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People at a gym doing circuits

Personal Training and Employment

The Challenge 
To understand the nature of work in growth business sector where self-employment was, and is, replacing traditional employment.

The Method
An international team of researchers led by Professor Geraint Harvey have examined the nature of gig economy work with a particular focus on the peculiar characteristics of the work of self-employed personal trainers (SEPT) in the fitness industry.

A longitudinal ethnographic study was carried out at two gyms in South Wales involving interviews and several hundred hours of observation.

The Impact
The team identified a novel form of work marked by a distinctive relationship between the SEPT and the gym that reflects key characteristics of the medieval relationship between the serf (or villein) and the landowner.

The research team were able to:

  • Understand the relationship between the SEPT and their clients (members of the gym) and the challenges facing SEPTs in attracting clients and generating an income (by carrying out work for which they were not paid, but which benefitted the gym)
  • Understand the relationship between the SEPT and the gym (whereby the SEPT is bonded to the gym and rather than being paid for their efforts, the SEPT pays the gym in order to access the membership and use the equipment)
  • Document a system of exploitation that is transferrable to other occupational groups in the service sector such as the airline industry

The findings were reported to the UK Government Work and Pensions Committee and were used in development of alternative system of work and employment at one major UK gym.

The reach of this research was global, gaining exposure through media across Spain, Sweden, Germany and the US.

The research outcomes now feature on an A level Sociology revision site.

United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

Swansea University Research Themes