Exclusivity Agreements – What They Indicate

These are a dirty little secret in the fitness field and, with few exception, they are put in place to benefit the employer. The person or company offering the job to the fitness professional will usually make a seemingly reasonable claim to justify the need for one, but rarely do the claims stand-up to closer scrutiny.

The reason an employee might want to sign an exclusivity agreement is to ensure that the company does not go out and find another person to perform the role that they have been hired to perform. For example, a nutrition practitioner may ask their employer to sign one ensure that they get the full opportunity to service an existing client pool without concern or fear for their job. The same would apply to a personal trainer or group fitness instructor.

A brand manager, marketer or sales professional could benefit from getting the employer to sign one covering a predetermined length of time to give them the chance to get their efforts up to full speed, given that it can take a little while to gain traction. Without one, there is nothing stopping a company from working with multiple people on the same task to get a larger footprint yet prevent any one person from being successful. I’ve seen this done and it is demoralizing for the worker and confusing for the clients / public.

The challenge within the fitness industry is getting a company to sign one of these. They simply won’t do it unless you are a keystone figure for their business. Most of the people who work directly with clients / members are regarded as expendable by most owners / managers and replaceable.

Within this industry, exclusivity agreements are one way – the employee is asked to sign it saying that they won’t work for another company while they are working for company A and many of the agreements have a clause that states the employee cannot work for another company in the same industry in the same geographic region for a period of time after employment ends. You are free to not sign the agreement, but then you won’t get hired.

While I support a companies right to protect their intellectual property, the way exclusivity agreements are used with fitness professionals has nothing to do with this. They are used to control the actions of employees and to provide the biggest supply of workers so they can pay a lower wage. A company may have no problem scheduling someone for 2 hours a week yet prohibiting them from working anywhere else. Your overall income doesn’t matter to them and if you don’t like the hours you are being offered, don’t sign the agreement. The problem is you are asked to sign BEFORE you know your hours.

The best gym I ever worked at, Fitness Etc. in Milton, did not ask me to sign an exclusivity agreement. The owners knew that I needed to earn a living and simply asked that I act in the best interests of the gym while I was at the gym. It wasn’t until I had been working there for a while that I realized the impact that NOT having one had on me. It was positive because I was free to work anywhere else, so I had options, it was positive for them because I viewed them as loyal and caring for my well-being so I worked more intensely, and it was extremely positive for the members because they got the best of me and what I had to offer. There was no ill-feelings at any point and it was win:win:win.

I came to realize that asking someone to sign an exclusivity agreement when working with public domain knowledge makes a negative comment about the company. First off, they are setting the tone by saying that you may not be happy here, you may not get enough hours, you may not get paid what you are worth. We know this already so we are preemptively addressing the consequences to this being a lousy place to work. Next, they are saying that they manage relationships with staff using paper work vs. building relationships – you are a number in a spreadsheet and we need check boxes checked so we don’t have to think about you anymore. They are saying that their profit is their primary objective and that employee satisfaction and customer service take a back seat to these. It is saying that they would rather rely on fear to get what they want than to create a work place that brings out the best in people.

The current business model benefits only the owners – when a company regards their staff with such low regard, they cannot passionately care about their customers. They are paying lip service to their members while compensating those who work directly with them poorly. This is why there is an exodus of highly qualified and passionate trainers and coaches from the fitness field and it is the very reason why most people do show little improvement when they work with a trainer. It’s why the average age of a fitness professional remains the same, and it is why their average years of experience seems to be unchanging. It is why people leave the industry and do not retire from it.