’s intent was properly understood.
  • Ask clarifying questions to further understand the details. Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How questions are a great place to start.
  • Reduce distractions like cell phones and computers so you can be fully present and focused on the speaker. This silence intentionality speaks volumes!
  • Be aware of your nonverbal communication. Practice open body language and good eye contact.
  • Observe the speaker’s nonverbal communication, as it often gives clues to their true opinions. You may need to ask questions to uncover the root issue if their nonverbal communication is revealing a different story than their words.
  • Don’t assume you know how the speaker feels or jump to a quick solution. Ask empathetic questions that express a genuine desire for complete resolution.
  • Summarize the solution, compromise, or resolution at the conclusion of the conversation. This ensures both parties are on the same page and avoids future confusion.

— Learn

Even though you’re one of the top-tiered employees in the company, the best managers have a humble and open mindset and are continually seeking to learn and grow. There’s always room for personal development as a manager. Here are some quick tips for better leadership through learning:

Consider Furthering Your Education

It’s tempting to cruise once you’ve secured the job of a manager. But this mindset will be detrimental to your team and business.

The fitness market is ever-evolving with new technology, software, apps, and more. An effective manager knows to stay on top of trends and incorporate them into their business. There are community and online courses and classes that can help grow your business practice.

If you don’t have a business degree, consider going back to school! Even if you have a business degree, earning additional degrees or certifications increases your knowledge and value as a manager.

Don’t Be Shy

Many fitness clubs use scheduling or administrative software. You probably received training on how to use it, but software is constantly updating and changing to fit the needs and trends of the times.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help or further training on the software. It’s useless if you don’t know how to use it properly. You can then teach your employees, and your humble mindset will inspire your team to ask for help as well.

Learn From Your Losses

Even the best managers have customers leave and employees quit. However, you can minimize or prevent losses in the future by determining why they left your fitness club.

Send a follow-up email or survey to previous customers. Maybe there was a neutral reason for terminating membership, like relocation.

But dissatisfied customers tell nine to 15 people about their experience and rarely convey their complaints to the company. Swift action and good listening skills can save your company from bad reviews and can instead boost your reputation.

Perform quality exit interviews with former employees. Ask good questions and get as much feedback as you can. Clients like sticking with their trainer, so keeping your trainers is crucial to keeping your customers. Take the time and opportunity to glean from employee feedback.

Hold regular meetings with other managers and owners to discuss possible changes. Formulate and execute a course of action that will improve your work atmosphere, productivity, and customer satisfaction.

— Lead

As the saying goes, what leaders do in moderation, followers will do in excess. Your attitude, work ethic, and instruction play a substantial role in the success and atmosphere of your business. The following video details some of these characteristics:

A grouchy attitude and harsh words tear down others and create an unstable work environment. But inspiring your staff with enthusiasm, encouragement, and a hard-working attitude is contagious.

Employees value managers who are approachable and authentic. For example, an exceptional manager must:

  • Be a good communicator: After listening well, communicate new directives to the staff in a timely, clear, and effective manner.
  • Be open to new ideas: Employees are the eyes and ears of the business. They see needs, hear client complaints and opinions, and live out employment policies that might need tweaking. Listen to their concerns and ideas! Implementing some suggestions can streamline the business while building employee trust and loyalty.
  • Recognize and reward hard work: This is the simplest and best way to improve morale and retain employees. Recognition motivates employees, boosts productivity, and increases company loyalty. It gives other employees an example to aspire to, which pulls up the standard of the whole company.
  • Know their employees: Set up a birthday calendar, routinely ask about kids or pets, cheer for a favorite sports team, and take other measures to invest in employees’ lives. Performance and productivity improve when people feel valued and known.
  • Take responsibility: Take ownership over personal goals and take responsibility when things don’t go according to plan. The manager must model the accountability they’d like their staff to demonstrate.

While there are countless qualities and tips to improve leadership, focus on the ones you’d like your staff to emulate. For instance, if your employees lack enthusiasm, model it. If they’re lazy, take initiative on small tasks. If certain employees exclude others, be a supporter of all.

Don’t make demands of your staff that you’re unwilling to do yourself. Enforce your words by leading with your actions.

— A Great Manager Has the Right Software

Most gyms and fitness centers use electronic software to keep track of employee and client records. If you manage a mainstream gym, this software is already given to you. If you manage an independent fitness center, enroll with Execise.com!

With Exercise.com, it’s never been easier to manage your entire fitness business. Our comprehensive software package allows you to schedule appointments, process billing, complete client assessments, and deliver workouts in your custom-branded apps all in one place.

