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Reward and recognition programs for instructors can be great in theory but less so in practice. Instructor Mel Morony looks at how to navigate the challenges of these vote-based systems.



  • Reward and recognition programs that require instructors to vote for their colleagues can pose some challenges for casual ‘sessional’ instructors who teach at multiple facilities and have limited interaction with other instructors
  • Making the effort to attend meetings and social events, and make use of face-to-face upskilling opportunities, will foster relationships with fellow instructors
  • Talking to participants can provide insights into cases of praiseworthy behaviour on the part of fellow instructors
  • The act of covering classes, though often contractually expected, is an action that may be considered vote-worthy, as is simply going about daily activities with a positive attitude.

A group fitness instructor reads an email that includes a reminder of the centre’s monthly Reward and Recognition (R&R) program, which is contingent on the staff voting for each other. The instructor thinks about how nice it feels to be appreciated and decides to ‘pay it forward’ to a fellow staff member. Upon further reflection, however, the instructor realises that due to the limited interaction they have with staff in the centre, they barely even know the names of their colleagues, let alone whether their recent actions have been worthy of a vote. Finally, in the absence of more inspiring options, they settle on voting for someone who covered for them last week, even though they are unsure as to whether this is really worth a vote.

Ideology versus reality

What I have just described has been my experience when it comes to engaging with voting-model R&R programs. At centres where I am a staff member, I am regularly faced with the dichotomy of understanding the importance of encouraging fellow staff members in this way and the limitations that being a sessional instructor places on me, both socially and operationally. Nearly every centre at which I am employed as an instructor has an ideology stating that I am regarded as part of the staff. However, when an instructor teaches at multiple centres, spends most of their time at those facilities behind the closed doors of a studio, and most of the rest of their time building rapport with their patrons, the result can be a feeling that any interaction with that centre’s staff program is from the fringes. Here, we explore ways that instructors can work around these challenges when it comes to voting model R&R programs.

Challenge 1: Knowing the staff

It is not uncommon for an instructor to have limited interaction with their fellow staff. Over my years of teaching group fitness, there have been numerous facilities at which the extent of my interaction with fellow staff has been of the ‘Hi’, ‘Bye’ nature. Yet, as I describe in the article The Loneliness of the GFI, there are ways of changing this, including spending time in the space of fellow staff members, attending meetings and social events, and making use of face-to-face upskilling opportunities.

Challenge 2: Probability of experiencing vote-worthy behaviour

While getting to know our fellow staff could be described as a hurdle for an instructor wanting to engage in an R&R program, actually experiencing actions worthy of a vote may well seem like a pole-vault, as the probability is very low. This is particularly so for land-based instructors, as once we are in our studios and the doors are shut we don’t expect to see or engage with any fellow staff members over the next 30 to 60 minutes. As an instructor who also teaches aqua fitness, I have a bit more opportunity to interact with and see what other staff are doing – mainly lifeguards, swim-teachers and duty managers – but even then my main focus while I am teaching is on my participants. Nevertheless, there are some ways around this.

Members are our eyes and ears

‘Bella’s class was really good the other day’, ‘When I arrive, Joel on the front desk always remembers my name’, ‘Last week Alana coached my technique on that exercise really well.’ If our members are attending regularly, they will see and hear more about our fellow staff members than we do, so make use of their observations. There have been numerous occasions when my class participants have passed on feedback to me about fellow staff members, for whom I have subsequently cast a vote in R&R programs. When we consider the amount of negative feedback that gets relayed to us, hearing something positive can make somebody’s day.

Covers – contract or favour?

While it may be in an instructor’s contract requirements to cover classes, for which they will of course be paid, I like to consider where I would be if they had not agreed to cover for me. Would I be able to enjoy my time off as much if they had not agreed to cover for me and my class had been cancelled or the format changed? I also consider that there are centres and classes that I’ve decided not to cover at again, often due to the way I was treated as a cover instructor in those places. Hence, as well as being simply good manners, if I want people to agree to cover for me, then it only makes sense that I treat them well.

Encourage doing the right thing

If you notice a fellow staff member being helpful or friendly to you or the patrons, or even reporting or sorting out OHS issues, then consider a vote for that contribution. Attention is often given to extremes of behaviour, both poor and excellent, rather than to those who are simply getting on with the job with a positive attitude. Sometimes a shout out for doing the job right can have a profound effect.

Challenge 3: Casting your vote

It’s one thing to know who you want to vote for, but quite another to actually get your vote in. From boxes in staffrooms to online surveys with access restrictions, it is easy for our best intentions to go by the wayside as we juggle the countless other demands of our lives and our instructor roles. However, there are ways to get around these challenges:

Keep a log

For facilities at which R&R voting is done via an online survey that only opens at certain times of the month, I keep a log of positive things I have seen, heard and experienced. This keeps the who, what and when fresh in my mind for when voting opens.

Take some forms home

Where R&R voting is done on paper forms, I keep a few of them on me. That way, when I see something but have to dash from that centre to another, then I can still jot it down and put it into the receptacle the next time I’m back at that centre. It also enables me to jot it down if someone does something noteworthy when I’m not physically at the centre, such as agreeing to a last-minute class cover via a Facebook page. While I could jot it down in my diary and then fill in a form the next time I’m at the centre, I rarely linger in staffrooms: if I arrive early, I prefer to spend that time building rapport with participants.

Team leader discussions

If the R&R program still isn’t working for you – and it matters to you – then it might be worth engaging the management in a discussion. Those in the leadership team will usually have had a different experience of the R&R program to their instructors and may need convincing that a dialogue is necessary. In such cases, if the centre has a stated ethos of valuing and listening to its staff then ask them to uphold that commitment.

If we all commit to fair, open and objective conversations between employers and sessional employees, the purpose of R&R programs can be fully realised.

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