The importance of remembering Names !

Names, Names, Names, !!

What’s in a Name?


Nurturing staff, one member at a time

November 26, 2013—Albert Einstein famously said that, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

There are many of us who simply slog through life each day. Then there are others of us who approach their lives with energy and enthusiasm ready to greet each day as the miracle Einstein proclaimed.

Dosseh Tossou is that kind of person. Every day, he greets hundreds of staffers by name, asking them about their families and remembering tiny details of their personal lives. He bestows a little bit of sunshine to staffers’ days who come for a lunch hour Zumba class or perhaps a run on the treadmill at the Main Complex Fitness Center in Washington.

“We’re not isolated beings. We live through people, and they live through us,” Tossou says. “Life is contact. Life is dynamic. The most powerful thing in this contact is the name.”

Growing up in Togo, calling someone by their name was a sign of respect that was instilled in the young Dosseh at an early age by his parents, and a lesson that he’s never forgotten.

“Working with people here, it’s very important. Colleagues you work with, or one of the vendors, there are people from all different walks of life,” Tossou says. “You cannot even image what magic it can do. If you say their name, it’s very powerful.”

Dosseh studied to be a teacher and began working on education projects for the Christian Children’s Fund in 1983. He came to the US in 1993 because of political turmoil in Togo. “There was a lot of unrest,” he says. “The country was not safe.”

Tossou got his first US job across the street at the IMF records department pulling files. He then joined the World Bank Group as a security guard in 1996.

Three years later he started at the Fitness Center and hasn’t looked back since.

“Helping people has always been my calling. That’s the reason I accepted this job,” Tossou said. “Fourteen years working with people is something I enjoy, helping them have a break in their day, keep fit and reduce stress.”

Tossou believes that all staff have their role to play to reach the goal of ending poverty.

Tossou believes that modern society has isolated people from the traditional community structures and supports that nurtured individuals and made them happier, healthier people in the past.

“These times are not easy. The world is in a very confused state. We have sophisticated technology, but we are confused. We need soft ways to bring people together and not give way to sadness, bitterness and trauma but to build ourselves up with confidence for the future,” he says.

Tossou believes the Fitness Center not only allows people to take a break from their busy days but also allows them to reconnect with their fellow staffers.

“Big organizations can be very impersonal. People can isolate themselves. Computers and paper, not moving. It’s the survival of the fittest. People need to step up and acknowledge each other,” he says. “I try to put people at ease. I consider them like my family members. We’re all part of this family.”

Tossou says just that simple act of calling gym members by name helps them to open up and share with him. “People tell their personal stories in a twinkle of an eye,” he says.

“I call them by name, and we are family. We are breathing the same air. We are working together,” he says. “My role here is to welcome you home.”

Tossou applauds the president’s renewed emphasis on ending poverty, and believes every single member of the World Bank Group has their part to play in achieving this goal.

“When you cross the threshold of the lobby, see the dream that is there. Life your head and see that dream. We are all here to fight poverty,” Tossou says. “That is a big goal, but we can do it together. We are all part of this same dream.”

Tossou became a Buddhist 25 years ago and says that it has shaped his life in a very deep and profound way. “Buddhism teaches me that I have to be responsible for my own life,” he says. He gets up every morning at 3 a.m. to chant for 45 minutes so he can be on time for work at 6 a.m.

Tossou chats with yoga instructor Steve Abate and and fitness center member Parastoo Oloumi after class.

“We have everything in us to be frustrated or angry. But rather than hurting somebody, we can try to add some value,” he said. “Everything we do, let’s nurture value in each other. We don’t have to follow our negative emotions. But it’s not easy.”

Earlier this year, Tossou faced a massive personal challenge when doctors discovered a tumor in his right sinus. After 4.5 hours of surgery the doctors safely removed the tumor leaving a large scar near his right eye. Happily, the tumor was not malignant, and he was back on the job three weeks later greeting staff at the Fitness Center.

“I get up every day believing this life has to be positive. Let’s get rid of all the poison and nurture all that is positive in us,” he says. “If not, we will achieve nothing.”


WOMEN'S Boot Camp


It's 5.30 a.m. Wednesday morning. The temperature Is minus five degrees Celsius with some light snowfall. It's a typically cold, wet, winter's day on a football field at Washington Lee High School In Arlington, Virginia in the good old US of A. The sun isn't up yet, and neither are most sane people on the east coast.

By Mike James

Suddenly, the tranquility of early morning is disrupted by a booming, resonant voice yelling: "One, two, three, one, two, three," in a rhythmical, military cadence. Instructor Dimitri Lewis is leading 18 of his troops through a sequence of jumping jacks. This will be followed by some stretching, a I 5-minute endurance run and a set of tortuous calisthenics.

The Pentagon is only two miles away, but Dimitri Lewis is no drill sergeant, and his troops are not macho men seeking to be part of 'The few, the proud, the Marines. Dimitri's troops are all females ranging in age from 25-35 years. Among them are full time mothers, human resource directors, teachers, students and women from all walks of life who share one thing in common. They are all members of the 'Women's Boot Camp' programme conducted by Healthy Body Image (HBI) Fitness, a group of fitness professionals operating out of Gold's gym in Arlington. These women will meet at 5.30am every weekday for 6 weeks. No matter how cold the weather, Instructor Lewis will urge them to sweat, strain and never surrender their quest for super fitness.

