By Chuck Leve, Executive Vice President of Business Development

We all prefer to be happy in our jobs. Nobody likes disgruntled or disruptive employees, including the employee themselves, since few people want to be “that guy.” 

Obviously, the best way to avoid problems with employee conduct is to hire well by making cultural and behavioral expectations clear at the outset. Your culture and your vision represent your brand, and thus, your business.

There are three general categories of employee transgressions:

  • Ones that primarily affect just the employee and you. For example, tardiness or unexcused absences.
  • Ones that impact the employee and other employees such as improper or unwanted advances
  • Ones that include a member/client (normally the worst offenses) such as improper verbal or physical interactions

Having a system relative to employee conduct is critical and all employees need to be made aware of it. Consistency of application of these rules of engagement is also critical, lest you open yourself to liability for all sorts of prejudicial claims (gender, race, sexual orientation, etc.). It’s always a good idea to have your attorney review your disciplinary policy – and actually help you craft it.

The most common employee behavior issues include (in no particular order):

  • Tardiness
  • Unexcused absences/missing client appointments
  • Inappropriate dress
  • Improper use of electronic devices (cell phones, etc.)
  • General negative attitude, verbally complaining about the studio
  • Improper use of company systems (visiting social media or pornographic websites using studio computers)
  • This is different from the employee simply not doing a good job, which is a different situation and should be handled differently.

Here are the steps to follow, however, if the transgression is severe, jump directly to number 4:

1 – Verbal communication with a positive reminder that “this is how we do it here.” The idea is that the employee may not be aware that his/her behavior is violating company policy.

2 – Additional verbal communications, with a “note to self” indicating the action has become or is starting to become habitual and problematic. This documentation indicates a step up in severity.

3 – Performance reviews. Formalized reviews (annually or semi-annually) is the perfect time to articulate your concerns and jot them down on paper as a record that your concerns have been communicated to the employee. Performance reviews should be signed by both employer/manager and employee to reflect that both parties understand the contents of the review.

4 – Formal Warning Letter. This document should leave no doubt that the employee has been warned that the offending conduct will no longer be tolerated, that attempts to “work with” the employee have not been effective, and the next step in the process – should the behavior in question continue - is termination.

The letter should be written by the employee’s direct supervisor after consultation with, and agreement from, the studio owner, manager, and if necessary, attorney. The letter should be signed by the employee and the supervisor. If the employee refuses to sign, then have the employee sign a document stating that they refuse to sign.

The formal Warning Letter should, at a minimum:

  • Outline prior unacceptable conduct
  • Identify the required acceptable conduct, including referencing the previous verbal and/or non-verbal communications
  • Consequences of failure to conform. In this case, the letter can travel one of two paths… (1) the path to more formal efforts to improve the employee’s performance (e.g., additional training), or (2) the path to termination.

Delivering the letter is also an important consideration. A quick email with an attachment, obviously, won’t do. It needs to be a sit-down, face-to-face meeting and it needs to be private. Caution: there’s no place for anger or frustration on your part, regardless of the reaction of the employee. Handle things calmly and professionally.

Nobody likes to deal with poor employee behavior, but it’s something that almost all businesses go through at some time. Following these guidelines will put you on the path for building the best team possible. Good luck!

Chuck Leve is a 40-year veteran of the fitness industry and proven successful developer of fitness industry associations. Currently he serves as the Executive Vice President of Business Development for the Association of Fitness Studios (AFS). He's been involved in the creation and development of some of the most successful trade associations in the history of the fitness industry.

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