It’s easy to learn, use, and teach! Not to mention, it makes your business more profitable.

Grow and manage your fitness business better with Exercise.com

Scheduling can be a huge headache when you’re juggling multiple employees’ and contractors’ availabilities. One person is covering for someone’s vacation, another person called in sick, and a third person no longer works Tuesdays.

Unpredictable scheduling leads to unhappy employees and greater turnover. Conversely, prompt and predictable schedules (employees generally prefer two weeks’ notice) improves employee satisfaction with their manager.

Luckily, there’s no need to stress over scheduling when using Exercise.com’s software! Scheduling is easy, efficient, and accessible to all members of the staff. This, in turn, will boost employee satisfaction.

Understanding Attrition

Surveys show that most employees are unhappy at work, as detailed in the video below. In order to better understand how to retain and manage loyal employees, we must first look at common causes of attrition.

— It Starts With the Manager

You’ve probably got the idea by now: your attributes are reflected and magnified in your employees. Effectively managing employees begins with the qualities of the manager and the work environment they foster.

But this point is worth restating because the direct supervising manager is the primary cause of job misery. Roughly half of all employees face job misery, and about half of employees are dissatisfied with their direct supervising manager.

Coincidence? Probably not. As Gallup CEO Jim Clifton puts it,

“The single biggest decision you make in your job — bigger than all the rest — is who you name manager. When you name the right people to manage your company’s workplace, everything goes well. People love their jobs, your customers are engaged, and life is great. When you name the wrong person manager, nothing fixes that bad decision. Not compensation, not benefits — nothing.”

This powerful statement should encourage humble reflection. While outside factors (like poor equipment, low wages, etc.) might cause grumbling, it’s vital to examine your managerial method if your employees are unhappy.

There’s no shame in seeing a need for improvement because growth has no negative consequences. It’s in the best interest of your employees, clients, and business to embrace maturity and change.

If you manage other supervisors, consider doing some detective work or a performance review to reveal underlying tensions between employees. Perhaps you appointed the wrong supervisor or they need additional training and accountability.

Either way, making appropriate changes can settle and stabilize a work environment so everyone can be productive.

— Common Managerial Pitfalls

It’s crucial to avoid some of these common managerial mistakes. As seen in the video below, unhappy employees can not only disrupt a healthy work environment but can also cost your company a lot of money!

You may have the best intentions as a manager, but there’s a fine line between an engaged manager and an obsessive manager. Here are some common pitfalls to avoid:

  1. Hiring the wrong people

Whether you like it or not, each employee is the company to your clients. They come away from every staff encounter feeling happy, neutral, or unhappy. Carelessness or indifference can ruin a client’s relationship forever. But a helpful, engaged, and enthusiastic employee impresses the client and boosts the company’s reputation.

A fitness business will only be as good as the customer service they provide.

Since employees interact the most with your customers, it’s imperative to hire the right people:

  • Have an honest assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of your staff and yourself. Hire employees who add diversity to the team and whose strengths help fill in gaps.
  • Invest more time in training new employees on every aspect of the business, including their day-to-day responsibilities, and how to offer superb customer service. Hold them accountable for their training.
  • Up your hiring standards. Don’t just hire a warm body! This will be detrimental to your team. Post your hiring ads strategically with a thorough job description detailing expectations and compensation. Require additional references upon application. Conduct comprehensive, structured interviews with high screening standards.

These might be extra steps, but the hard work ensures a solid team.

  1. Undertraining staff members

One of the best time investments is to thoroughly train new staff members. Completing a comprehensive onboarding the first time reduces the time spent correcting mistakes or re-training.

After your staff grasps the basic job requirements, begin delegating tasks to capable employees. This encourages staff ownership of their jobs, takes some time-consuming tasks off your plate, and discourages employee stagnation and idleness.

  1. Avoiding confrontation

Maybe you’ve asked that one employee countless times to not check their phone while with a client, or there’s drama amongst several team members. Poor managers turn a blind eye to problems and conflict.

Instead, address problems head-on. Treat all parties with kindness and fairness. Be a mediator between quarreling team members and fight for the unity of the team. Hold employees accountable for abiding by company policies, even if that means disciplinary action or termination.

Even if you don’t handle the situation quite right, you earn respect from employees by taking a leadership role and addressing conflict. Learn from any mistakes to improve your conflict resolution tactics for the future. Check out this video for some specific tips on healthy confrontation:

  1. Ignoring good performers

A manager has a lot of duties throughout the day. It’s easy to overlook assignments done correctly and only point out errors. But the best way to inspire the right attitudes and actions is to use positive reinforcement.