HBI has been conducting the Women's Boot Camp programme since September 1998. According to Kirk Trader, vice president of HBI, "The Boot Camp classes are extremely popular, averaging 20 participants in winter and 25 to 30 women in summer.

"We purposely decided to target women in the 25-35 year age group for this programme," Trader explains. "These women are a different demographic from our personal training clients who are usually in the 35-50 year age group. We have found that many women are looking for something different from the traditional aerobic class format." Trader says that the Boot Camps' intense type of training has a number of benefits, including increased strength and cardio vascular endurance with greater calorie burning and fat loss."

Melissa Garner, a 28-year-old human resource manager, is participating. in her first Boot Camp. "It's a great way to vary your workout. I was getting stale in the gym doing the same workout over and over. With the variety of activities and intense cardio work I'm already starting to see changes in my "body after two weeks."

When asked if she ever felt like rolling over and going back to sleep when the alarm rang on a cold morning, she laughed and said, "Oh yeah, sure, but when I remember that an instructor is there waiting for me, and that I will let the group down, it motivates me to get going."

The punishment drill could also be a motivating factor. For each woman late or without a valid excuse for not attending, a 3D-second wall sit is inflicted on the whole group. Here everyone is made to squat with backs against a wall, knees bent at right angles and thighs parallel to the floor. By the end of a 6-week session some groups have had to endure this quadriceps burner for 6 minutes.


The instructors

The instructor plays a major role in motivating the Women Boot Campers. While Dimitri Lewis exhorts the women to work hard, he is certainly not the stereotypical, in-your-face drill sergeant. Lewis is an affable 21-year-old African American man who loves motivating people to be the best they can be.

"If I change a person's physical appearance I am sure this can translate to improvements in other aspects of their lives," he said. "I tell my personal training clients and these women that successful people do the things that unsuccessful people aren't prepared to do." Certainly not the sentiments of the spitting, snarling, drill sergeant you see calling everyone 'maggots' in Hollywood movies. All HBI instructors participate in an 8-day training camp to learn the correct exercise techniques. It is not just a matter of barking out orders and blowing a whistle. Each day's activities are highly structured. "By having different activities each day you eliminate training plateaus," Kirk Trader explains. This also helps stop the boredom. Many of the Boot Campers feel that traditional aerobic and step classes have become boring, repetitious and that they no longer produce results.

The drills

The various drills used in the Boot Camp are vastly different from the usual choreographed routines found in a traditional aerobics class. Running laps with a brick in each hand, or up hills with a sack full of 10lb dumbbells is certainly different! Add some metro runs where boot campers run the stairs at Ballston and Clarendon train stations with a sack of 10Ib bricks; suicide runs where sprints are alternated with push ups; Karaoke runs where lateral running is made even harder by crossing the feet, and you have a very innovative way to get fit. There are also various strength training drills which incorporate log lifts, chin-ups and push-ups and partner-assisted resistance exercises like lateral raises and biceps curls.


The A Team

But if you think these Women's Boot Camp are motivated, or maybe even mad, you ain't seen nothing yet. Two miles away at Thomas Jefferson Community Centre, Instructor Wolf Gottschalk, 30, is in charge of the A Team. The A Team are the elite force of Boot Campers. To be eligible to join the A Team, these women must pass a grueling physical fitness test. They must be able to run two miles in seventeen minutes, perform 20 full push-ups, 40 sit-ups in a minuteS chin-ups and a 3D-second bar hang.

As the sun begins to rise, Wolf is finishing of the morning's activities with 10 minutes of gut-wrenching abdominal work. While their faces contort with pain, he walks amongst the A Team shouting instruction and encouragement. "Come on ladies, keep your legs up, squeeze those abs, breathe out, hold it, hold it.. . good job Karen. Sink back down ... come on Holly two more reps."

Holly Maclean, a 30-year-old full-time Mom, is participating in her third boot camp. A former track runner at high school, Maclean enthuses, "It's the perfect time of day for me, and the team atmosphere make it very motivating."

Does this A Team boot camper ever feel like staying in bed on these cold mornings? "Yes, but you have an instructor you hear in the back of your mind so you get up!" Maclean replied.

While getting up on cold mornings seems to be the hardest obstacle, none of these A Team boot campers had ever missed a session. Karen Ager, 30, a director of operations for a non-profit organisation, says, "While getting up is the hardest part, Wolf told us that when you're up this early you might as well work out, so here I am."

Karen is committed to the programme: "It has given me results above and beyond my expectations" she said.

What were her expectations? "Initially, I just wanted a change from running and step aerobics classes, but this has made me so much fitter and better able to handle my hobbies of hiking and mountain bike riding."

Wolf, the A team instructor, is a neuro physiologist by profession. A competitive runner and triathlete, he loves helping women achieve their goals. An animated man with a quick wit and irascible nature, Wolf was also quick to explain that there is nothing better to see the sun come up in the morning, with a bright red sky in the back ground, and a line of women ready to get going.

