Guest Column - April 2007
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Keep Your Stars

Association Guest Column: International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association

By Kristen A. Walsh

ith the emphasis on member retention in the fitness industry, it's easy to overlook the issue of staff attrition. However, this is unwise. Employee turnover can cost companies up to 40 percent of their annual profit, according to Workforce Management.

Turnover at U.S. health clubs was 13 percent for salaried employees and 25 percent for hourly employees, according to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) 2006 Employee Compensation & Benefits Report, though as Katie Rollauer, IHRSA's senior research manager, noted, "Survey participants do tend to be the most financially successful club companies."

Here, some industry experts offer 11 tips for improving employee retention:

1. TAKE YOUR TIME WHEN HIRING. "A lot of people get nervous if they don't have somebody to open the club," said Beth Wald, owner of HealthFit in Needham, Mass. "I would rather open the club myself than hire the wrong person."

2. ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS. "Screen applicants for personality characteristics and values that match your organizational philosophies and culture," advised Lauren Eller, HR director for Fitness Formula in Chicago.

"Prior to starting the interview process, develop a standard list of questions, with the heart of the interview focusing on behavioral-based questions," added Jennifer Mayer, regional programming director for Mercy HealthPlex in Cincinnati. "These will encourage candidates to cite specific examples of what they did in previous roles in response to situations or tasks and the effects or results of those actions."

3. ALIGN PAY STRUCTURES WITH EXPERIENCE AND EDUCATION. "Over the past few years, industry standards have forced fitness professionals to become more educated and knowledgeable," said Jodi Wright, president of FitStaff, a fitness industry placement firm.

4. HIRE OVERQUALIFIED PEOPLE...SOMETIMES. The fitness industry is an attractive employment option for baby boomers for several reasons.

"Advertise job openings in a creative way which directly seeks people who are very over-qualified but who wish to work part-time in a friendly, healthy environment from which they can benefit and get social contact with members," advised Rick Devereux, a former IHRSA executive who teaches and promotes yoga to non-traditional populations.

5. CLARIFY EXPECTATIONS "In our industry, the highest percentage of turnover occurs at entry level," said Michelle White, director of operations for L&T Health and Fitness in Falls Church, Va. "Today, the majority of entry-level employees are either members of Generation Y or mature adults who have changed career paths," she explained. "With both groups, there is often an expectation for higher starting salaries—with little to no experience—as well as comprehensive benefits and fast advancement."

6. MANAGE INDIVIDUALLY AND REWARD APPROPRIATELY. "Each team player may have different needs, goals, different personalities and motivators," Wright said. "A young, recently certified personal trainer may be motivated by recognition, title and compensation, while a more seasoned trainer might be looking for a flexible schedule and health insurance benefits in order to meet family obligations."

Understand who your employees are and what best motivates them to accomplish business goals. In addition, don't wait until an employee's annual review to acknowledge excellent performance. Tell management, other employees, customers and even the local newspaper about an employee's accomplishments.