Toxic Behavior In Health Clubs: why is a place people come to get HEALTHY a breeding ground for UNHEALTHY behavior amongst gym managers and staff?
I have been an employee of various HEALTH CLUBS for over 2 decades, and now, am a member of a gym so that I can use the pool. On both sides of the coin, I can tell you first hand that there is something about the HEALTH CLUB environment that breeds toxic behavior, especially amongst low-level managers, as well as competitive, back-biting instructors, sales managers, and more. Somehow, managers and customer care representatives tend to draw manipulative, ladder climbing personalities, who will stop at nothing to discredit other employees (and sometimes, MEMBERS) to get to the next rung, only to be eventually fired or demoted by the next whim of the company, or backstabbing aspiring manager.
I do not know if it is a “sales technique” or just toxic behavior that is sought in hiring HEALTH CLUB STAFF, but it seems that “word-twisting” is a necessary skill for being a manager in a Health Club: being able to take someone’s story, and twist the words to make the person TELLING the story sound like they made it up, or were at fault.
At one club where I worked for 22 years until the Covid Shut down, Group Exercise managers seemed to have been hired based on their Toxicity Test. In 2008, they decided to have a Group Exercise Manager at EACH CLUB vs 4–5 central managers who each had 15–25 clubs in a district. Fearing losing classes, I signed on to manage one of the clubs. For whatever reason, I drew the IRE of a manager who had more sass and bitchiness than the head of the high school cheerleaders. He made it his MISSION to discredit me in any way he could. As some people (particularly females) who were jealous that I had as many classes as I did, as well as was previously used in magazine covers and video marketing campaigns for the company, or just wanted to feel “popular” by being on “Kevin’s team”, they would conspire to do or say whatever he wanted. He would have friends write fake complaints, which would then be recycled and sent through the internet. You could tell it was the same complaint verbatim. Then I would be called into the office for “meetings” and be forced to sign write-ups. Eventually, I had enough proof to bring him down, but not after losing many classes, some of which he stole and took for himself.
Another toxic Groups Exercise Manager then took over and made it her mission to take away classes from her foes. She brought in an H.R. rep to assist. She wanted us to lose our health insurance. Again, she would recycle complaints that never happened, take your words, and twist them to make it look like you were at fault. Because she was a woman of color, it seems that this was the reason why she was not only promoted to this position, but the company feared firing or demoting her. Somehow, after a few years, she was replaced by a manager who had been there since the mid-2000s.
I could go on and on about the fake complaints, bullying, and toxic management I experienced as an employee, but one thing I never thought I would experience, was toxic managers conspiring against me as a GYM MEMBER.
I knew the company that I previously worked for kept charging members, even during COVID SHUT DOWN. Leticia James had to get involved. One former member who became one of my clients told me that her CREDIT CARD started being charged again in February 2021, without her knowledge or permission. She then received a letter AFTER THE FACT that her membership was turned on again as Covid Restrictions were being lifted. She never was given a choice in the matter. I have also run into seniors who have said they had similar stories.
Once I found out gyms with pools were allowed to reopen, I joined one in Yonkers. Although I sometimes had to get out a few times to let others work in, I was happy to start swimming again, as this was my main sport. At $29 a month, I was happy to treat myself. I used to call this my OASIS, even though idiot girls in the locker room would take selfies in the mirror, not caring if someone was in the background, ignoring all of the signs saying that camera use in the locker room was prohibited.
