The Six HR Challenges for (Fitness) Businesses


In simple terms, human resources (HR) is about the management and development of people. However, as business owners/managers we have to think of our workers as more than numbers on a spreadsheet or database.

Like a business, workers have wants and needs, both professional and personal. And, it is important to understand this, as the personal can affect the professional and vice versa; for example, a new baby could be the trigger for a person to request part-time working hours – how will this impact the business? If the request is denied for a legitimate business reason, will the person decide to seek employment elsewhere?

What about attracting new workers? As of 2018, unemployment is at its lowest levels, and we must also consider the impact of Brexit. Can you recruit the right people with the right skills and knowledge? If the answer is no, do you need to consider employing lower skilled workers and providing them with the appropriate training and/or up-skill current workers?

With this in mind, there are six HR challenges that (fitness) businesses must consider:

  • Challenge 1: Recruitment.
  • Challenge 2: Skills and Training.
  • Challenge 3: Retention.
  • Challenge 4: Motivation.
  • Challenge 5: Rehabilitation.
  • Challenge 6: Exploitation.

This article is not intended to be comprehensive or exhaustive, merely an insight into the common issues a business may face.

Challenge 1: Recruitment

  • This involves attracting the right mix of capable, resilient, and motivated people.
  • Businesses should ensure their processes are optimised to:
    • Exploit current management information; and
    • Understand and engage with potential candidates. Particularly young people, older people, under-represented communities, and those with specialist skills or knowledge.
  • There is tight competition for talent: As reported in the news on 17 September 2018, more young people in Scotland now think an apprenticeship is more worthwhile to their future career prospects than university.
  • What attraction methods does your business utilise? Social media (one or more); newspapers; job website; own website; or trade journal or specialist magazine, etc.
  • How do you filter potential candidates? For example, pre-screening questions on a job website or no filter question process used.
  • How do you engage with potential candidates prior to them submitting a formal application? The most obvious method is social media, but what about older candidates?
  • Are your job essentials and desirables fit-for-purpose for each job or role within the business? A high standard may provide good quality candidates, but put off otherwise suitable applicants. In contrast, too low a standard may attract too many candidates who may not necessarily be suitable for the role advertised.
  • Are your job/background checks suitable/appropriate for the role advertised? For example: basic filter checks; personal details; residency criteria; eligibility tests/criteria; type of selection interview; medical checks; fitness tests; and/or security checks.
  • Improve applicant behaviour & engagement with the recruiting process.
  • Businesses should seek:
    • To improve applicant behaviour & engagement with the recruiting process.
    • Innovative approaches to improve the way they attract talent and manage applicants through the recruiting process.
    • To identify candidate aptitude for emerging specialist.
    • Exploit modern technology to identify better methods of achieving the outcomes of the current system.
    • To better appeal to non-traditional and under-represented groups.
    • To increase the conversion rate of enquiries to applicants.
    • To increase number of suitable applicants.
    • To understand the different perceptions of the different generations of workers (e.g. Generation Z).

Challenge 2: Skills and Training

  • Language Training at Fort Bragg

    In general, businesses will want to recruit employees with the ‘right’ skills and knowledge to work within the organisation. However, what about re-skilling or up-skilling current employees? With consideration for the type and cost of training required, it may be more cost effective to offer training to current staff than to spend on recruitment and selection costs.

  • Businesses should be able to understand and track the experience, skills, and knowledge (and other attributes) already available within their workforce, which can then by utilised to enable their development.
  • This can be data can be employed, for both individuals and collectively, to meet the needs of the business or for self-improvement, and better identify individuals for tasks or jobs/roles.
  • Businesses should be looking for solutions that provide approaches to:
    • More effectively deliver training outputs;
    • Reduce the time spent in training; and
    • Drive efficiencies.
  • It is important to understand that the workforce requires experience, knowledge, and skills which may be brought in with new hires, through induction training, or as part of up-skilling the current workforce.
  • This can involve a variety of training, for example:
    • Mandatory training (e.g. health and safety).
    • Personal effectiveness (e.g. communication and team-working).
    • Leadership and management (e.g. for current and potential managers).
    • Profession specific (e.g. accountant, HR, or personal trainer).
  • Challenges include: speed to skill; improving productivity; and reducing the demand for skills.
  • Solutions may include: reducing costs; improving capability; reducing skills fade; improving the supply of skills; and/or improving learning culture.
  • Factors to consider include: methodology; technology; mind-sets; organisation; human capital; and leadership.
  • Businesses should seek solutions that provide approaches to:
    • More effectively deliver training outputs;
    • Reduce the time spent in training; and
    • Drive efficiencies.

