Are we paying fitness staff enough?
It’s hard to attract the best staff if you aren’t paying enough. It’s also hard to make profit if you are paying them too much. Celeste Kirby-Brown looks at the factors influencing rates of pay in the fitness industry.
This year the Australian & New Zealand Fitness Industry Survey (ANZFIS) asked respondents how much they pay hourly and per annum for roles including centre manager, fitness manager, group exercise instructor and personal trainer. Of course, most people would like to earn more money – but are their roles worth more? Are we are paying fitness staff enough? Let’s explore the question from a number of different angles, including supply and demand, education and business costs.
Supply and demand
The law of supply and demand dictates that if something is rare and there is a high demand for it then the price someone will pay will be high. Applying this to fitness salaries, if the demand for a particular personal trainer is high, their time will be in greater demand and clients will be willing to pay them a high rate. Of course, not all personal trainers are fully booked and commanding upwards of $80 per hour. Personal trainers are not rare – but perhaps excellent ones are. Therefore, fitness professionals who think they aren’t getting paid enough need to increase the value they are offering to clients, or adding to the business they work for, in order to make themselves more in demand.
The amount of money you earn is often reflective of the level of education you achieve. If, for example, you spend 10 years training to be a doctor, you should reasonably expect to be able to earn a higher salary than someone who spends 10 months training. If you undertake a certificate or a diploma it takes less time than a bachelor’s degree. If you have a bachelors degree then this takes less time than two bachelors degrees or a masters degree. The reward for investing time, effort and, often, money, in pursuing higher education is generally a higher salary. To be paid more for their roles, fitness professionals need to invest time, effort and money into making themselves more highly educated.
The cost of staff salaries in any business is significant. Generally it is the highest cost of the business, if not the number one cost. It’s logical from an owner’s perspective to pay the least amount for the most bearable amount of skills you can afford, to achieve the greatest profit. So, for example, a business owner will be happy to pay a receptionist $20 an hour because if they pay $25 an hour they will lose $5 in profit from their bottom line. This is only effective if the $20 per hour person has the same skills or delivers the same level of contribution as the $25 per hour person. If paying $20 per hour means that you can only get staff who are unable to perform all necessary duties, it would not be a valid cost-saving exercise, as the shortfall in their performance would need to be covered through the use of another, probably more highly paid, team member’s time and resources.
Some jobs – generally caring or nurturing roles like teachers, carers and nurses – are considered ‘soft’ jobs. These ‘soft’ jobs, which are predominantly held by women, are not highly valued and therefore remunerated. I suspect some of this may be occurring in the fitness industry. Currently women in Australia earn 86 cents for every dollar earned by men1. A report2 by Fitness Australia shows over half of all fitness professionals are women. In addition the Fitness Industry Survey shows 71 per cent of members are women3. Is it possible that the fitness industry is suffering the same ‘sidelining’ as caring industries because of the female make up of both members and staff?
Casual versus full time roles
Around 68 per cent of fitness industry roles are held by casual employees4 who typically have less bargaining power in the workforce than their full time colleagues. Because they are physically there less, they are often less visible to their manager. Casual employees have to try very hard to ensure their boss knows the great contribution they are making to the business. In addition, people often work as a casual for the flexibility it provides them, and the benefits of this lower-paid flexibility will be weighed up against the benefits of higher-paid but inflexible full time work. It appears that in this instance most fitness professionals are going for flexibility over money.
Neil Eames, senior recreation planner for Southern Queensland, comments: ‘A university student who is part-timing as a pool deck lifeguard can’t expect to get market rates. A part-time Les Mills instructor can’t expect market rates. Where the industry is behind is in the middle administration and management area. Their wages are lower than could be expected.’
It’s not a profession
The perception of fitness roles is also important. A lot of people I spoke to while researching this article told me that they did not consider working in the fitness industry to be ‘a profession’ because of the low bar to entry in the form of minimal education and limited career paths for staff. The high percentage of casual staff in the industry, and the high turnover of staff, may also contribute to this perception. Of course, there are long term career opportunities, but the nature of the industry is that promotions seldom just happen and it is up to individuals to actively develop their own careers – and to remain in the industry for long enough to gain experience!
Neil Eames again: ‘…there is a vast array of opportunities for people that choose to stay in the industry. You can start as a pool life guard, move into centre management, and then move into a government recreation planner position, which is my experience’.
However there is a steep path before this is considered an industry of ‘professionals’.
So, are we paying fitness staff enough? ‘Probably’ is my answer. Until fitness staff increase the demand for their services by clients and members, increase their education, demonstrate greater value to the business and tip the balance to more full time roles, it is unlikely we will see major changes to current salaries.
If you want to compare your salary or review what the average salary is for someone in a particular fitness role you can download, for free, a fitness staff salary infograph HERE. The infograph is produced with data from the 2013 ANZFIS survey, which was responded to by around 1,500 clubs and over 20,000 members.
Celeste is director of sales, marketing and relationships for Ezypay, a direct debit solutions provider for the fitness industry.