Navigating the Great Talent Migration in the Fitness Industry

Solve staffing problems by getting to know your current staff’s desires! Alex Castro, J.D., and Adam Sloustcher, J.D., from Fisher & Phillips, LLP, share a few ways to solve staffing shortage challenges in the fitness industry.

  • April 22, 2022

Adam Sloustcher, J.D., partner, Fisher & Phillips, LLP, co-authored this article.

As health and fitness clubs know painfully well, the COVID-19 pandemic has shocked the labor market and caused people of all careers to reconsider what they want out of their lives and jobs. This resulted in workers, en masse, making moves to employers that allow them to lead the lives they seek. Compensation—though still critically important—is no longer the be-all and end-all in retaining and attracting talent.

What is causing the great talent migration?

There are many reasons for the decrease in workforce population. Fewer people are in the workforce today than before the pandemic due to a number of factors.

One is the significant demographic shifts, such as the age distribution of the U.S. population. Baby boomers, for example, continue to enter retirement, accelerated by the pandemic. Many employees, seeing the challenges of taking care of children, elderly, or sickly family members, have exited the workforce altogether to meet family obligations. These are only the tip of the iceberg.

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Employees, recognizing their increased leverage, have made a bottom line: employees are more firmly expecting better. A better workplace comes in many forms:

  • more compensation,

  • flexibility,

  • opportunities for growth,

  • mentorship,

  • benefits,

  • work-life balance,

  • clarity on expectations,

  • working with better quality people, and

  • more meaningful involvement in the organization’s mission.

Employees are increasingly seeing these as job requirements rather than just virtues to strive for.

How does it impact my business?

The major impact is obvious: it has become harder to attract new talent and retain existing talent.

The trickle-down effects on health and fitness clubs are plentiful. The labor shortage has led to high job openings at all levels in the industry, from trainers and club staff to administrative professionals in the corporate offices.

Suppliers of exercise equipment are facing supply shortages because fewer people are working on production. Prices have increased in order to maintain profits despite reductions in services or products.

We put together a list of four things your business can implement to solve a staffing shortage:

  1. Create a Healthier Work Environment

  2. Employees Are Looking for Better Compensation and Benefits

  3. Work Flexibility Equals Better Work-life Balance

  4. Promoting the Intangibles to Attract and Retain Talent

Create a Healthier Work Environment

Although these are significant problems, there is a silver lining. Another way of looking at a problem is instead seeing an opportunity for a solution.

Employees’ attitudes toward work are shifting faster than employers can keep up with. Therein is the opportunity—this is a chance for businesses to get ahead of the competition in becoming an organization employees want to join and stay with. A simple shift in perspective will make all the difference.

The puzzle for health and fitness organizations to solve is, “How can I make this a better place for my employees?That answer will look different for every company. Employees’ primary definitions of “better” can be captured in a few broad categories:

  • compensation and benefits,

  • flexibility, and

  • balance.

Intangible qualities also weigh heavily on employees’ minds, such as meaningful work, buy-in to the corporate mission, and feeling like their contributions are valued.

Employees Are Looking for Better Compensation and Benefits

It is no secret that employees work in exchange for compensation. If employees are being compensated fairly, they are more likely to want to continue working for your business.

Compensation, of course, includes benefits. The primary benefits employees look for are better health, dental, and vision insurance. But they also look heavily at vacation time, student loan assistance, tuition assistance, and paid parental leave, among other things.

It is important to differentiate between “benefits” and “perks.” At the end of the day, employees are looking for benefits that improve their overall quality of life. Many employers will try to sway employees with “perks” that are undoubtedly nice but don’t meaningfully contribute to an employee’s overall well-being.

Employees certainly enjoy free gym memberships and fitness classes, free coffee, and company swag, but these are perks that are nice in the moment. While they may contribute to employees’ satisfaction to some degree, they do not have a meaningful impact on how employees feel about their jobs. Employers should focus on the big-ticket items.

Work Flexibility Equals Better Work-life Balance

The pandemic accelerated a trend toward remote work. Once many jobs were reduced to their core functions, divorced from day-to-day workplace culture, many employees realized they were perfectly capable of doing their jobs anywhere, any time.

