In the post-COVID-19 world, fitness clubs have faced significant staffing challenges across the country. At Formula Fitness Clubs (FFC) in Chicago where I’m the director of human resources, efforts to increase the quality of applicants is on the rise. The current excuse that “workers are just different now” is not acceptable to us.
Does any of this sound familiar to you: lack of employee engagement, below brand-level standards, shift call-offs and burn out?
We realized early on after COVID-19 we had three challenges: a huge need to fill front-line staff positions, which are typically our youngest and most diverse employees; improved methods to reach and better connect with multiple populations; and an enhanced system to teach, educate and train them to our FFC brand-level hospitality standards via supportive growth opportunities in a wonderful industry.
So we got to work. To help us better connect with potential front-line candidates in our local community, FFC joined a program through one of our long-time community partners, Cara Collective, called Generation Work.
Generation Work aims to connect America’s young adults — especially young people of color from low-income families — with meaningful employment by changing the way public and private systems prepare and support them in jobs.
To help us address our challenges, we leveraged Generation Work along with our internal hospitality leadership teams on coverage and training. We reset our vision and expectations on elevated coaching specifically for our managers and department leaders. We had a Coaching for Department Heads training program from 2019 through our training division, FFC University. And, we updated this existing program, adding specific training focused on increasing employee engagement and belonging.
After several months of development, we officially launched our new and improved Coaching for Department Heads as a pilot program. The training is for all club management in all disciplines: general management, fitness, cafe, sales, member experience and operations.
Our HR cohort for this initiative consists of myself, and two HR team members: our recruiter and our benefits specialist. We led training sessions at FFC Headquarters in downtown Chicago on how to get to know their employees and discover their “why,” giving them tips on how to engage daily with their team members, how to check in with themselves when frustrations arise and they need to self-regulate, setting goals with their team, and providing constant feedback both positive and improvement focused.
During our training, we asked the team to be vulnerable. If there were long moments of silence, like when we asked about personal details in an identity exercise, we allowed the space for silence and pondering. Eventually, the silence was broken, and a group sigh of relief could be felt. There was much healthy debate surrounding “We do this at our club” and “I don’t think that works because…” There was also much laughter, celebration and even a moment of tears.
It was a great day. The training was well received and helpful. In the following days and weeks, many department heads referenced back to our daily check-in training, called 3×3, that they were able to implement easily and immediately, “Sarah, I’m doing my 3×3 and it’s working.”
We have rolled the program out company-wide and have implemented a management accountability system to track progress, measure effectiveness and improve future programs.
Here are my top four pieces of advice on hospitality:
1) Get buy in from senior leadership.
2) Assess what internal resources and collateral you already have so you’re not starting from scratch.
3) Find an external resource that can help you push along your initiative and provide you with additional resources.
4) Follow up, follow up, follow up.
Our efforts are proving fruitful. We know our department heads are better equipped to help their team, leading to more engaged and satisfied employees who are able to provide FFC 5-star hospitality to our members — which is ultimately what we’re here to do.