Developing Employees. Part 2

With the onslaught of Web-based technology (see Value of an Intranet by Adam B. Shaw, Fitness Management, Nov. 99, p.34), the average health club is quickly changing to incorporate new services. Members will be able to check whether a payment was received, make online payments and track their use of the club. They will also be able to participate in a club’s online lecture series and take a class in physiology or nutrition. Technology will not only serve as a convenience to members, but will provide the club with additional revenues. More importantly, for a club to offer these new services, employees will not only have to be better trained and educated, but be intelligent, dedicated fitness professionals who want lifelong careers in the industry. So the question is, how do you train, retain and financially reward quality employees with a quality career while also growing the company and producing a profit for yourself and investors?

Attracting employees

To attract and retain quality employees who are going to help you grow and remain profitable, you must be competitive with salary, retirement and benefits packages in not just the fitness market, but in other relevant industries. For 10 years, my partner and I owned Gym Masters Inc., with 10 large fitness centers in California and Hawaii. For each new facility we opened, we trained existing staff to move into the new clubs and had other staff members move up into their vacated positions. The staff for the new club was expected to work together in a professional manner as a team, without daily supervision, right from the first day. They were already knowledgeable of all procedures, areas of responsibilities, member services and corporate policies, and had undergone extensive sales and marketing training. We could never have accomplished our rate of growth if we had not provided our employees with stock ownership in the company, medical benefits, a higher-than-expected rate of pay, liberal vacation and sick time, childcare privileges, flexible work hours and a host of other benefits. We were always able to attract and retain excellent employees who were fiercely loyal and extremely talented.

While our success is only one example, the following employee benefits are a bare minimum: stock options in the company, a 401k plan, full medical insurance, liberal vacation and sick time, flex time, access to childcare, educational reimbursement programs, and a clear, well-laid-out career path for growth opportunities. In addition, in markets where there is keen competition for quality employees, the following benefits can help you to attract and retain top talent: a sign-on bonus, employment agreement, relocation expenses and a larger share of ownership. Furthermore, to retain your best employees, you must provide opportunities for internal promotions (career advancement) and regular cost-of-living salary increases. With increased benefits should come increased responsibilities, and your expansion into new markets with additional facilities is the key to providing these opportunities.

Assuming you will open a new facility, the most important employees to retain and support are your general manager, assistant manager, front-desk supervisor (or director of operations and administration), a maintenance person and a bookkeeper. Other positions to consider for retention and growth are a director of training and nutrition services, and your group exercise coordinator. As these employees are promoted, their compensation, training, vacation time, retirement benefits (401k) and possible stock options must also grow. Thus, as the company grows, you must look to increasing membership rates to support your business.

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