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Reshaping Your Staff


Your staff and employee retention may have changed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Many health clubs across the U.S. had to furlough employees during shutdowns and are now in the process of rehiring and retraining. 

The Wave Aquatic and Fitness Center in Whitefish, Montana, furloughed all employees on March 28, 2020. “The decision to recall employees as of May 17 was made once we had a reopen date of May 25,” said Lisa Owens, The Wave’s office manager and human resources (HR) generalist. “I sent a letter to all employees recalling them to work, requesting they accept or decline the opportunity.”

All returning staff attended a reorientation focusing on The Wave’s new procedures and safety measures, giving employees the chance to express their concerns and ask questions. Owens said the orientation was followed up by departmental meetings to further discuss changes that have happened, expectations moving forward and individual concerns as needed.

Gainesville Health and Fitness in Gainesville, Florida, retained most of its staff during the shutdown. However, they did lose some college student employees who either moved back to their permanent residence to continue online classes or graduated. Anticipating this attrition, Allison Breunig, the hiring and enculturation manager, pivoted the hiring process to bring on new staff to their team.

“We adjusted our interview process to include Skype interviews and some in-person interviews following proper physical distancing and guidelines given by the CDC,” said Breunig. “These new employees completed online training to be ready for their positions once we reopened. We expanded our new employee training to include all new cleaning, disinfecting and sanitizing protocols along with product specs. Every employee would have a copy of this information to be able to respond to member questions about safety.”

As an operator, you are well aware of how the shutdown has affected you and your club’s operations, but it’s also important to consider how the shutdown has affected your employees. Owens said to take time to understand your staff may be scared and uncertain on how reopening will play out. This will help you better understand how to serve your employees. 

“Everyone is human, and having extra respect for their feelings and views during this time is critical,” explained Owens. “Make sure they feel heard and actions are taken if necessary. Listen and react. How can we instill confidence in our employees moving forward?”

Some questions to ask yourself to ensure you are accommodating your employees during this uncertain time are: How can we meet our needs but also meet the needs of the staff so we can retain them? Are safety concerns being met? Are scheduling needs able to be accommodated? How can we accommodate childcare issues? How can we help with homeschooling issues? Do we need to change shifts around to accommodate a spouse work issue?

Most of all, both Owens and Breunig stressed it is important to remain flexible. 

“Since we have never been through a shutdown, especially one of this magnitude, there are issues that will come up with staff we cannot anticipate,” said Breunig. “Knowing this, it’s most important to reconnect with each employee upon their return to learn their struggles and concerns, whether they are work-related or personal. A check-in at the two-month mark to find out what’s going well and what’s not can continue the conversation.”

In order for your company to be able to pivot where needed, let your employees know who they can address their concerns with. In addition to the HR director or general manager who may traditionally take care of these conversations, Breunig said to consider if there are other employees skilled at these conversations. This may give the employee more options to find someone they are comfortable with to talk about lingering COVID-19 issues.

For Owens, flexibility on behalf of the organization and the employee is critical. As an operator, your needs and your employees’ needs are ever-changing, and working through those changes together will help your facility come out of the pandemic setback even stronger. 

“Communication needs between the two parties is at an all-time high and must remain clear,” said Owens. “We need to be thinking about the people they are going home to — is there a way to make sure they are not exposing anyone at home? Any accommodations that need to be made to ensure the safety of not only our staff, but the people they go home to, are key. The safety of our staff is a top concern.”

All in all, making sure employees have a voice and are being heard makes their work experience better and more enjoyable. This not only helps improve their performance but can also improve customer retention.

“If we don’t have happy staff, we don’t have happy members, plain and simple,” said Breunig. “This key area has always been a focus because they are a direct connection to our members. Our members love us because of our staff, because the same person greets them when they arrive every time, or their kids love the employee in the kids club they get to see when they come in. That’s where the real relationship is built with our company and how they remember Gainesville Health and Fitness.”

Regardless of your hiring and retraining procedures, it’s no secret your staff is a huge part of your facility. They are the activators, leaders and influencers that have an impact on everyone around them, especially your members. 

“This pandemic reminded us we are all better together,” said Breunig. “Everyone has a role to ensure we can all properly function and achieve our goal. And sometimes we can’t reach that goal by doing the same thing because new guidelines come out that make us push ourselves to adapt.”  

Taylor Brown

Taylor Brown is the assistant editor for Club Solutions Magazine. She can be reached at taylor@peakemedia.com

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