Improving Quality of Work Life for Employees Is Key

Club owners are in the business of helping members take time for their health and make themselves a priority, but maintaining those same standards for the club's own employees can be a challenge. In a business that often involves long hours and stress, it is easy to forget about keeping a good quality of work life.

"There's a tendency to put in a lot of hours and have a lot of expectations," says Maureen McGonagle, director of campus recreation at DePaul University, Chicago. "I think that's the challenge clubs face. It's hard when you're in a high-stress position not to let it negatively affect your quality of life."

Quality of work life can involve many factors, but in general, it means how satisfied and happy employees are about their jobs, McGonagle says. Part of ensuring employees have a good quality of work life involves providing them with the resources and support they need to do their jobs well. Employees are happier and more satisfied when they are clear about how to do their jobs, supported in their work and confident in their abilities to do it.

Fitness industry employees often get into the business because they have a passion for helping people become healthier. But with the stress of long hours and financial downturns, those same people can become unhappy in their jobs, says Michele Bell, owner and co-founder of OneWellness, Palo Alto, CA.

"It's the nature of the business," she says. "We often look to make ourselves available at the expense of our own employees. The fitness industry has a high number of burnouts."

To improve the quality of work life at your business, experts suggest these tips:

Acknowledge hard work. Supervisors should ensure that their employees feel appreciated, McGonagle says. That appreciation can be expressed by simply praising them publicly when they do good work and giving them a chance to take risks, even if they make a mistake.

"If employees know that their supervisor has their backs—that they're respected and that you'll look after them no matter what—they'll feel pretty darn good about things," McGonagle says.

Invest in their development. Setting aside time for career development can not only improve employee performance but also can show that you care about their growth and success. At DePaul, McGonagle instituted an employee reading day twice each year during which employees spend a morning on their professional development, often by reading books, magazines and websites about a topic of their choice related to their career. The employees then share what they learned with each other over a company-paid lunch.

"It doesn't cost anything, other than the opportunity cost of what they could have been doing that day," McGonagle says. "But it's a commitment and demonstration to people that we value their professional development."

Find ways to limit hours. In a business where many facilities are open 5 a.m. to 11 p.m., managers and exempt employees might be putting in 50 to 60 hours per week, says Nick Taylor, former vice president of operations for the Sports Club Co. One way to decrease those hours is to teach club managers and assistant managers how to delegate. However, the process really starts when hiring employees. You must ensure that you get the right people at all levels who consider the industry as a career.

"The best advice I gave was to teach, train and coach," Taylor says. "If you put the right people around you, you don't have to be at the club 12 hours a day."

Schedule regular get-togethers. At larger clubs, it can be difficult to get to know all of your employees, but having time for managers and employees to interact after hours can help you find out about their career aspirations, their families and their hobbies.

"There's such a focus on performance that we sometimes forget that [employees] are human," Bell says. "In the middle of day-to-day operations, it can be hard to get to know them. Be sure that the managers are not just checking in on their skills but how they're doing as a person."

At the Sports Club Co., Taylor hosted the managers and assistant managers offsite to figure out what kinds of issues were "eating up their day." By discussing it in an open forum, they were more likely to talk about their concerns and not worry about being seen as a weak link for complaining about working too many hours.

Re-energize the workplace. Allow employees to tackle new challenges by occasionally changing their responsibilities. McGonagle has her employees do a "bucket exercise" whenever someone on the full-time staff leaves. She asks the remaining employees to envision the responsibilities of their jobs in a bucket, and then say what they would put in and what they would remove. Although they are not guaranteed to get exactly what they want, they might get a change to their job description or, at other times, a whole new job. Many employees have expressed to her that they appreciate the bucket exercise.

"I've had people in positions that usually turn over in three or four years, and they've been here seven or eight years," she says. "Part of the reason is that every couple of years, they get something new that keeps them excited and passionate and energized. We value the people more than the structure of the organizational chart."

When employees feel re-energized and valued, their performance will not only get better, but they are more likely to tell other people about your positive workplace.

"It's a lot easier to recruit good people to a place that has a reputation for treating people well," McGonagle says.