The Saturday lifeguard had a bad habit of walking away from the pool. One Saturday, a mother of one of the kids taking a lesson, was wringing out her kid’s T-shirts and towels over the lane where I was swimming. I told the mother that was unsanitary, and she did it right over my face. The lifeguard did nothing. Eventually, she yelled at ME because I told a member not to do something she should have taken care of. Two months later, this same lifeguard walked away from the pool, allowing both myself, and another woman to be accosted and harassed by a couple who thought this was the city pool. I was on lap 24 (sometimes I have to get out after 30 minutes if someone is waiting) when a couple decided to disregard COVID rules and get in my lane and start WALKING in front of me. Basically, I am a speeding car, and they are a wall. This is no less dangerous than being on the highway and being cut off by a car that then comes to a full stop for no reason. A collision could happen. I have had a concussion in the pool due to a lifeguard’s negligence before, and I was trying to get them to move. The instructors of the kid’s swim classes, as well as all the parents and kids, were witnesses to the event. Eventually, the lifeguard returned and got the couple out of the lane. They then proceeded to harass a blonde woman who was waiting to swim, before taking the lane where the kid’s classes took place once that lane had vacated. At this point, the couple thinking that this was SANDALS RESORT, began to canoodle. The lifeguard once asked them to separate, but then did nothing for the next hour. Other swimmers who were waiting had to keep waiting. I had invited a few people who I saw had goggles to share my lane. The couple refused to leave. The lifeguard at one point asked me to give up my lane for a bit after an hour, and I obliged. Stupidly, thinking that I was “helping”, I reached out to the manager, who was on his day off. Not only did he “not help”, but he was instrumental in a string of lies turning them even against me. I went upstairs to ask for help. A disgusting, toxic, pathological lying 20-something-year-old Naomi comes down. Not only is she unwilling to assist, but she LIES and says that I made a comment to the couple. I asked her, “what did I SAY?”? She said, “You told them they couldn’t swim”. “I never said that”. “You invited another woman to swim with you ‘because she knew how to swim’”. “That is NOT the same thing”. She insisted that I leave. Why do I have to leave when the couple who was harassing me, as well as another woman, and is still acting inappropriately in the pool is allowed to stay?
I got my phone and started recording the people involved to show corporate. I even stated this on the video, along with who everyone was, and their roles in harassing me. I even went to the sales manager on duty, Anthony, who said “police were called, and I had to get dressed and give a statement”. For what? What “crime” did I commit? I came to swim. I was the victim of harassment. I had plenty of witnesses, albeit they had left after 4:15 pm. I grabbed my stuff and left.
I had called the other 2 locations of the chain, and their sales reps had all said they would not tolerate what had happened to me. I also spent a lot of time on the phone with “corporate”, who were all very helpful, until the supposed district manager “Todd” got back to me on Friday. Apparently, disgruntled employees can lie and write all kinds of comments about events that never happened. Someone (Robert? Anthony? Naomi?) either MADE the written allegations or called in favors to other locations. Supposedly I was “RUDE” to everyone I spoke to (did not happen), including the nice girl at the front desk of the Bronx location I decided to try, hoping to move my home club to a new location. The basis of our conversation was “where is the locker room? Where is the pool?, and suddenly, it is falsely documented that I harassed her. “Todd” said that “interactions with the desk should be BRIEF. You check in, and that’s it. You should not INTERACT with our STAFF”. Needless to say, the customer service of the New York version of this national gym chain is to pay your money, workout, don’t bother us, as you are only paying $29 a month. You cannot complain to us, or we will file false police reports on you.
I spoke to one of my witnesses from the kid’s swim club who is willing to testify on my behalf, but the managers refuse to take his statement. I was even harassed again last week by the manager whom I texted. “You shouldn’t even BE HERE”. “Ok, I guess if you are not letting me swim, you can cancel my membership”. “You can SWIM. I shouldn’t even be TALKING TO YOU. LEGAL is going to contact you”.
I continued to grill “Todd” during our 20 plus minute phone call about selfies in the locker room. Even though there is a huge sign that says “camera use in the locker room is prohibited”, he said, “as long as they are taking a photo of themselves it doesn’t matter”. I told him that more than once I have been walking around the locker room both dressed and undressed, but he didn’t care.
If you contact me privately, I will tell you the name of the organization and provide you the videos which I have marked private if you wish so that you can beware of what may happen to you if you are looking to join a gym, but for the moment, I am not publishing the name of the chain, as I am still pursuing legal channels. I have sent the story to the news, but no one seems interested in helping me. I am protected by the “one-party consent law”: https://www.dmlp.org/legal-guide/recording-phone-calls-and-conversations
Either way, if I did not need to swim, I would have no need for a gym membership. I run outside, and during the pandemic, would alternate my running days with step aerobics in the park, and would drag my weights and step to the park, beach, etc., for a peaceful, outdoor workout.
As a gym employee, I put up with toxic behavior from my managers and other instructors for over 22 years. But who knew as a gym member and customer I would experience that and worse. It just seems that the “health club” mentality breeds “unhealthy” behavior, especially if you choose to work in this environment. For this reason, I may never return as a gym employee. But I am happy to train you at home or on zoom :).
Kama Linden is a singer-songwriter with 4 studio albums, the newest being, “Everything In Good Time”, releasing in Summer 2020. She is also an actress, fitness instructor, freelance photographer, and has a fitness book: “Healthy Things You Can Do In Front Of The TV”.