"They're hot, sweaty, steam is rising of their backs, it's sexy I'm tellin ' ya. Hot sweaty women in the morning, you can't beat it," he said to a chorus of cheers and "Yeah, right," from his suitably panting, perspiring, A Team members.

Wolf, is lavish in his praise of women's motivation and pain tolerance. "Women are more hard core. From what I have seen they definitely have a higher pain tolerance." He is adamant that women are more motivated to come out here. "They don't have anything to prove. With men, you usually have that testosterone and macho attitude to ,deal with." Wolf also feels that women bond better than men. That motivates them to achieve results and work harder.

The millennium class?

So there you have it, a new exercise regimen that is effective, motivating, innovative and sensual (at least for Walt). The Fitness industry constantly looks for alternative ways to attract members and provide diverse activities. There always seems to be some new miracle weight loss machine, strength building gadget or aerobic apparatus advertised as the new fitness panacea.

Over the past five years, the traditional aerobics class schedule has also changed dramatically. New classes like Spinning, Boxacise, kick boxing and sports conditioning have become more popular. HBI Fitness and Golds in Arlington, are taking exercise out of the confines of the gym and aerobic studio to an outdoor setting using more traditional military-based training techniques. Even in a bitterly cold winter the popularity of Women's Boot Camp classes has weathered the storm. It looks like this could be THE exercise class for the new millennium.

Mike James is the manager of the World Bank fitness center, and a freelance writer with years of experience as a corporate fitness center consultant. He is based in Washington, D.C.

Working out at the White House


America's capital is now filled with body building bureaucrats. Mike James reports from Washington.

In Washington, D.C., while the eyes and ears of the world wait for decisions from powerful places, chances are the decision makers will be doing a lot of sweating and straining. But not necessarily from the pressure of long hours and stressful dilemmas.

At places like the FBI, the Pentagon, the International Monetary Fund and the most famous building of all, the White House, the sweating will be taking place in aerobics classes and the straining will be the pumping of iron in one of the many on-site fitness programs sponsored by D.C. government employers.

The halls of power in Washington, D.C. are now trying to promote a new image for their bureaucrats. No longer does the term government worker' imply bookish, bespectacled types indulging in long lunches, out-dated work practices and a never ending spiral of red tape. Today the only red tape many Washington bureaucrats want to see is at the finish line of a fun run or an end of season softball pennant.

President on the run

Even on the coldest autumn or winter morning you will see many dedicated joggers and runners pounding or plodding their way around the beautiful parks surrounding the Lincoln memorial and the Washington monument. Often, one of these joggers (definitely a plodder) is President Clinton surrounded by his entourage of body-guards, security force and ever-present television crew. If you're lucky he may even give you a wave.

If you are a public servant who doesn't like to brave the cold Washington winters or the extremely humid summers, your fitness program doesn't have to suffer. For a modest monthly or yearly subscription you can stay inside and use one of the cosy, or air conditioned, well fitted out fitness facilities provided by your department (and funded largely by your and other members' contributions).

If you work at the FBI you can shoot a few baskets' on the fullsized basketball court adjacent to the fully equipped gymnasium. Pentagon personnel can take a dip in the olympic-sized pool or a relaxing sauna or steam bath. If you are employed at the International Monetary Fund you may choose to work out on stationary aerobicycles or on Cybex equipment while watching the CNN news on one of the overhead televisions.

These facilities are usually conducted under the auspices of an internal health services or medical department. They are seen as an integral part of a wellness program which includes advice on nutrition, first aid, AIDS awareness and a whole range of healthy lifestyle issues. The staff canteen often helps promote nutritional awareness with healthy choice food selections and recipes of the month. Staff bulletin boards promote the various activities with posters and information brochures.

While many of these centres are found in bright, spacious areas with pro shops and juice bars, unluckily for some employees not all government departments offer extensive facilities. The Justice Department and Internal Revenue Service simply provide small rooms with some free weights and a few bikes and treadmills.


White House Athletic Centre

White House staff are offered membership at the White House Athletic Centre situated in the new executive office building. Membership is restricted to Secret Service and other White House workers. Here the emphasis is on free weights and Cybex strength training equipment. Presumably the U.S. government wants 'the long arm of the law' to be. a strong and muscular arm too.

Even though President Clinton has his own exercise equipment in the residential section of the White House, he has been known to make the occasional visit to the centre. When Mr. Clinton isn't able to run he often uses a stairmaster. Mrs. Clinton prefers to work out in the privacy of her own gym which includes a treadmill, total hip machine and free weights . The nation's leaders senators and members of congress work out in their own facility on Capitol Hill.

World Bank volunteer program

One of the most elaborative and innovative in-house fitness programs is administered by the World Bank. For a modest monthly fee of $10, employees can use two large airy and attractive exercise areas with lifecycles, treadmills, rowers, Nordic Tracs, free weights and the latest strength training equipment.

The most interesting feature of the World Bank facility is its aerobics program. There are three aerobics studios which offer sixty classes per week including step, slide and boxacise. A local fitness consultancy is employed to regularly train and certify staff members to teach classes. These volunteers receive monthly education updates and skill evaluations. The use of staff volunteers enables the bank to offer an extensive aerobics timetable at a reduced cost. The program has been a great success and now boasts over 3000 members.

