Jess ElmquistApril 11, 2023
Topics: Talent Experience

350,000 Candidates for 28,000 Open Roles? The Power of Life Time’s Employment Brand

It was snowing so hard a few weeks back where I live that the flakes were blowing sideways. Summer seemed a world away.

But not at Life Time. The operator of more than 160 high-end athletic country clubs throughout North America has summer on the mind now; they’re in the midst of a huge hiring rush to staff outdoor pools, kids’ camps, and bistros in the super busy May-September timeframe.

Technology is a lifeline at Life Time. It empowers the hiring of almost 9,000 seasonal people within a matter of months, resulting in a workforce headcount that can reach as high as 40,000. Many of those additional workers (lifeguards and summer camp teachers, for example) have to be licensed or certified by a governing body, so they have to meet certain standards.

Keeping track of where each one of them is in the hiring process can be daunting — but not if you’re running a data-rich, single source of truth platform.

Take it from someone who knows. Before I came to Phenom, I was with Life Time for many years. I remember what those days were like before we employed the Phenom platform. Frequent readers of my earlier blogs will remember the Frankenstein’s monster analogy of a CRM bolted onto an ATS bolted on to a career site. Those were frightening days!

Now that I’ve been with Phenom for a year and I’m sitting on the other side of the desk, I thought I’d see what’s new in my old stomping grounds. Life Time was growing fast when I was there, but now it’s expanding at an even healthier clip. There’s an incredible story there.

To learn how the company plans to keep pace with all the new clubs in store, I invited my longtime friend and colleague John Brennan, currently the Senior Vice President of Human Capital at Life Time, to talk shop as the inaugural guest on my new video podcast, “Smarter.” You can listen to the full episode below or read on to catch the highlights.

“We’re Not a Gym”

Life Time’s clubs are found in 31 U.S. states and Canada. The healthy way of life company plans to open about a dozen more per year for the next five years, pushing the total number to well over 200 clubs, Brennan said. It’s eyeing another 300 locations in the U.S. for potentially more clubs. Those numbers blew my mind because it seems like just yesterday when the company was looking at single-digit growth (and thrilled about it!).

Expansion can only mean one thing: more people want to experience what the brand is all about.

But first, it had to battle some misperceptions:

Matching Talent to the Brand

Not many companies can afford to be picky for talent when churn is still so high, but Life Time can. Last year, 350,000 people — or the entire population of Anaheim, CA — applied for roughly 29,000 positions nationally. That says something about the brand’s cachet.

Members prize the experience in the clubs, so a bad hire can have a negative impact. That’s why the talent focus is on quality and quantity.

Speed is critical too, but not in the classic sense of the word.

“It’s less about a race to hire, and more about a race to engage,” Brennan explained.

That process starts with an impeccable candidate experience beginning from the moment someone hits the career site and continuing through several improvements added over the years.

With chatbot, for example, “We had over 100,000 interactions last year that led to 20,000 applications,” Brennan said. The company didn’t use a chatbot four years ago, “but it's something now if you don't have it, candidates almost feel like something's missing,” he added.

The experience doesn’t end once someone is in the door. It continues well into their careers as full-fledged employees.

A Circle Within a Circle

Several years ago, Life Time took a hard look at the talent journey. Brennan explains the five points along that path that starts from the moment someone is a candidate and continues through their employment.

Spot on observation. I’ll never understand organizations that place a premium on the candidate experience, but do nothing to follow it up with an equally amazing employee experience. It just doesn’t make any sense. They're one in the same thing, but they do something very different.

Companies that don’t nurture their employees run the risk of tarnishing their brands once word gets out about how they treat people.

“If you don't take care of your existing team member base, the true colors are going to come out in a matter of time,” Brennan said. “Especially in this day and age, if somebody has a good experience or someone has a bad experience, thousands of people will hear about it in no time.”

(I’ve blogged before about nurturing your employment brand. Here’s the link if you want to revisit that article: Every Employment Brand Needs an Extreme Makeover — Because We’re Never Done)

It’s a sign of Life Time’s brand that even members are applying to work there.

“It's a great sign that the place that they come to enjoy is now a place that they'd like to come to even more and it would be a place of employment for them,” Brennan said.

That’s a really interesting point. And it underscores the importance of a centralized talent experience platform that gives you and your teams control over that critical initial introduction to the brand.

Are you energized and motivated to improve your high-volume hiring practices after reading about Life Time’s success? Let me show you how quality, quantity, and speed can be calibrated and balanced so you’re not sacrificing one for the other. Hire and develop with incredible efficiency with the right platform. I’ve walked that walk already. Let’s connect on LinkedIn and take that journey together.

About Smarter

“Smarter” is a podcast where I engage with top experts and senior leaders to uncover the big people trends, unlock the insights and listen for new ideas related to purpose, people and the processes that work the best. Let’s get smarter together.

Listen to the Life Time episode on Apple and Spotify.

Jess Elmquist

Jess Elmquist is the Chief Human Resources Officer and Chief Evangelist at Phenom. In a previous career as the Chief Learning Officer at Life Time, the healthy way of life company, Jess hired more than 200,000 people and spoke to hundreds of his executive peers about talent trends.

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