Legendary football coach John Madden had only three rules for his players: 1) Be on time; 2) Listen and learn; and 3) Play like hell when I tell you to.


Legendary football coach John Madden had only three rules for his players: 1) Be on time; 2) Listen and learn; and 3) Play like hell when I tell you to. Luckily for Coach Madden, he never had to deal with Generation Y.

As all of us in the fitness industry know, Generation Y - born between 1985 and 2002 and also known as "Millennials" or the "Net Generation" - is the key to our workforce. The oldest of them are getting into their late 20s now, and many are still in their teens, which means you've already got a bunch of them on staff. Worse yet, you're soon going to have even more of them.

We thought we understood this group and were doing a pretty good job of managing them. Heck, only two years ago, we even did a talk at the Athletic Business Conference about our successes hiring and managing Millenials. Lately, though, it has seemed as if our staff is doing everything wrong, and we've realized that we'll have nothing but problems if we don't tighten things up.

When we started our business in the mid-'90s, we took a page from Coach Madden's book - and, actually, we were even more succinct. We had just two rules: 1) Be on time; and 2) Take care of the members.

With a small club and a small staff, these two rules served us well. Even our youngest staff people - who were the same age then as several of our employees today - understood why those two rules were so important. They might not have always known what to do, but they didn't have to be told why customer service was important. Everything fell under the catch-all, "take care of the members" - from providing great workouts to answering the phones the right way to cleaning. We certainly did a lot of staff training back then, but there were two key differences between those days and 2011. First, we did not have to define the basics of professional behavior. Second, our young staff actively learned by the examples that were set by us, as well as our senior, more experienced employees.

Let's just say that the old rules no longer apply.

Our business is growing, and everyone we hire is a 20-something. We actually have a gifted staff at the moment, but learning how to manage and motivate Millennials is a continuing education for us. Generally speaking, they do not learn by example (and anyway, many of our "senior" people these days are in their 20s, just like our new college graduates, so they aren't great examples to begin with). We've learned that the Net Generation responds very well to explicit instructions that are not open to interpretation. If they know exactly what's expected of them, the best ones will strive to meet or exceed those expectations. Dealing with them brings to mind what Bill Cosby said about why he had to remind his children to turn on the water when they went to take a shower: "You have to tell them to do that, because if you don't, they'll just wander around the tub."

And so, we've had to come up with a lot more rules. Nineteen, to be exact:

1) Arrive for your shift, client or class 10 minutes early. You must be ready to work, not still getting settled, when you are scheduled to be working.

2) Dress neatly and in staff attire. Nothing stained or ripped, and no hats at the front desk. Change clothes if you are going from teaching a class to a personal training session. Don't begin a session sweaty and disgusting.

3) Arrive having eaten. You aren't taking a break as soon as you arrive.

4) You also are not going to eat in front of members when it is time for you to have a break. Who wants to see you eat?

5) Be where you are expected to be. Trainers should be on the floor, not at the desk chatting with each other. Desk personnel should be at the desk, not chatting in childcare. If there's nothing to do, clean something.

6) Do not leave the building without permission. If you do leave, clock out. We're not paying you not to work.

7) You don't need a break if you work fewer than six hours. In a six- or eight-hour shift, you can take a 30-minute unpaid break outside the building, or you can take a brief paid break inside the building. You'll be paid because you are available to us if need be. (This is consistent with Pennsylvania's employment law.)

8) Use of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube is prohibited, even from your own mobile device.

9) Phone calls and text messages can be dealt with during your break. If you are using text messaging for business purposes (communicating with clients), do so out of view of other members.

10) No mobile usage of any sort in the pool building or in childcare.

11) No headphones may be worn at work unless for approved purposes (such as building a group-exercise playlist).

12) No personal business should be conducted while at work. Pay your bills at home.

13) No recreational reading of books or magazines while at work. If you are on the desk, you may browse the Web (no audio or video sites) so that members see you as alert and your head is upright.

14) Park your car away from the building. Customers get to park close, not you.

15) Your timesheet is your responsibility. If it's incorrect, your pay will be incorrect.

16) Maintain an appropriate professional distance from members. They want to get to know you, but don't discuss your problems. We're supposed to listen to their problems, not the other way around.

17) Staff members are expected to yield equipment and spots in classes to members. Yes, you will give up your group-cycling bike when a member comes in to a full class, even if that class has started.

18) Exhibit professional behavior at all times. Someone can hear you, even if you think they can't. No gossip about members, staff or our business.

19) Drinks must be paid for. Really. The cooler is not your home refrigerator.

That we could come up with 19 rules at all should make it obvious that our employees really had been doing everything wrong, and we weren't being explicit enough in our expectations of them. We presented these new rules at an all-hands meeting, along with a "four strikes" process to deal with offenses. Strike Zero is a first-time violation that is addressed on the spot, followed by Strikes One and Two that result in meetings with management. Strike Three means immediate and serious consequences (loss of shift, dismissal or other appropriate action).