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Things that were previously unnecessarily difficult for employees became simple—e.g., not taking PTO to receive a package, letting a repair person in, or washing laundry while working.

Family care, one of the largest reasons for employees leaving the workforce, also became easier to manage. Employees working from home can be with their sick or elderly family members and keep an eye on their kids who attended remote school during the pandemic.

Employees also reduced time and costs. Flexible work arrangements cut down on commuting times, which allows employees to spend more time with family. Those with young children reported being able to be home in time for dinner and spend time with their young kids before bedtime. Not being in the workplace meant buying less gas, putting fewer miles on their cars, avoiding buying lunch out, and saving on daycare costs, among other things.

All the while, employees are largely successful in managing their work responsibilities. Many employees report:

  • being more productive at home,

  • not spending time commuting, or

  • having distracting workplace conversations.

Every employee’s situation is different. Rather than having strictly separate work and personal lives, employees can weave their work and personal lives in a way that works for them.

The above are only a few illustrations of the ways that flexible work arrangements have contributed to employees’ work-life balance. Many employees are unwilling to give up that flexibility after experiencing how it works for them.

Because of the hybrid work shift, employers should be mindful that employees’ work lives have changed in ways that aren’t always visible to employers, but are nevertheless significant. If the duties of the job allow it, employers should trust employees to get their jobs done as they wish.

Promoting the Intangibles to Attract and Retain Talent

Employees spend a significant amount of their lives at work. For the employer looking to retain and attract talent, it is helpful to remember exactly that—employees spend significant parts of their lives at work, not just a significant amount of time. This distinction is important. Work is part of employees’ lives, and employees want to work somewhere that contributes to their overall quality of life.

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Intangible characteristics will help set employers apart in employees’ minds. Employees want to feel like the work they are doing is meaningful. They want to feel like their input is valued and contributes to the grander corporate mission. Employees who mindlessly push paper and don’t see how their work is valued by the company report less personal satisfaction with a job and are at greater flight risk.

Recognizing and promoting these intangible characteristics often depends on hiring the right leaders who understand employees and make them a priority.

Key Takeaways

The most successful employers in talent management have open communication with their employees. If you want to know what your employees want most, then ask. Employers have had success in this arena by, for example, administering anonymous surveys and engaging industrial psychologists.

The great talent migration poses many challenges for businesses. Retaining and attracting talent requires employers to take an employee-focused mindset—one that recognizes the challenges employees face in their work lives and things that employees value.

In this labor market, employees have numerous options. Employers will want to show employees that working for them will contribute to their overall well-being. As they say, good people are good for business.

If you’re looking for more ways to solve your staffing challenges, join me at my education session, Top Five Employment & Legal Issues Facing Fitness Facilities, on Wednesday, June 22, from 9 - 10 a.m. at #IHRSA2022 in Miami Beach, FL, where I will discuss the leading legal and staffing challenges to consider.

View the full IHRSA 2022 agenda!

Adam Sloustcher, J.D., is a partner at Fisher & Phillips. He represents fitness facilities and health clubs in a broad range of employment disputes, specializing in defending clubs in wage-and-hour class action lawsuits and single-plaintiff discrimination, harassment, retaliation, and wrongful termination lawsuits. In addition to zealously advocating for fitness industry clients in the courtroom, Adam prides himself on being an accessible, responsive resource to help gym and health club owners avoid litigation altogether. He acts as a partner to in-house counsel, owners, and management by providing them with day-to-day preventative advice regarding wage-and-hour compliance, investigations of alleged misconduct in the workplace, hiring, discipline and termination practices, leaves of absences, and the interactive process and reasonable accommodations.

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Author avatar

Alex Castro

Alex Castro, J.D., is an associate at the Fisher & Phillips, LLP Fort Lauderdale office, representing private and public-sector employers and educational institutions in areas of employment law and litigation defense. He handles workplace disputes on a wide range of issues including claims of discrimination, retaliation, harassment, and whistleblowing, as well as wage and hour disputes and noncompete and other restrictive covenant disputes. Alex also prepares affirmative action plans for clients and provides OFCCP compliance counseling. Alex received his J.D., cum laude, from the University of Florida Levin College of Law and his B.A., magna cum laude, from the University of Florida. He is licensed to practice in Florida.