By Jim Gallagher, President, Special AFS Contributor 

You have just hired a new employee for your fitness studio. Now what?

The worse thing you can do is to let them go on their own without any guidance on how to do their job. When you hire a new employee, you have high expectations but without a plan to help the new employee be their best, you may be disappointed in their performance or find that the employee develops a poor attitude or resigns with little or no notice.

New employees may be great for the first few weeks or months and then a change occurs. The honeymoon ends and the true self is revealed. They may even turn into the employee from hell. We wonder what happened. The employee interviewed well, had great references and started work like a superstar.

So what went wrong! We did! We failed the employee and did not orient and onboard them properly. We did not give them the tools to perform their job well. Communication was poor or non-existent. We left the new hire on their own, assigned them duties that they were not prepared for and failed to help them develop in their new role. We assumed the new employee would just take the ball and run.

Success is never guaranteed, but you can improve the chances of retaining good employees by implementing an orientation and onboarding system. 

The employee orientation involves showing the new employee the basics of how your studio operates and introduces them to the people they will work with on a daily basis. Employee orientation includes reviewing policies and procedures, discussing the history, mission statement, values and ethics of the company, assigning the work schedule, and setting up the employee with name tag, business cards, computer password, supplies and email. Introducing new employees to your staff and management team is also part of the new employee orientation. 

The employee orientation is a good opportunity to outline employee expectations in the areas of attitude, reliability, initiative, and appearance. The orientation should also include a discussion of the employee’s job duties and responsibilities.

The employee orientation is the first part of the onboarding process. The onboarding process engages and assimilates new employees into the operations and culture of the business. Onboarding is an interactive process designed to help employees be successful and meet performance goals. Onboarding may last up to one year.  

Onboarding provides a development plan for new employees and structured communication opportunities between the new employee and their supervisor. Onboarding can help managers uncover potential employee issues early and help resolve issues before performance is affected.

Quint Studer, in his book, “Results that Last – Hardwiring Behaviors That Will Take Your Company to the Top”, discusses the importance of satisfied employees. His research shows that happy employees tend to go the extra mile to please customers.

Employee satisfaction starts with three important concepts

  • Employees want to believe the organization has a meaningful purpose
  • Employees want to know that the job is worthwhile
  • Employees want to make a difference

The onboarding process helps to communicate and reinforce the meaningful purpose.

What to include in your onboarding process

  • A meaningful onboarding process should include at least one meeting a week with the new employee during the first month and meetings at one month, three months, six months and one year at a minimum.
  • The first 90 day period is critical for the success of new employees. The first 90 days are a critical time for the manager to build a relationship with the new employee.
  • One-on-one meetings provide the best opportunity to understand how the employee feels about their job and what they need to be successful. 
  • The employee should understand that a structured list of questions will be asked in these meetings. The questions are designed to discover what is not going well and what is going well.

Set up a 30-day meeting: Questions to ask

  • How does your experience compare to what we said based on what it's actually been like? Probe for specifics and make sure you address any concerns raised by the new employee. Typical issues may include hours, training and duties.
  • Tell me what you like. What is going well?
  • I noticed you came to us from <insert company> . Are there things you did there that might be helpful for us?
  • Is there anything here that you are uncomfortable with? Anything that might cause you to want to leave?

90-day meeting expectations

At the 90 day meeting ask the same questions that you did at the 30 day meeting. This will help clarify any continuing issues and give the new employee an opportunity to ask questions. Ask two additional questions at the 90 day meeting:

  • Is there anyone you know who might be a valuable addition to our team?
  • As your supervisor, how can I be helpful?

Continue to work with employees on their development throughout the onboarding process. The Gallup organization has conducted extensive research on developing and retaining employees. The research can be summed up in twelve statements.

The 12 elements of great managing that emerged from the research are as follows:

  • I know what is expected of me at work.
  • I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.
  • At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.
  • In the last seven days, have received recognition or praise for doing good work.
  • My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.
  • There is someone at work who encourages my development.
  • At work, my opinion seems to count.
  • The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.
  • My Associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work.
  • I have a best friend at work.
  • In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.
  • This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow.

Keep these elements in mind when developing your onboarding program. Great employees are not an accident. Implement a good orientation and onboarding program to engage and develop a team of star employees.


Jim Gallagher MS, CSCS is an experienced leader with more than three decades of professional experience in the Medical and Commercial Fitness and Wellness industries. He is the former Director of Business Development for the Medical Fitness Association. He served on the MFA Board for six years and has operated several Medical Fitness Facilities including the Healthplex Sports Club in Springfield, PA for nine years.

Jim holds Master’s degrees in Exercise Physiology and Special Education. Jim has been a cardiac rehab specialist, exercise specialist, personal trainer, fitness director, wellness coordinator, director and COO in his career in both the medical fitness and commercial fitness industries.