There are also benefits for employee morale. The volunteers feel part of a worthwhile team. They profit personally by keeping fit and improving their self confidence. They also feel good about helping to motivate other World Bank employees to exercise regularly, and being an integral part of the pro-gram's success.

The World Bank centre is a very impressive facility. The well lit reception and equipment rooms create a cheerful ambience while contrasting dark blue and brown carpets help provide a more subtle and subdued atmosphere which is in keeping with the multi-cultural, conservative nature of the institution.

Unlike commercial clubs which often market themselves as 'the singles clubs of the 90s', the emphasis is on fitness for all age groups. Rather than have the walls adorned with posters of Schwarzeneger and Elle Mcpherson clones, there are photos of members working out. This place is not just for the young and body beautiful. It is for everybody.

This also applies to the aerobics schedule. The World Bank employs people from 128 countries. To cater for the different cultures there are Latin aerobics, funk and African rhythm classes. Jazz ballet, mambo and country line dancing are also held at various times throughout the year.

Strength training increases bureaucratic muscle

With recent research highlighting the benefits of strength training for all ages, most facilities have included free top-of-the-range strength training equipment. Previously shunned as solely the domain of the mirror watching body builder, strength training has become part of the regular exercise regime for everyone from bus boys to Capital Hill bureaucrats. Government workers now increase their strength by lifting weights rather than beer and wine glasses. The traditional liquid lunch and after work cocktail is a thing of the past for many body building bureaucrats.

Recent advances in equipment design from manufacturers like Cybex, Bodymasters and Nautilus have made strength training more appealing. User friendly, pin loaded machines for separate muscle groups are suitable for both the beginner and advanced trainer. And with these attractive, space efficient machines, the untidy dumbbell strewn weight room is an image of the past. This is particularly important in central D.C. where office space is expensive. Consequently every inch of exercise area needs to be used wisely and effectively.

Recreation based programs

Elaborate facilities alone do not guarantee a successful program. and not everyone likes the sweat and strain of a health club atmosphere. With this in mind many organizations include a strong recreation emphasis in their programs. Summer evenings see the parks surrounding the White House packed with softball , soccer and touch football teams battling it out in competitions between government departments. One has to be careful. The person you tackle while pursuing a soccer ball might be a Secret Service or FBI agent, or even worse from the Internal Revenue Service!

Corporate fitness a wise investment

The benefits of encouraging employees to increase their physical fitness are obvious. A fitter healthier work force results in increased productivity and decreased absenteeism. Many companies have given lip service to the idea but have done little to provide their employees with accessible facilities. But for government departments in Washington D.C. the benefits are obvious. They realise that with today's increasing work pressures and escalating health care costs, providing dollars (for employee fitness programs) certainly makes cents!

Mike James is the manager of the World Bank fitness center, and a freelance writer with years of experience as a corporate fitness center consultant. He is based in Washington, D.C.

Staffing Your Onsite Fitness Center

Should you use consultants or hire your own staff? The pros and cons of each will help you to decide which is best for your fitness center.

By Mike James


Being aware of different staffing models can help you maintain an efficient and productive relationship with consultants.

Your business has decided that to stay competitive, it needs a fitness center. Surveys and general feedback show significant interest, and there is enough room for a range of treadmills, bikes and some strength-training equipment. A recommended group of fitness consultants has planned and equipped your center, The appropriate 'ratio of showers and lockers' has been arranged, and if the architects approve some refurbishments, there might be enough, room for group exercise classes.

Now comes the most important question: Once you are ready to open your doors, do you just have people sign a waiver and leave them to workout on their own? Or, do you staff the facility with qualified fitness professionals? Should you use a fitness consultancy group for staff, or an in-house manager to employ freelance instructors?

Staffing issues are some of the most important decisions to make when planning an onsite fitness center, The following will examine three of the most common staffing models.

Mission or Vision Statement

The lack of a clear vision is one of the major reasons many onsite fitness centers fail. The people ultimately responsible for the fitness center often have only a vague idea of what they want. A fitness center sounds great, but few executives have any idea of how they operate. Unfortunately, many still think it is just a case of putting some equipment in a room.

Company executives may like tile idea or concept of an onsite fitness center, but are usually unsure of how far they should take it, The first step toward transforming vague ideas into a concrete plan is formulating a mission or vision statement. Include in the statement the function of your facility. Do you want a few treadmills, a couple of benches, s6me free weights and shower facilities? Or, would a fully serviced fitness center that offers the convenience of commercial facilities and services be better? Maybe you want something in between.

Your mission statement needs to be clear and concise. And, if you choose to work will consultants, your first step should be to make clear to them your facility's mission or vision statement. Have ready the answers to a few simple questions consultants might ask, such as, "What do you want in your f."1cilit:y?" or, "Can you paint a picture for me of how you see this center operating on a day-to-day basis?" The answers will help clarity the direction you need to take in terms of staffing and future programming.

