Should Instructor Staffing Be Senority Based?
I recently took a six-month consulting assignment in a large city that takes me away from home several days a week. There's a gym right across from where I work that offers BodyPump, so I make it a point to attend their classes on the days that I'm in town. I left a note for the GFM (Group Fitness Manager) saying that I'm a certified instructor, and that I'd be happy to co-teach or sub any classes they might need covered. A few days later I got a call back - after the customary introductions, I was politely told that the gym wasn't hiring right now, but that they'd keep my name on file. "No," I replied, "I'm not looking for a job. I'm just offering to audition in case you need to have some classes co-taught or sub'd." Again I was told that they weren't hiring, and that they "had enough BodyPump instructors right now."

For the record, I wasn't at all offended by my conversation with this GFM. In fact, I happily paid that gym for a one-month membership, because now I'm in the process of learning everything I possibly can from their BodyPump instructor staff. And next month I'll repeat the same process right down the street with the another club. So back to my point - my experience with this GFM is not at all unique. We've had several folks tell to us that they talked with their gym's GFM about getting certified, only to be turned down because they were told their club didn't need any more instructors. It happens on a daily basis in gyms all around the world. And, after turning this experience over in my mind for a week or so, I felt inspired to write this post.

It's been my admittedly unscientific observation that many GFMs place their instructors based on seniority - The instructors who've been teaching the longest pretty much get the timeslot of their choice - and, once the timeslots are filled, gym owners aren't too keen on letting their GFMs bring on new instructors. You can't blame the GFMs for being loyal to their long-term staff, nor the gym owners for keeping costs down. This hiring model - which is has been refined to perfection by the service industry over many years - closes the loop to any new recruits until someone quits, gets fired, or the need for more capacity is recognized (such as a new fitness studio, longer opening hours, etc.)

Which begs a simple question: Should gyms model their group fitness hiring practices on that of the service industry, where a premium is placed on senority? I think we can work the answer to that one out pretty quick. Take a good look around your club - are the "big" classes packed because they happen to run during convenient timeslots, or is it because the instructor rocks? Lemme put it another way - are there packed classes running on seemingly inconvenient schedules because people make time to work out with their favorite instructors, while some so-called "prime time" classes are only half full because the instructor isn't all that inspiring?

If you can honestly answer "yes" to any of that, then it should be clear that the performance aspect of group fitness can't - and shouldn't - be ignored. BodyPump is about fitness, yes, but I really have trouble seeing it as a service. So why do so many gyms staff their instructor teams like a service business, choosing an easy measurement like senority rather than establishing quality-oriented metrics? Instead of wasting any more space postulating about the problem, I'd like to submit that gyms with seniority-based hiring models consider a results-focused model instead. I believe that such gyms would continually seek new talent, and implement feedback loops that would allow their instructors to be evaluated regularly by their GFMs, their fellow instructors, and (especially) their classes. Instructors that consistently achieved high ratings would be compensated accordingly, whether it be financially, their choice of timeslots, or both. Instructors with lower marks would have the opportunity to better themselves before facing the prospect of losing their timeslot to new talent.

Do I have an ax to grind here? Heck no - I'm happy with our timeslot, and I truly respect all of the instructors on our team. Truth be told, our class isn't necessarily the biggest at our gym, either. I guess it was my conversation with the GFM at this other club that got me thinking about how new talent gets recruited in the group fitness industry, and whether or not its senority-based staffing practices are really as widespread as I've observed. Agree or disagree? Click the comments link and have your say!
11 Comment(s):
On 20 April, 2006, Blogger Fitshit said...

100% AGREE! At the end of the day it's always about the members. And the members vote with their feet. They don't care how long the instructor has worked at the gym......quality surpasses longevity. Any GFM's that schedule instructors based soley on longevity is doing a dis-service to the members.
With that being said, I am a GFM and I have instructors that have been employed for 10+ years that put the time and effort in to delivering an experience that attracts the masses. I also have instructors that have been employed for less than 1 year that do the same! It's about hard work and dedication. Always striving to be your best.....length of employment in this particular situation shows little value.
Don't get me wrong, we appreciate the loyalty but if the programs are not delivered competently then we all suffer...including the members.

On 20 April, 2006, Blogger Fitshit said...

P.S. Love your blog. If you are ever in Arizona, we would love to have you teach with us. We welcome guest instructors all the time!

On 21 April, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You could go to the trouble of performing evaluations, or you could just count the number of bodies on the floor. After all, that's the thing the gym is probably most interested in.

I know our classes are less than half full when the instructor is away because we know all the substitutes are hopeless.

On 21 April, 2006, Blogger Chantal said...

