All work and no play makes for a cranky club operator

If you are like most small club operators, you probably wear every hat in your facility. With all the time you put in, working a 40-hour week would seem like a vacation. That's the very reason why you need to find ways of escaping from your hectic schedule.

If you don't take time out for yourself, you're going to burn out. And burnout will send your facility into a downward spiral, states Mathew Wagner, Ph.D., owner of Nautilus Health Center in Huntsville, Texas.

“Your management techniques start to suffer, which affects your relationships with your staff and the members,” he says. “So it's very important to take time for yourself. If you're not having fun, then don't do it anymore. You have a responsibility to give your members a fun atmosphere to work out in.”

Here are some suggestions on how you can keep a handle on your sanity, courtesy of people who've been to the edge and lived to tell about it.

  • Start the day off right. Having run six clubs, Karen Woodard, president of Premium Performance Training in Boulder, Colo., finds it best to catch her breath and fill her cup at the beginning of every day rather than the end. “It becomes very easy for the day to stretch into longer hours than expected,” she notes. “The morning can be a terrific time for quiet introspective time, social time, sport time, putzing around time, family time or self-development time.”

  • Get some exercise. Seems obvious, but overworked club operators can overlook their workouts. Therefore, set aside some exercise time for yourself and make sure that you aren't interrupted.

    “Pretty much the one thing I've done to stay sane is from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. [everyone] leaves me alone. That is my time to work out [in the club],” emphasizes Chris Key, owner of Steel City Fitness in Homewood, Ala. “That is the time of day that has the most slack time and the least amount of traffic.”

    Most of Key's members respect his privacy while he is working out. For those who don't, Key politely tells them that he will take care of whatever the problem is as soon as he is done his workout.

    Wagner also believes in setting aside exercise time — just not in his club “My personal belief is you need to get away from your club and do a workout,” he says. “My escape is running. I can get away without being disturbed.”

  • Stop and smell the roses (or read a book or check the mail or take a catnap or…). Cindy Johnson, co-owner of Hometown Health & Fitness in Indianola, Iowa, likes to take little breaks such as walking outside to the mailbox to breathe fresh air and get some sun in her face. She also likes to sit at the front desk — or in a quiet corner — and read a book.

    “Because I am on my feet so much I try to sit and read a book or do nothing as far as the gym is concerned,” says Johnson.

    This may seem easier said than done, but, as an operator, you learn your club's slower times — the times when you can sneak in a break or a chapter.

    Wagner enjoys some downtime by running errands in the middle of the day. “It's nice just to get out of the club. You get out and see people, and they see you out in the community and that is important, especially in a small town,” he notes.

    Wagner also admits to taking a few catnaps in the tanning bed when his twins were babies.

  • Leave it at work. Johnson believes that one of the hardest things to do is not to take the gym home with you, but it is also one of the most important things to do. Johnson and her partner agree to leave work at the club and not talk about it at home. They both agree that most things can wait until the next day to be dealt with.

  • Tap your resources. “We have six [massage] therapists here and I have them work on me once every two weeks,” notes Key. “It's great for relaxation.”

    Key also believes that a club owner and his staff should participate in the club's group exercise classes: “It's a great stress reliever and your classes are there so take advantage of them. I force my staff to exercise for one hour three times a week so their stress levels are lower and they are more productive and energetic.”

  • Lighten your load. While many small club owners don't do this, it is important to delegate some of the workload. You can't do everything.

    The key to delegating is finding and hiring competent employees (a task in and of itself) and then grooming them. It takes time and effort initially, but in the end it will pay off.

    Wagner believes that Ross Perot said it best when he stated, “Eagles don't flock. You have to gather them one at a time.”

    “You have to go through a lot of buzzards before you get an eagle,” adds Wagner. “You have to take it all on at first until you find the right people. People have different skills and abilities; you need to find the right person for the right job, and then you have to invest your time in them.”

  • Make it a family affair. Johnson and her partner have a 5-month-old daughter they bring to work with them almost every day. “It makes it easy because she is with us,” she explains. “It's also fun for the members. They kind of get disappointed if she isn't there.”

    Wagner supports bringing children into the club. “What's nice about a club is that it's a social gathering place,” he states. “Bringing your children to the club isn't the same as bringing them to a factory.”

  • Go away. Yes, you are actually allowed to take a vacation and, in reality, you need to get away to keep your sanity. It gives you a chance to rejuvenate and clear your head. It may take you a few years to get to the point where you can go away for a whole week, but you can start taking steps right away to make it happen.

    Step one, take a night or day off every now and then, and let your staff practice working without you. When your employees can handle that, go away for a weekend, and then go away for an extended weekend.

    “You have to give them opportunities to make decisions, but you should always make yourself accessible even when you are gone with cell phones, etc.,” says Johnson, who just took her first vacation in four years.


Burnout Signs

  • Work ceases to be fun
  • No energy for your own workout
  • Feeling resentful of your job
  • Lack of focus and concentration
  • Snapping at employees
  • Can't get out of bed in the morning
  • Completely exhausted at the end of the week

Primary Stressors

  • Financial (typically due to under-capitalization)

  • Lack of knowledge on how to get to the next level

  • Finding and keeping great staff

  • Lack of systems for training staff to become great and duplicate performance