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Team building in a tight labor market

Corey Loehr
August 10, 2021
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These past 18 months have seen a shift in employee engagement. Due to full Covid closures and then restricted member access during phased re-opening, many employees would have felt uncertainty about the future of their roles.And yet, those same team members have kept their jobs and even had to pick up the slack due to you not hiring enough new employees to cover those that left. A tight labor market may have made it hard for you to find skilled employees.Ashley Richardson from 9Round Fitness kickboxing gyms told the Los Angeles Times that where she would have had a dozen applications for a trainer opening in the past, but at the moment, only for applications for the role now open for three months.That will have had the impact of creating a more significant workload for an existing trainer. Not the ideal situation for any manager, especially if that same trainer has had to take on other roles due to employee shortages.In this situation, what you need are strategies to keep the great employees you have. So, here are the things to do to build a strong team foundation to move forward.

Get to know your employees.

As a leader, now is the time, even more than ever, to get to know the employees working for you. Know each of your leadership team members well enough to have a personal conversation with them about their weekend and their family. And remember to ask how they are feeling, how they are coping in this different time.The more interested and genuine you are with your team, the more they will be willing to offer both you and the customers.

Be open to asking for ideas.

In an industry where routine is the nature of the business, be open to talking to your employees about ideas for changing things up or even livening them up. The mood of customers who have been in lockdown, working remotely, living a completely different life due to the covid restrictions may not be high.While they may choose to come back to the gym to feel more "normal" in a pre-covid sense, they may be struggling mentally.To support customers and your employees, ask employees for suggestions of how to liven things up in the Fitness Center. Create energy and a sense of newness to what may be an unchanged pre-covid situation. Changes could happen in small ways, like newly and brightly painted areas, creating murals, or artwork that has employees feeling engaged. Even small changes like ramping up the music at night when the team is cleaning down the facility help boost morale.


Flexibility is a win-win for both you and your employee. With team members picking up additional duties or shifts, flexibility is vital for all. Unfortunately, the organization's policies may not have allowed for flexibility in the past due to the crucial need for consistency.In a tight labor market situation where you have staff shortages, allowing more flexibility allows employees who might not otherwise pick up additional shifts, pick them up to support your business. Be open to talking to the entire team about supporting each other to fill shifts, rather than falling to one team member only.

Talk about service.

Ultimately, every person on your team is there to provide a service to your customers. So how can the group support you to provide outstanding service? The more you, as a leader, are focused on the service narrative and less about numbers and margins, the more engaged a team will be. The team does need to feel it's a two-way street, though.To develop a mindset of providing outstanding service, they want to know they will be rewarded in some way for what they do, which brings us to the next important strategy.

Show your appreciation.

Showing appreciation will have anyone going the extra mile for another. Making a small gesture to show your gratitude will make a difference, even if it is calling out a team member in a meeting or posting a simple message stating how much you appreciate them for others to see. Researchers found that any genuinely given show of appreciation makes a difference to how an employee feels about themselves and the organization as a whole.

Be seen.

Now is the time to be seen in your Fitness Centers. Visit and say hello to team members. Acknowledge their effort, engage in that one-on-one conversation. Doing so has employees feel that you care about them.

Support dedication.

Would you please work with your dedicated employees to retain them? Ask them what support would look like for them. It may be that some of the small gestures of appreciation are all they seek. For others, it may be monetary rewards. It is harder to replace a great employee, especially in the current labor market, so retain those employees you have.Some of the earlier strategies we discussed will help with this.Above all, remember that each employee on the team is a human being with their feelings and thoughts. Picking up shifts and putting on a different hat or two may be something they will do willingly because they love being a part of your center's team. Acknowledge that, and it will go a long way to creating raving employees who will draw other high-quality hires to your establishment.Tell us how your team building is going during these tough times. What do you notice is working in keeping your employees engaged and participating?