Keep Greener Pastures from Calling Retention efforts needed to keep staff from bolting.

Few people will remain with the same company from first job to retirement anymore, but that doesn't mean that you can't hold onto your staff for longer than a few months if you put in place some retention efforts.

Those efforts can be invaluable since employee turnover affects membership. The health club industry is particularly sensitive to employee turnover because of the relationships that are built between staff and members, says Dr. Fred A. Mael, senior consultant, organization psychologist at the American Institute for Research.

However, some turnover is good as long as it involves those who shouldn't have been hired (functional turnover) rather than those a club wants to keep (dysfunctional turnover).

Much of retention comes down to the boss.

“People don't quit an organization; they quit people,” says Dr. Tom Massey, president, Pacesetter Consulting Group Inc. in Norman, OK. “Time and again, I talk to people who quit after a raise or bonus because they were unhappy with their boss.”

One way to be a good boss is to keep staff retention a priority. Efforts should include the following:

  • Be realistic when hiring and set clear expectations. Give new hires a realistic, written description of their job so that their perception of their job is the reality. Make them understand what you want and where the club is working toward, says Dr. Joanne Sujansky, owner of KEYGroup, Pittsburgh, PA, a training, assessment and consulting business.

  • Be realistic about pay. A club owner must be realistic about how much it requires for someone to live in the area of the country the club is located and pay accordingly.

  • Give them a purpose. Show your employees the purpose in their job. If they know their purpose in terms of the big picture of the company, then their work is more meaningful and challenging for them.

  • Continue with training. People want to work for a club that is progressive, which means the club and the staff must keep up with the latest developments and training in the industry. Continuing to train helps people move ahead so they look at their experience and see that they are still learning and that they can advance, Mael says.

    At Back Bay Fitness, a personal training studio in Costa Mesa, CA, the owners bring in a speaker once a month to talk to the trainers about a subject of interest to them, such as physical therapy and business development topics.

    “When you are an accountant or doctor, they have classes to show you how to run your business,” says Katherine Coltrin, co-owner of Back Bay Fitness. “The personal trainers don't generally have those classes.”

  • Make it fun. The easiest way to retain employees is to make a good, pleasant work atmosphere, says Ed Duffy, senior corporate trainer, Lady of America Franchise Corporation.

    “I always heard about people talking about motivation,” says Duffy. “Motivation is great, a guy once said, but if you can't motivate yourself, then I can't motivate you. That's why you need an exciting atmosphere.”

  • Offer open communication. Coltrin emphasizes open communication on both sides.

    “They can be intimidated because we are the owners of the facility, but I tell them that we can learn as much from them as they do from us,” Coltrin says about the trainers at her club.

  • Give them added responsibilities. Coltrin trains some Olympic and college athletes, but sometimes she has to hand them over to another personal trainer at the facility.

    “That's like, ‘Wow, she does like what I do. She handed over one of her world-class speed skaters to me,’” Coltrin says of the reaction from other trainers at Back Bay.

  • Show respect. Treat employees with the respect that you want them to show the clients. You can correct and deal with a poor performer and still be respectful. When someone is terminated, sit down with each employee individually and tell them why that happened, Duffy says. That stops gossip and shows the remaining employees that you value them enough to tell them what happened.

    In addition, just showing employees that you understand their situation and you are providing a means for them to get their jobs done in a more pleasant manner shows them that you respect and value them. Back Bay developed a trainers' lounge with a small kitchenette that includes a full-size refrigerator, a microwave, counter space, a sink, and plates. These “extras” are vital to the personal trainers because they often are at the club for eight to 12 hours a day. The lounge also includes an educational center where personal trainers can get books and handouts for the clients.

  • Offer appropriate praise and recognition. Recognition can come in monetary or verbal form. However, the most appreciated recognition is verbal acknowledgement, says Massey.

    “Money is great, but as one general once said, ‘Men will die for ribbons,’” says Massey. “People will bust their rears for acknowledgement.”

    Recognition, however, can also come in the form of amenities or perks. Just offering something such as movie tickets or a gift certificate to a local store or restaurant shows employees that you appreciate the job they are doing, says Duffy.

  • Offer autonomy. Staff must feel a sense of control over their work. Give them training and guidelines to follow and then allow them to make certain decisions without your approval.

  • Create a team. One of our basic needs is a sense of belonging, says Massey. When we are part of a team, it meets one of our innate needs as a human being. Individuals are much more willing to stay if they feel a part of something larger than themselves.