Model No.1: Minimal or no supervision

Being aware of different staffing models can help you maintain an efficient and productive relationship with consultants. A staffing model with little or no supervision may be suitable for a small operation. The majority of people in this type of company or resort will be regular exercisers who just want somewhere to get a basic workout and a shower afterward. If this is the case, a consultant may only be necessary to help recommend and install fitness equipment. Your relationship with them will probably be brief; once the equipment is in place, they may only be called in for some basic orientation to the equipment. It will be up to you to have members and guests sign the appropriate membership forms and legal waivers.

Debbie Vincent, president of Pro Active Fitness in Washington, D.C., recently recommended equipment purchases for a local non-profit company with 30 el1lployees. "Once I recommended the type of equipment to purchase and conducted a group orientation on how to use it, my job was over," Vincent says. "We may look at offering some personal training sessions in the future, but for now, that was the extent of our work with the company

Model No.2: Staffed by s fitness consultancy

Many large resorts, private companies, government departments and non-profit institutions see the benefit of providing a fully staffed facility for their employees and guests. For these, the need for a consultant extends beyond equipment purchasing. Luckily, many companies now specialize in providing fitness staff and group exercise instructors for corporate facilities.

While fitness center managers may specialize in fitness, they should familiarize themselves with the business' values.

The overall management and staffing of these facilities is left to the particular fitness company hired. The advantage here is that the hiring institution does not have to worry about the day-to-day operation of the center. Staffing is left entirely to the fitness company hired as the management consultant.

There are some disadvantages to consider, as well. Coles Myer Ltd. is Australia's largest retail company, employing more than one million people. Coles Myer has been Australia's leader in corporate fitness centers since the inception of its nationwide fitness programs in 1978. Tom Leehane was employed as manager of the program that same year. Says Leehane, "Our initial fitness consultants did a great job recommending equipment, fitness evaluations and generally helping us set up facilities throughout Australia. However, they were not able to provide us with staff to supervise our facilities .... " Leehane hired a smaller consultancy firm to supply staff for Coles Myer. Unfortunately, this solution was not successful. "The staff they sent us was mainly young physical education students, with limited people skills," Leehane explains. "We tried another agency with the same results. There was a lot of staff turnover and you got the feeling that, because they were getting paid typically low fitness employee wages, the staff really didn't care."

In a radical step for the time, Leehane approached the Coles Myer chief executives and proposed employing freelance instructors at three times the hourly rate paid at commercial centers. Amazingly, Coles Myer accepted tlus proposal. "This helped us a great deal," says Leehane. "I knew there were good people out there and, while money isn't everything, it certainly helps .... We attracted some good people to work for us on a part-time basis (15 to 20 hours per week). It really didn't cost us any more, because we were just cutting out the middle man ... and paying the instructors directly."


Model No.3: Fitness manager employed by the corporation

In Washington, D.C., former Medical Director of the World Bank's Health Services Department Dr. Bernhard Liese was instrumental in launching the fitness program for "World Bank staff in 1990. The World Bank fitness center now boasts two fully equipped facilities with more than 4,000 members and 60 group exercise classes per week.

Liese shares many of Leehane's views on staffing corporate fitness centers. "While the [consultancy1company we used was very helpful to us in setting up operational procedures and the group exercise program, there was a constant turnover of staff, which led to a lack of continuity and follow-up for members," Liese says. "We eventually employed our own manager, who acted as a liaison between us and the fitness company .... Eventually, we stopped using the fitness consultancy With no real hard feelings. I believe we outgrew what they had to offer."

Choosing the right model

The staffing model used for a successful onsite fitness center will depend on the resort's or corporation's vision or mission.

The Coles Myer program had a clear vision from executive management, and strong leadership in place that ensured its success. A similar situation occurred with the World Bank. For large programs like these, a good model for staffing is employing an in house manager who employs freelance staff.

Another important point to consider is the hotel or corporate culture. Managers need to have a firm grasp of the culture they are representing. A company like Coles Myer, comprised of hard-nosed, profit-driven retail executives, will have different values and expectations than an international development institution like the World Bank. While fitness center managers may specialize in fitness, they should familiarize themselves with the business' values.

The in-house model is not without its challenges. The manager and staff must spend a lot of time on staff training. With a central city location, it can be difficult to attract good staff because there are so many large commercial fitness centers operating in local suburbs with fewer commuter hassles. One solution is to make outreach efforts at colleges and universities for prospective staff.

One way to attract good employees is with higher-than-normal hourly rates (two times the industry standard). Another route is to promote the rewards of gaining experience in an onsite fitness center setting, Stress that being employed directly by a resort or corporation offers great opportunities for personal growth and regular stable employment. There is also the chance to provide quality programs without the pressure of sales.

Not everyone is suited to working in an onsite fitness environment. An international institution like the World Bank is more conservative than traditional fitness centers. Some employees may find the bureaucratic nature and lack of career path not to their liking.

If an organization does choose model No. 3, Liese stresses that, "they should show their full support and provide access to their institutional systems for budget and payroll, human resources, and legal and insurance matters. A manager cannot be expected to create his or her own systems for these, as well as look after the day-to-day operation [of the facility]."

While employing staff directly is fine for large organizations, not every company or resort has the budget for such large programs. If a business wants a medium-sized program with some of the conveniences of a commercial fitness club, it may be better served by bidding out to companies that specialize in supplying staff for onsite fitness centers. The manager of the center can then report directly to the resort or company representative or board. And the business may then decide to re-bid periodically everyone or two years. 

