Three Steps to Improve Your Gym's Sub Policies

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Three Steps to Improve Your Gym's Sub Policies

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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.

There is a multitude of issues that can cause tension with subbing. Which ones of the following remind you of your gym: 

1. It's a free for all.

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.

2. No one wants to sub for each other.

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.

3. There are often last-minute or frequent requests.

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. 

4. It's a free for all.

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. 

Before your next staff meeting, take time to precisely outline your sub-policies, including:

  • How many requests per month/period is acceptable?
  • How much notice should be given?
  • What is the exact process to request a class cover?
  • Who is responsible for finding coverage? The studio or the instructor?
  • What happens if no one offers to sub?
  • What if there's an emergency (flu, car accident, etc.) and the instructor can't teach last minute?

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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. 

1. No one wants to sub for each other.

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.

2. There are often last-minute or frequent requests.

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. 

Here are incentives you may want to include in your bonus:

  • Arrive prepared and early to teach
  • Submit invoices on time (if applicable)
  • Find subs and cover for others
  • Attend X number of classes per month

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. 

To recap:

  • Step one: Build your sub-policies and instructor responsibilities in your handbook and contracts.
  • Step two: Educate your staff. Roleplay, train, and help them learn the new policies. Share the expectations positively to prevent teacher burnout and improve client satisfaction. No one likes to be the one constantly subbing for the less responsible team members. 
  • Step three: Implement your staff responsibility bonus as a perk for those who follow the protocols and get your life back.

Subbing is a complex, delicate system. As you build your new policies, feel free to contact our preferred coaches for help. 

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About the author:

Niki Riga
Industry Expert
Limitless Studio

Niki has been a client, a studio owner, and a coach in boutique fitness for over a decade, and she can’t think of an industry she'd rather be in. Her favorite part about coaching and studio ownership are the same: she loves supporting clients as they push past their limits and achieve their goals. Niki became a coach because she was regularly asked, “how did you do that!?” by other studio owners who were drowning in the day-to-day responsibilities of business ownership but didn’t have the support to grow their studio to its potential. She created Limitless Studio to partner with owners who have a vision for their business and are ready to implement systems to build the studio of their dreams.