Challenge 3: Retention

  • In this article we are looking at people who leave or retire from the business prematurely or earlier than they otherwise should/would.
  • A business should want to retain people for longer, as it enables the business to recognise, utilise and exploit skills, knowledge, and experience more fully.
  • Common reasons for leaving include:
    • Seeking fresh challenges.
    • Lack of current job satisfaction.
    • Opportunities/prospects outside the business.
    • Travel to/from work.
    • Dissatisfaction with overall career/promotion prospects.
    • Firm offer of employment with another business.
    • Pay and allowances.
    • Work commitments, over stretch, and/or workload.
  • Solutions that a business may look to in order to ameliorate these reasons include:
    • Increase the business’s systemic understanding of retention of the whole organisation, providing for the systematic mechanism(s) to gather honest data periodically that can inform the development of policy enabling the business to increase the average length of time that people work for them.
    • Increase the business’s ability to access niche skills that people gain through either professional or personal training/activities.
    • Strengthen management information tools to increase the data the business has on those people with critical skills so that the business can better manage their career and identify opportunities to align current efforts addressing voluntary outflow and retention into a unified approach.
    • Increase people’s understanding of the total-reward offered in the business, enabling better communicate of this to individuals.
    • Identify and assess the behavioural implications of changes to different elements of remuneration (e.g. basic salary, bonuses, etc.) and any non-remunerative elements of the employment offer and how they interrelate on the decisions of current worker and future joiners relating to careers in the fitness industry.
  • Factors to consider include:
    • How does the business best balance expectations against the reality of employment?
    • Can the business seek to better differentiate the offer to allow for more personal choice?
    • How does the business undertake workforce analysis to understand what cohorts of personnel are the highest priority to retain?
    • How does the business understand and cater for what new generations coming in to the labour market want from a career in the fitness industry?
    • How should the business determine how it values differing skill sets (critical skills, fitness instructors, personal trainers, fitness managers, etc.) and how should this affect pay supplements/financial incentives.
    • Solutions must also take account of the facts that people join for a career in the fitness industry, not your business as such.
  • Businesses should seek solutions that provide approaches to:
    • Retain people for longer, enabling the business to recognise, utilise, and exploit skills, knowledge, and experience more fully.
    • Increase the business’s understanding of what drives people to stay, nut also provide clear sign-posting of their choices within the business; and
    • Optimise the evidence base for policy decisions.