Staffing without vision = mission impossible

Clearly, each of the three staffing models has advantages and disadvantages. While the need for strong leadership is a priority, the most essential f."1ctor in effective staffing of a successful onsite fitness center is the mission or vision statement. Without a clear vision, effective staffing could be a case of mission impossible.

Mike James is the manager of the World Bank fitness center, and a freelance writer with years of experience as a corporate fitness center consultant. He is based in Washington, D.C.

Learning to Communicate


The manager of the World Bank Fitness Center in Washington, D.C., shares experiences and insights gained from employing an intern who is deaf.

By Mike James

The phone rang in n1y office on a typically busy day in February 2004. "Hello, Mr. James. This is the phone relay service calling for a Ms. Jenny Stack. Have YOU used a phone relay service before?"

"No," I said warily, suspecting another telemarketing firm was about to regale me with the latest and greatest money making scheme. But this was no sales ruse. It was a call from a young student interested in an internship with our corporate fit ness center. Jenny Stack explained, via the relay operator, that she was in her final year of physical education studies at Ga1laudet University. (Gallaudet is almost exclusively made lip of hearing-and sight-impaired students.) She had heard about the World Bank Fitness Center, and was interested in broadening her experience in a fitness center environment.


The World Bank is a proud equal opportunity employer that makes accommodating employees with disabilities a high human resources priority. After discussions with my management team, we decided to reward Jenny's initiative, and also demonstrate our support of the World Bank's vision.

Even with 20 years' management experience, I had rarely dealt with deaf people in a professional or personal setting. My staff shared this lack of exposure to deaf people. We knew there would be some challenges, but rather than see it a problem, we saw it as a great opportunity ~or learning and personal growth.

People with disabilities are an unexplored and underused source of employment for fitness centers. Working with Jenny has been a terrific experience for members, staff and management of the World Bank Fitness Center.


We decided that our mantra for Jenny?s time with us would be "No limits." This was not going to just be a token gesture; Jenny would be expected to do everything other fitness staff members do, from teaching classes to interacting with members, taking assessments and participating in staff meetings. If there were difficulties, we would find a way around them.

Our "No limits" policy started with the pre-employment interview. We wanted to assess Jenny's suitability for working in the World Bank Fitness Center in the unusual fashion. She would be asked the same questions we ask any prospective staff or intern:

The learning process started il11mediatelv. Never having worked with sign language interpreters before, we were unsure of the appropriate protocols and etiquette. During the interview, the interpreter sat beside me. Jenny and her course advisor from Gallaudet sat directly across hom us.

When I spoke to Jenny, her gaze was fixed on the interpreter, who was signing. T soon learned to talk directly to Jenny, and avoid acting like a tennis spectator by constantly turning my head throughout the conversation. Deaf people find this frustrating, especially when questions are directed through the interpreter, such as "Ask her if' or "Tell her that."


Once we had established that Jenny would be a good fit for us, we worked closely with the course advisors from Gallaudet to provide a deaf awareness training seminar. Tills seminar was held one week before Jenny started her internship. We made sure that staff members from all spheres of our operation, including maintenance, fitness, group exercise, custodial and management, attended.

The seminar was conducted by two Gallaudet staff, who were also both deaf. The two-hour session served as both an introduction to deaf culture and as a way to introduce Jenny to staff members. Jenny is what is termed "profoundly deaf," with less than 2 percent hearing, and unable to lip read or communicate by voice.

The information provided ranged from acceptable ways to communicate with a: deaf person, habits to avoid and some basic signs for communication.


Members' reactions have been very positive. It helps that Jenny is a friendly person who is always willing to help. She now teaches Abs Express classes, and regularly takes members through fitness assessments and program orientations. Her goal is to be able to teach group cycling and Muscle Fitness classes. Fitness staff and the group exercise co-coordinator are helping her achieve this goal.


Aside from Jenny's initiative and personal drive, the most important factor has been other staff members' willingness to embrace the "No limits" vision. Initially, there may have been a tendency for some staff to be overprotective. The moment we saw Jenny dealing with a member, we would rush to help. While the intention was noble, it also hindered Jenny's confidence and the development of communication skills and rapport with members.

Staff members feel that working with Jenny has made them focus more on their own communication skills. Whether it be explaining a concept regarding exercise science, administration or membership policy, more focus needs to be placed on clarity and conciseness. During meetings, with either an interpreter or transcriber present, we found that we shouldn't talk over or interrupt each other. We often forget that we do this. Dealing with a deaf team member makes us realize our own bad habits, which can become ingrained over time.

No doubt there are a few challenges we haven't quite solved yet. We sometimes forget that Jenny cannot hear a phone to answer it. We sometimes inadvertently talk in a group and forget to include her. It is a learning curve that still has not reached the summit.


At the conclusion of Jenny's internship in June, we decided to make her one of our regular part-time fitness staff members. She has also commenced studies for her master's degree in health management, and is training to teach a greater variety of group exercise classes in our program.