We were pleased with the initial response from our staff. Without any pushback or fuss, we saw immediate improvements in appearance, timely arrivals and overall professional behavior. Few Strike Zero violations occurred over the first few weeks, and we saw hints that our business performance was improving. We're not quite ready to call Coach Madden to tell him that 19 is the new magic number for rules, but at least our staff isn't just wandering around the tub.

Wow! It's like you were at our club last week. We just had to review our break policy with staff because an employee was taking a one hour break working out in the gym while working a six hour shift.
Two quick comments: 1) If you need rules like these...then you're not doing a very good job with your hiring process. 2) Where I'm from it's the employer's responsibility to ensure that an employee's pay is correct. Glad I don't work for you...but I'd play for John Madden any day!
I just recieved a resume' from a personal trainer that said "I'll work your butt off" and has numerous misspelled words. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say don't use the word "butt" in your resume' and use that nifty tool called spell check. I just keep thinking how am I going to deal with these young kids. I need your 19 rules!
Dave, You must live in an alternate universe where employees turn out to be exactly like they are in an interview and employers have time clock ESP which allows them to know if an employee clocked in and out at the appropriate times. I am guessing you are part of the problem in terms of this age group acting the way they do. If you are not a parent already, I suspect you will eventually be one of the "helicopter parents" who believe their child should never be inconvenienced, frustrated or unhappy. I am glad to hear this organization is doing something to address these issues. How are millennials going to respond if they ever have to face real heartache or disaster when no one has provided them with coping skills? I know, I know. You would hold their hands and give them bon-bons and tell them nothing is their fault…
As a coach and a member of a fitness staff, those who do not need the above rules are lucky. I have long witnessed the over-inflated display of entitlement shown by the younger Mil's, as well as the generation coming afterward. I used to coach the way I was coached: no one had to tell me when to show up, what to do, how to act or how to wear my uniform. Because I loved my "job", I just did it. Now I have to explain ludicrously simple ideas to the tune of "I got it...jeeesh" and then find proof of just the opposite. These days I could offer players/young staffers $1M because I won the lottery and decided to share. They would ask why only 1M instead of saying thank you. These days, a pat on the back from yesteryear after being adjusted for inflation turns into "show me the money". The only good thing that has happened from this pitiful economy is that we have replaced a lot of the entitled Mil's with downsized, industrious workers who are thankful to have a job regardless of the size of the check. And to top it off, they actually smile while working!
WOW really only 19 rules for staff you are pretty lucky. Yes but it is now not just the staff you need to deal with but your customer base is also of that age range. Have to now explain why you have to return the weights to the racks, why you have to pay memberships on time, why we do not allow food and drink in the facility and yes why you need to take a shower before you get in the pool after a work out. We always had rules but some needed no explaination as they do today. We all have some staff that need to be told to turn the water on which is ok but once the water is on do we really need to tell them to trun it off too. Oh yea my favorite comment is I should get paid what you do since we both do the same stuff around here. This is one I hear alot from the College grads we hire and more so if they have a higher degree even if not in the industry. They do not realize that some of us old farts also have degrees. They do not take into account that we have as much time in the business as they do on earth and have spent countless hours in a variety of training courses and now will add one more from HR on how to deal with a MIL. I was taught to call all my spervisors, clients and members by there first name which was Sir and if that did not work then it had to be Ma'am.
I wish I worked at your gym! My MANAGER actually asked me, "Why are you so early for your classes?" (I come 10-15min before to set up, say hello to members, etc). The staff is bad, but my managers could also use these rules!
Hey Dave the Program Director: If you re-read rule #15 you see that "Your timesheet is your responsibility". If the employee is responsible for clocking in and clocking out or filling out the time card, but forgets to do so, that really is a problem for the employee not the employer. The employer can and will, of course, make it up on the next check but you can pretty much bet the mortgage that the employee will never forget to clock in or out again.
Wow, judging from these responses, there must be a lot of Baby Boomers in management. As a Gen X'r, my experience is that my Gen Y staff are NEW to working. Of course they need guidance! Meanwhile, I bet if you turned around some (not all) of these rules, you might find an answer to the question of making your workplace extremely enticing to these 'kids' - who actually probably have a lot to offer and often probably work harder than the minimum wage we give them! Ex: 17 - (As stated, plus...) We will offer staff-only workout times before or after our facility opens/closes, just clean up after yourself or we'll take away the privledge. If it makes me a 'helicopter' manager to see it from the next generation's perspective, then Oh Well. It seems to me we best find some middle ground, since they are the up-and-commers!!!
As a supervisor who is under 35, I can agree with some things in the article and will actually steal some rules for our use (thanks for sharing) but I believe these characteristics apply more to our part-timers in the field as opposed to the young full time staff I supervise. Of course it is my perspective but I recently was asked to write a blog about Millennials for NRPA a while back. Check it out; I think it deals with more of the Young Professional in the field as opposed to the part-time worker. www.nrpa.org/make-way-for-the-millennials/