Your best employees need your attention and encouragement just as much as the weak employees. Praising and thanking hard-working employees is the most effective way to inspire the whole team to pursue excellence. Additionally, regularly acknowledging the efforts of your hard-working staff members can greatly reduce company turnover.

  1. Managing your time inefficiently

Proper time management is prioritizing tasks and responsibilities by accomplishing the most important tasks at the most productive times of the day. Having a haphazard schedule will frustrate everyone, including yourself, and leave little achieved at the end of the day.

Good time management creates space to guide and supervise your employees and provide superior customer service.

Creating a schedule that is structured but allows flexibility for interruptions takes skill and practice. If this is an area you can improve, consider taking a class or reading some books on time management.

  1. Micromanaging

Especially to those on the receiving end, there’s a huge difference between coaching and telling.

Coaching provides guidance but lets employees find their own way (within reason) to the solution. If you’re constantly telling, nitpicking, or doing tasks for your employees, then you’ve crossed the line into micromanaging.

A good manager will provide structure, guidance, and assistance, but let employees independently accomplish tasks the way they choose (again, within reason). Who knows, you might learn something as you observe their methods!

  1. Failing to grow as a manager

If you’re always shifting blame and giving excuses instead of taking responsibility for consequences and actions, you’ll become ostracized from your team. Respect will be hard to find and your authority will be ineffective.

Just as you would like your team to be responsive and not defensive to your coaching, you need to do the same. You can even ask for constructive criticism so that you’re always growing. Modeling this mindset is the most effective way to see it portrayed in your staff.

Further, the fitness industry demands to keep up with all aspects of the business and current trends. The moment you become complacent with your position is the moment you begin losing ground and clients. Continually work to improve your business and management skills. These websites and educational sites make it easy to keep up with trends.

Fostering a Positive Work Environment

What makes employees happy at work? Watch the following video and keep reading!

Once you realize the key to a harmonious work environment is a confident, humble, compassionate, and responsible manager, it becomes easier (and a lot more fun!) to effectively manage your fitness staff.

— 8 Ways to Create a Solid Team

  1. Regularly reward your staff for hard work

Don’t scrape by on a yearly obligatory appreciation dinner. You can instantly boost the work atmosphere by acknowledging the hard work of your staff throughout the year.

Seemingly small gestures of appreciation, like bringing a slammed employee coffee or a snack, communicate genuine gratitude. Celebrate birthdays, holidays, and new babies. Have a little fun (if you can spare the time!) on January 2nd: National Personal Trainer Awareness Day. Get creative and keep your ears open for unique gestures that your staff would appreciate.

  1. Do fun (physical) activities together

Get to know your staff’s interests and plan several team bonding events each year. Go hiking, biking, or mountain climbing. Sign up for a fun run (get team shirts to advertise your business!), attend a ball game, or plan a cabin weekend retreat.

Take employees out for lunch to get to know them better. Encourage talents like cooking to enter the workplace by having a chili cookoff or bake sale. Support teams coordinating their own events, even if you’re not invited.

  1. Change up work meetings

Engage your employees during work meetings by having a little fun while being educational. Play a brief team-building or icebreaker game, have some snacks, and be enthusiastic about participation. Start and stop meetings promptly to show respect for everyone’s time.

Encourage your employees’ dedication to the company by supporting their ideas during meetings. Let them problem-solve and contribute to the success of the business. Ask your employees what they would like to learn or bring in a guest speaker.

  1. Encourage workplace cooperation

Especially in the fitness world where everything is a competition, it’s easy to forget the ultimate goal: pleasing your clients and customers. The success of the business relies on the whole team collaborating and working together.

But that doesn’t mean you have to squelch competition.

Find unique ways to leverage competition to bring your team together. Set high but achievable goals and offer fun rewards for accomplishments like gift cards, free lunches, or sending winners to a conference or continuing education course they want to attend. Watch this video to learn more:

  1. Seek feedback

Instead of making decisions independently, seek the input of your employees. Create space and opportunities for staff members to give feedback on new policies or procedures. You’ll gain a fresh perspective and make your staff feel appreciated and valued.

  1. Be intentional

Push beyond small talk and delegating when interacting with your employees. Get to know what makes your staff tick.

Go out of your way to check in with your employees. Ask how their son’s baseball game went or how their home renovation is going. This builds a stable work environment and a mutually respectful relationship. When disagreements or corrections inevitably arise, your staff will know you have their best interests in mind.

Before giving a new task or responsibility, affirm previous efforts and accomplishments. Acknowledging their capabilities inspires your staff to keep doing their best work and not balk at a new responsibility.