I just think you're never too old to learn from people around you, whether they've been teaching for ages, or just for a short time. When you open up for new things, it'll help you to be a better instructor and for gym it's always good when their instructors are willing to improve their skills as they benefit from that as well. Having a new face in front of class can also be nice for the members every once in a while. A little team-teach will allways help to make a class special, so if you're in holland some time .... let me know:-)

On 22 April, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The best part-time instructors at our club tend to get the best time-slots - booking in for their classes is next to impossible (not always a good thing for a health club, IMO). What impresses me though is that the group fitness co-ordinator has taken to instructing some of the early morning classes herself, which incidentally have exploded in popularity recently - a testimony perhaps to the teaching quality?

On 26 April, 2006, Anonymous Linda said...

We have an unusual club. None of our instructors have a set class. We all cycle through various time slots. The only exception to this is our BodyFlow classes because we have 4 time slots and 4 instructors, so we have our usual times that we teach, but it's not that any one of them is *our* class, just when we typically teach.

What that means is that people in our club are committed to the time slot, not the instructor, and overall, I think it's a positive thing. It also means that we have space for newcomers, though those who have less seniority tend to get fewer classes to teach.

We're also unusual in that many of our instructors have worked in our club for 20+ years.

I'm glad to be teaching in a club that has this kind of flexibility and openness.


On 01 May, 2006, Anonymous spaceman said...

There is only one thing worse than the situation you describe. That is when a popular instructor gets yanked from an established timeslot against their own volition. Believe it or not, that has happened something like four times over the past year in various classes in which I had hitherto been a regular.

That said, it really can be quite easy to vote with your feet. I belong to a large chain gym in Sydney. There are four within very easy commute from my home, and another two on the way to work. Needless to say, I really have no truck with inferior instructors.

While I have never seen a Pump class get red-lighted, I have seen a few cycle classes get axed when the problem was with the instructor and not the timeslot. So my advice would be before cancelling a class, to try changing the instructor for a couple of months and see if that does not solve the problem instead.

Another thing is that members almost always tend to pass on feedback through the instructors, and seldom speak directly to the GFC. The main club I go to has gone through something like five GFCs in the space of less than a year. I basically wouldn't know the current GFC from a cake of soap anymore. What that means is that only when the GFC listens to the instructors and treats them with respect will the members' feedback actually get through. Unfortunately that doesn't always seem to be the case.

Finally, it isn't always the case that GFCs make the best instructors themselves. I've seen a few cases where instructors turn all cranky and nazistic upon being promoted to GFC. Not always, but sometimes...

On 03 May, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The fitness club where I work is the only one in the area with BodyPump or BodyStep. Many of our instructors have been there a long time. We spend alot of money training for these classes and are not allowed to teach anywhere else!
Any class not pulling in the numbers is cancelled. If they start also bringing in new instructors, then they better let us work other places as well because we at least need to make enough money to cover the music, clothes, quaterlies, etc. If their instructors are really good (like the gym where I work)it's offensive to bring in too many new instructors and the instructors feel threatened after they have asked for our 100% loyalty. We do, always, need a good list of subs though.

On 28 May, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tough call...but I think the more senior instructors should be given priority. There's a reason we have been there longer: we are dependable, and we are not going anywhere. In the five years since I trained in Pump, I have pretty much had the same Wed night class...always well attended. In addition, I am just about always available to come in and cover for anyone elses class (certified in BP, BP, BS and Spinning/RPM). In that same five years, I have seen any number of fresh new faces float through...for a few months, their classes are the greatest thing since sliced bread, then they inevitably a)move away b)take another job c)get married d)get get the picture. I am glad to work for a gym where loyalty is appreciated...

On 01 July, 2015, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In my experience I have seen just the opposite. We have a couple of national Les Mills trainers around the gyms that I work at. What happens here is they have lots of trainings, get all these instructors certified and hired,and then tell the experienced instructors they have to give the new instructors a class to keep them on payroll. Les Mills has got quite the revenue generator. Everyone's paying for quarterly autoship, but only can get a class or two. There is never a problem getting a sub, because everyone is chomping at the bit to get a class. You know it's bad when even the new instructors are complaining about all the Les Mills trainings happening!

On 12 August, 2015, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm just searching and came across this old post of yours. I am heartbroken. Prior to doing my Pump training, we were told they needed (24 Hour gyms) Pump Instructors. I did the training and got certified, to only find out they are not hiring.

Everyone else in my tribe already started teaching and the one class that I wanted to start teaching since my regular instructor left for her maternity leave, was given to someone else who is still off even when we did our auditions.

So here I am slowly losing hope as the GFMgrs left their positions and the interim managers had said they are not hiring.


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