Jenny has some unique skills and abilities. As we attempt to make our center more accessible to people with disabilities, she offers some unique insights that will help us achieve our goals. One of her goals is to make our exercise machines more accessible for blind people by including instructions in Braille. And, her computer skills on programs like Power Point and Excel are her strengths.

Like any new employee, Jenny's career will ebb and flow with life's changing fortunes. For staff and members of the World Bank Fitness Center, our relationship with Jenny and Gallaudet University is a continual journey of learning and self-discovery.

We will continue to seek to incorporate employees from different backgrounds. Perhaps not all will be as success as Jenny, but it is only by testing our own comfort zones that we can grow to achieve our vision of a future that truly has "No limits." FM

Mike James is a freelance writer and manager of the World Bank Fitness Center in Washington, D.C.

Is There a Volunteer in the House?

It's Monday afternoon, 4:45 p.m. Your power-step instructor calls to tell you that her car broke down and she won't be able to teach her 6 p.m. class. This gives you a little more than an hour to find a replacement instructor. If you can't find anyone, you or one of your fitness specialists will have to substitute. But you are short-staffed, the fitness specialists are fully booked with appointments, and you have no idea how to teach power step.

By Mike James

Should you try to bluff your way through teaching a class or take a fitness specialist off the floor during peak hours? Maybe you should post flyers on doors and notice boards saying the class is cancelled. Then it will be your pleasure to face the wrath of 40 members who have made a special trip to take this class. Welcome to one of a club owner, manager or aerobics director's worst nightmares.

If this scenario is an all-too-familiar one for your club, perhaps you should consider using volunteer instructors to teach some classes or to act as emergency substitutes. The World Bank Fitness Center in Washington, D.C., a 33,OOO-square-foot facility, provides extensive fitness facilities to World Bank staff. The center includes four aerobics studios with a group exercise program that includes more than 60 classes per week. Trained World Bank employees teach more than half of these classes. Managers, secretaries, economists, lawyers and accountants who work for the World Bank form a vital part of the group exercise instructor team. The result is a very extensive and diverse range of activities and huge savings on the center's operating expenses.

"That's all very well," you may say, "but how do I find these people, and how can I ensure that they are qualified and service-oriented?" A good instructor is more than someone who looks good or is athletically gifted. He or she must be able to teach, motivate and provide a class other members will enjoy. It is not just a case of asking a regular participant to take over in an emergency. A good volunteer program must be in place, and that involves careful planning in the recruitment, training and regular evaluation of your instructors.

Recruiting volunteers

Volunteers at the World Bank Fitness Center undergo a formal recruitment process that includes in-house training from the aerobics director and an explanation of what the center expects from a volunteer. A formal advertisement is posted in various internal staff bulletins every 12 months. People interested in becoming part of the volunteer program attend an interview with the Fitness Center's management team.

If you are going to use volunteers, discuss with them the time commitment required for training and teaching, substitution procedures, and what is expected of them in terms of evaluating and updating their skills. This will help avoid unnecessary training of people who may not be able to commit the time or who do not understand what is required. Potential volunteers should be given honest feedback on their skills and deficiencies, and be made aware of both the benefits and drawbacks of becoming a volunteer instructor. Being upfront from the beginning will help avoid misunderstandings.

Volunteer motivations

Volunteers have different motivations than paid employees. The management team must understand some of the major reasons and motivations people have for volunteering.

Extrinsic. The first question posed to a potential volunteer instructor should be, "Why do you want to become a volunteer?" Even though the term volunteer in its strictest sense excludes the notion of monetary or material gain, many people are motivated by benefits. The World Bank Health Services Department administers the Bank's fitness program. It offers each volunteer instructor a free membership and locker, a yearly stipend of $200 for shoes and tapes, free CPR certification and financial assistance with advanced certifications. However token or paltry these benefits may seem to an outsider, they can be an important motivation for people. They are a tangible sign of an organization's thanks and commitment to its volunteers and the program itself.

If a person's sole reason for volunteering is based on perceived benefits, this could be a danger sign. It may indicate that the person is volunteering for selfish reasons with little or no understanding of the service component.

Intrinsic. There are other intangible or intrinsic reasons why members may volunteer. Many like the team atmosphere that is engendered and see it as an opportunity to meet new people, improve their self-confidence and develop new skills. Some also have the altruistic motivation of helping other people achieve their health and fitness goals ( a very satisfying and worthy motivation. Volunteers can be motivated for all of these reasons, as well as because they are doing something they enjoy and have fun doing it. This is a very important motivation that employers often neglect to foster. Management must ensure it is a fun experience for all involved.

Management support

Each member of the management team, including the club owner, fitness director, aerobics director and club manager, should show his or her support and appreciation to the volunteers. Teaching is often a very daunting task. Volunteers should be given patience and help along the way to allay their fears.

One of the most difficult aspects of an instructor's role is handling difficult customers and situations. The management team should train volunteers to deal with these problems. Volunteers should be aware that criticism, sometimes constructive, and at times very harsh, is part of the deal. You can hold yearly retreats and regular workshops to discuss issues such as this one.

Open communication is essential, either through group or individual meetings, email messages, memos, etc. The management team should be easily accessible and open to ideas and suggestions from the volunteers.