Challenge 4: Motivation

  • Motivation can be developed through improving engagement levels, ideally through empowerment, commitment and leadership.
  • The business should gain an understanding of the tools and techniques that would improve communication with employees at all levels, reaching groups that may work remote from standard corporate systems, and that deliver messages that are trusted.
  • Businesses should also want to increase the sense of well-being and resilience amongst workers.
  • Why does motivation matter?
    • Employee engagement drives outputs:
      • Quality (efficiency and effectiveness).
      • Quantity (productivity).
      • Retention of self and/or others.
      • Behaviours towards others (team morale and outputs).
      • Non-discretionary and Discretionary activity.
      • Recruitment (starting foundation about ‘life’ in the business).
    • Why do you think motivation is a challenge for your business?
      • Purpose of the business may be fairly self-explanatory and acknowledged to be important, for example, John Doe Functional Fitness.
    • However … evidence from internal research/audit may show a deficit, for example:
      • Morale of self, department, or business.
      • Motivation to achieve objectives.
      • Satisfaction with senior leaders and management of change initiatives.
      • The way senior leaders communicate.
      • Perceived disconnect between senior leaders and ‘life at the coalface’.
    • Is the role and purpose of the business as well understood and valued as that of the wider fitness industry?
    • Factors to consider include:
      • Do employees have a positive interest in work?
      • Is there concern over pay and benefits package (i.e. feeling valued).
      • Is change managed well and for the better?
      • Is it safe to challenge (i.e. business processes).
  • What should the business be looking for?
    • Enable all employees to feel valued for the work they do.
    • Provide a speedy means to identify issues that are reducing motivation.
    • Provide performance metrics for understanding the effect of poor motivation.
    • Improve understanding of the impact of change and efficiency savings on motivation and performance.
    • Enable leaders (at all levels) to increase levels of trust and confidence in them.
    • Help the business to understand how it can develop more effective feedback at all levels of the organisation.
    • Improve approaches to challenge and listening.
    • Increase the business’s ability to understand and communicate with hard-to-reach groups.
    • Strengthen the psychological contract from the initial application through to the end of career.
    • Increase employee’s sense of well-being and resilience.
  • Factors to consider include:
    • Does the business communicate with employees using channels and methods that resonate with them? Is the business able to adequately measure the impact of communications on employees understanding?
    • Does the business understand what the key motivators of employees are to target the employment offer?
    • How can the business better match personal motivations with organisational needs through innovative career management?
    • How can the business provide feedback to senior leaders which encourages/supports a more “360 degree” approach to leadership and engagement across the workforce?
    • How can the business accelerate career progression of talented individuals in what may be a rigid and rule based system?
    • How can the business reduce change fatigue in an organisation that is continually evolving?
    • How does the business collate/understand the perceptions and attitudes of the workforce in ‘real-time’ to understand organisational climate and monitor morale?
  • Businesses should seek solutions that provide approaches to:
    • Improve engagement levels, ideally through empowerment, commitment and leadership.
    • Gain an understanding of the tools and techniques that would improve communication with employees at all levels, reaching groups that work remote from standard corporate systems, and that deliver messages that are trusted.
    • Increase the sense of well-being and resilience.

Challenge 5: Rehabilitation

  • In this article rehabilitation refers to occupational health, which includes: adjusting the work performed; staying in work; returning to work; and time away from work recuperating, etc.
  • Businesses should understand the value and impact of an integrated occupational health service on the performance and motivation of employees, as well as the bottom line.
  • The business should understand the difference, and impact, between short-term and long-term sickness.
  • Occupational health can reduce financial costs.
  • Musculoskeletal Injuries (MSKI), for example lower back, can be preventable.
  • Businesses should seek to:
    • Increase the physical, psychological and emotional resilience of employees, and the social resilience of teams, in order to reduce the risk of MSKI and mental ill-health and enhance rehabilitation.
    • Promote and enhance the long-term adoption of health behavioural changes (smoking, nutrition, hydration, sleep, etc.) that are current risk factors for poor MSK health.
  • Sometimes small adjustments to work can enable an employee to remain at work, avoiding the disruption caused if the employee is away on sick leave.
  • However, time away on sick leave is sometimes unavoidable. Does the business have contingency plans in place? For example, is the sick employee the only one with a specific qualification that no one else has?
  • Factors to consider include:
    • Does the business understand the full spectrum of occupational risk of MSKI, and other conditions, and the solutions that may enable an improved understanding?
    • Solutions may have utility in both prevention and rehabilitation of physical and mental illness and injury.
    • The business may wish to consider solutions that increase organisational, family and/or economic resilience.

Challenge 6: Exploitation

  • Whilst it is a useful exercise to identify any challenges facing the business, it is meaningless unless the business does something about the issues or potential benefits it has detected (aka exploitation).
  • Factors to consider include:
    • Assessment:
      • Desirable: Is the intended outcome of the project desirable?
      • Feasible: Is the project feasible to implement?
      • Viable: Is the project considered to viable in the long-term?
    • End user: Who is the end user: employees; managers; customers; and/or another business?
    • Pilot project: Has the business conducted a pilot project to assess the above?
    • Return on investment (ROI) and cost savings: Is the project going to save money or cost money? Will it enable tangible or intangible savings/efficiencies?
    • Evidence of capability improvement: What evidence is the business gathering to demonstrate any improvements?
    • Additional resources required: Are further resources required to implement and sustain the project?
    • Will the project replace or integrate with existing products/services and/or business processes?

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