  1. Show their team value

While it’s excellent to encourage and reward your staff, these remarks can get a little stale if they always come from the direct manager. You’re only one of the dozens of individuals a fitness employee interacts with during the day. This following video shares some ways employees feel valued:

Reminding your employees of the value they bring to the company and how their hard work impacts their clients and co-workers increases productivity and engagement. If a client remarks on an employee’s care, pass along their appreciation in an email. Craft social media posts highlighting what clients are saying about your staff. Have the staff sign a birthday card with notes of affirmation.

  1. Challenge your employees

Develop your employees’ professional skills by giving them a challenge. Take inventory of each employee’s skills, then delegate tasks that push them to learn something new or take more responsibility. Let them participate in training new employees. You can even create new projects specifically for their talents.

Don’t let your employees slack in their jobs. Remember, the fitness industry is always advancing and you need everyone to continually grow in their field. Constructive criticism can help complacent employees to regain focus.

— Managing Diverse Personalities

Everyone brings strengths and weaknesses to the team. A smart manager has a variety of personalities on staff so clients can find a trainer who motivates them best; as such, there will be a range of personalities on your team, as seen in the video above. Managing differing personalities can be a challenge since trainers may not see eye-to-eye on methods.

It’s your job to meld all the perspectives and personalities together to make a cohesive and cooperative team. This the ultimate application point: where all the managerial theories and concepts coincide to impact everyday life.

Build a “family” mindset by doing team-building events and activities. Encourage good communication between trainers, front desk, and managers. Cheer on all members of your team and inspire the whole staff to do the same. Praise the diversity of your team. Help them see how they impact and support each other.

— Recognize Individuals

While a substantial effort should be spent motivating the whole team, it’s crucial to recognize individual achievement.

Celebrate when accomplishments arise. Be careful that you’re not singling people out or playing favorites, but if you reward everyone equally for hard work when they’ve earned it, your staff can be happy for those who deserve attention.

Capitalize on the individuality of your team members by harnessing the strengths of specific personalities and experience levels:

  • Fitfluencer: This trainer is exceptional at marketing themselves through social media; so let them take the wheel of your social media accounts and website, business promotions, in-house fitness challenges, marketing, and more.
  • The Drill Sergeant: Apply their attention to detail and thoroughness to administrative tasks like scheduling, finances, and bookkeeping.
  • The Seasoned Trainer: Give them ample teaching opportunities like teaching in-house seminars and helping new trainers learn the ropes. Consider making this trainer your right-hand assistant and “team captain” of the trainers.
  • The New Trainer: They’re seeing your fitness club with fresh eyes. Use their enthusiasm, energy, and ideas to inspire the rest of the team.

The Bottom Line

There are countless books, classes, courses, and degrees that teach specific managerial styles and theories. Every manager is different, and that’s a good thing!

But all of the different styles and theories have this in common: value your employees and treat them as you would want to be treated.

You don’t have to bribe employees to stay with incentives. You don’t have to win their favor with gift baskets. You don’t have to be the most creative, the best speaker, or even the best leader.

What matters is that you genuinely care about your employees. Get to know them. Acknowledge their hard work. Challenge them to be better trainers (and better people). Be humble, take responsibility, and seek feedback.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

— What are the top qualities of a fitness manager?

In addition to administrative skills and good time management, a fitness manager must be a good listener and communicator, lead by example, be knowledgeable of the equipment and software, and bring out the best of every employee.

— What things should fitness managers avoid?

Many standard managerial pitfalls like micromanaging, shifting responsibility, and ignoring your staff also apply to fitness managers. But fitness managers must never grow complacent in their position. They must always be willing to learn and keep up with new trends.

— How should supervisors handle employees whose personal problems impact their job performance?

Meet with the employee to gather information and consult a few others who can confirm or deny details. If you feel pressured to make a decision, take some time to consider your options; don’t undercut your own authority by making a hasty decision that must be corrected later. Consult other managers, the owner, or the employee handbook for further clarification.

— How can fitness managers keep their staff happy?

You can’t make everyone happy, but you can foster a stable and healthy work environment through good communication, encouraging and valuing your employees, and rewarding hard work. If you’re missing the mark on rewards, ask your employees what incentivizes them.

— Why do fitness employees find another job?

The leading cause of attrition is employees feeling undervalued. Their supervisors don’t care to know them, don’t reward their efforts, and don’t give them a measure of success.

There you have it! The complete guide to motivating and challenging your fitness employees.

With Exercise.com’s All-in-One Fitness Business Management Software, we ease the burden of your managerial duties so you can invest more time leading and inspiring your team. Click here to book a demo today!



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