Also, management, particularly the person ultimately responsible for the volunteer program, should be able to give open and honest feedback to the volunteers. Sometimes this will not be an easy task, especially in cases where a volunteer's skills are lacking. Regular training and skill updates should be available, but if no improvement results, taking a volunteer out of the program is essential. Both management and volunteers must agree that member satisfaction is paramount.

Benefits of using volunteers

The most obvious benefit of using volunteers is the dollar savings a successful volunteer program can bring. In a large corporate program, such as the one at World Bank where volunteers provide more than half of the 60 classes per week, centers can save more than $60,000 per year in wages.

Many other benefits can be gained from using volunteers. In a corporate program, volunteers set a great example for coworkers to become involved in the fitness program. Their commitment to volunteering their time and following their own fitness program is a great example to other workers who may lack motivation to exercise.

Volunteers also help promote the fitness center's classes and various promotional activities by word of mouth. This is often more effective than the regular newsletters, bulletins and promotional flyers that are sometimes overlooked by busy members. Volunteers who are supportive of the management's policies and procedures can also help other members better understand why certain rules and regulations are followed (time restrictions on machines, limitations to class-size numbers, class time changes, etc.).

Careful and skilled recruitment of volunteers can help provide a diverse range of activities that capitalizes on a unique mix of skills and cultural backgrounds. In a culturally-diverse area or company, volunteers can provide unique formats such as Latin aerobics, African rhythm classes, classical ballet and Aussie boxing aerobics.

Potential problems

Working with volunteers is not all smooth sailing. In corporate programs there is often a clash between the instructor's "real work" and his or her volunteer work. If a last-minute meeting is called or a deadline is imminent, it is not easy for volunteers to suddenly leave work to teach an exercise class. No matter how wellplanned a volunteer program is, "real world" crises do arise. Management should be aware of these pressures and have substitute procedures in place. If problems consistently occur with a particular volunteer, management should approach this person. He or she should suggest that, "While we love having you involved and appreciate your efforts, maybe you should have a rest from teaching until your workload is less demanding."

Like any working relationship, there is always the potential for volunteer and managerial conflicts on a wide range of issues. Even with a well-planned recruitment process, some volunteers are not suited for a job in the service industry, or aren't well-versed in the technical aspects of exercise instruction. Sometimes people see things in terms of right and wrong with no room for flexibility or individual variation. Sensible, strong and sensitive leadership should address issues such as these during workshops and the training process. Roleplay exercises enacting some of these situations can be particularly effective in demonstrating practical solutions to problems. These role-play workshops should be open to all employees of the fitness center, as they provide valuable insights for all staff members and help reinforce the team concept.

Another potential problem occurs when volunteers begin to overestimate the extent of their knowledge. This can be a problem if they begin advising members in areas of which they only have basic knowledge (i.e., injury prevention and rehabilitation) . They also might consciously or inadvertently infringe on the fitness specialist's role, which can lead to internal staff friction. Clear delineation on exactly where an instructor's expertise and role within the club begins and ends should be explained during the training process and constantly reinforced, albeit diplomatically, by the management team.

Evaluating the volunteer program

Evaluating the success of a volunteer program is more than looking at the money saved in wages. If the standard of volunteer classes is so poor that members join another club or stop attending, the money saved is worthless. If there is a drop in attendance at the club or in one particular class, the volunteer program should be thoroughly scrutinized for weaknesses.

To gauge the effectiveness of a volunteer program, constant membership feedback is needed . Surveys, focus groups and informal meetings with members are vital for any meaningful evaluation. Ask about the professionalism of the group exercise instructors, the variety of classes offered, overall approval rating of the club, etc.

Not all volunteer programs need to be as extensive as the World Bank's. Volunteers can be used on an emergency-substitution basis, for non-peak hours, or for selected activities in which a volunteer may have the necessary skills and teaching qualifications (martial arts, mind/body programming, dance classes, etc.).

Whatever its role, the volunteer program should fulfill its mission. If it serves as a source for last-minute substitutions, then it should do that. If, like at the World Bank, it is an integral part of the program, every effort should be made to develop the program and the individuals involved. Instructors should be constantly reevaluated for their teaching and class presentation skills. This can be done by the aerobics director or by a consultant employed especially for evaluation purposes.

The way of the new millennium?

The future of volunteer programs will be influenced by many factors. In cities such as Washington, D.C., where unemployment is currently very low, it is increasingly difficult to find instructors to teach classes early in the morning and during lunch hours. This is where volunteer programs are invaluable. Alternatively, if companies continue the trend to become leaner and meaner, people's work pressures may make it difficult for them to find time to participate in a volunteer program.

Incorporating a volunteer instructor program into your center may seem like a radical step. It is not a simple process; it requires a good deal of planning, strong leadership and management support. However, if your club is willing to put in the time, volunteer programs can be a great way to save money and add variety and flexibility to your group exercise activities. Who knows, it may even lessen your stress when the 6 p.m. power-step instructor's car breaks down.

Like any aspect of your club's operation, a volunteer program should be constantly reevaluated to measure whether it fulfills its mission and is a success for your organization.

Mike James is manager of the World Bank Fitness Center, Washington, D.C.