If studio owners were to rank their most pressing issues, staffing problems- specifically, sub-requests- would likely rank at the top. Anytime multiple people work towards a common goal together, you will experience occasional conflicts, but how do we minimize the disputes and keep the business running smoothly? Here are some ways to mitigate the most common staffing issues.
Your studio is the Wild West of sub-requests, with teachers and staff calling out whenever they want. There's no clear system or documentation to track the requests that come in or who has filled them. Occasionally classes go uncovered or canceled.
Sub requests go unanswered by other staff members, even if they are available to cover. You pick up scheduling slack and regularly have to rearrange your life to cover classes.
There are two hours until class, and your teacher calls out - again - or the same instructors routinely ask for multiple days off every month.
These issues sound like they're all the same root issue, and in a way, they are. But each situation is a marker of a more significant problem that will need to be addressed in order to solve it. Let's look at these again as a symptom rather than a statement.
Most people rise to the occasion and intrinsically want to be team players, so if the studio lacks a straightforward process with clear expectations, you will experience subbing issues. Many studio owners are afraid to put too many restrictions on their staff to prevent turnover. Still, chaos and inequality of perceived benefits (like one teacher always needing a sub) are far more likely to cause frustration and burnout.
You want to be reasonable as most instructors squeeze boutique fitness into their schedule as a part-time job, so policies that are too harsh will negatively impact long-term retention. Aim to be fair while ensuring employees are not abusing sub-requests at the expense of the rest of the team—others notice when someone doesn't pull their weight by sharing the sub-load.
A sub-to-be-subbed policy is an easy way to implement a sub-policy that few can argue with. If you request class coverage, you must also cover for someone that month. Not only does it help prevent frequent askers, but it also builds camaraderie.
If you dig into the team culture at a studio where no one wants to sub for each other (or one person particularly), there is usually a community problem- or, rather, the lack thereof. To cover for one another, your staff need to know and like each other.
Building staff culture in boutique fitness can be challenging since teachers don't organically spend much time together. Look for opportunities to promote team relationships with staff engagement events and activities. When you help your teachers see each other as a community, you can solve many of your scheduling woes.
The studio owner will discover limited personal responsibility and accountability if we look at frequent sub-requests as a symptom. If your teachers only need to state they'll be gone, and that is the end of their duty, you will regularly be stuck filling in.
An effective strategy to support your new substitute structure is to build an incentive into your contracts. A $5/class staff responsibility bonus is an effective tool in your arsenal. So, instead of making $30/hour, each instructor would earn $35/hour for the pay period if they fulfilled the bonus requirements.
The incentive for attending a pre-determined number of classes not only encourages staff relationships but also strengthens each instructor's skills as they absorb their peer's cues and style.
This responsibility bonus sets standards for each individual and the team simultaneously. If one person regularly fails to give sufficient sub notice per your contract, they lose their personal bonus for the month, but if a class goes uncovered or you have to sub, you can cancel bonuses for the whole team.
Instead, put the obligation to find subs on the instructor. If your substitute process is well-structured, employees should be responsible for their class until it's handed off to another instructor and changed in the scheduling software. I like to use a Google sheet like this one where each instructor can see and post sub-requests- it's easier to track than texts or a Facebook group and helps minimize the dreaded last-minute cancellation.
Once your teachers are trained on the procedure, remind everyone that you are not the first line of defense for subs- you're the last. The easiest way to guarantee that is to incentivize it. If you, the studio owner, have to sub a class, the staff responsibility bonuses are forfeited for the period.
It might sound extreme to pull bonuses, but the bonus rate is meant to be a perk, not the standard. If the rest of your system is operating effectively, you will probably only need to use that tactic once. Teachers who would typically let a sub-request slide will be much more likely to volunteer when they know they have skin in the game, and you won't be stuck rearranging your life every time someone has plans.
Remember, before implementing a strong-arm policy and ruling by force, ensure your culture is supportive and your staff is motivated to support each other. You'll have much more luck using your staff responsibility bonuses as a reward rather than a top-down pressure tool.
Subbing is a complex, delicate system. As you build your new policies, feel free to contact our preferred coaches for help.